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  1. #1

    Quotes used as titles?

    For a short story I am currently working on, there is a quote given by a famous philosopher in one of his papers that I would like to use as the title of my work. I have seen other short stories adopt quotes as title but I was curious what the rules of doing so were. How would one cite the source for the title?

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    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Inkstain View Post
    For a short story I am currently working on, there is a quote given by a famous philosopher in one of his papers that I would like to use as the title of my work. I have seen other short stories adopt quotes as title but I was curious what the rules of doing so were. How would one cite the source for the title?
    Certainly if the philosopher is long dead (i.e. --Socrates) there's no problem, because the quote lies in the public domain.

    If, however, the philosopher is living (or if his/her copyrights are still extant) it would be a fair use quote. You would certainly be legally covered if you used a reference mark, such as an asterisk or a footnote number, that would lead the reader to the credits. This is a non-problem, because the act of crediting your source gives the title gravitas; therefore it's not a bad idea to place the credits in full sight, perhaps the title page.

    I was trying to think of a book that used a quote as a title, and the only one that came to mind was Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion, taken from a line in Leadbelly's song Good Night Irene. Kesey did not use an asterisk or other footnoting device. On the other hand, the title is not an absolutely untarnished quote: Kesey changed "Sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown" to "Sometime a Great Notion." Still, Kesey gave Huddie Ledbetter full credit, which appears on the title page.

  3. #3
    Well, in this case, it is a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein. Fairly obscure unless one is familiar with his philosophical work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In the story, the quote is mentioned, as well as the source.
    Last edited by Inkstain; January 21st, 2010 at 03:08 PM.

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    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    Quotes as Titles

    Quote Originally Posted by Inkstain View Post
    Well, in this case, it is a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein. Fairly obscure unless one is familiar with his philosophical work, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In the story, the quote is mentioned, as well as the source.
    He died when? Fifties or Sixties? So his work, and the translation, are probably still copyrighted; so you're indeed wise to credit the quote. And unless you're doing your own translation, you'd be wise to attribute that as well ... although it can definitely be more of a footnote than an upfront game.

    By the way, one's own translation is quite possible using Babelfish or one of the other online translators, even if you speak little or no German. Or is the whole text in Latin?

    Will the story be posted here?
    Last edited by Window Bar; January 21st, 2010 at 04:24 PM.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Window Bar View Post
    He died when? Fifties or Sixties? So his work, and the translation, are probably still copyrighted; so you're indeed wise to credit the quote. And unless you're doing your own translation, you'd be wise to attribute that as well ... although it can definitely be more of a footnote than an upfront game.

    By the way, one's own translation is quite possible using Babelfish or one of the other online translators, even if you speak little or no German. Or is the whole text in Latin?

    Will the story be posted here?
    I'll likely post it here when complete. Wittengenstein hit the nail on the head though with the theme I wanna play with. I may tweak the translation a bit. The original quote in German being, "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen."
    Last edited by Inkstain; January 21st, 2010 at 05:03 PM.

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    Chocoholic ShellyS's Avatar
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    Ah, Wittgenstein. I minored in Philosophy, and took an entire course on Wittgenstein. Not intentionally. The class had a different title, but the instructor pretty much covered Wittgenstein and nothing else. I still have my much marked up copy of his work from 35 years ago. Now I'm curious about the quote you're using.

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    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ShellyS View Post
    Now I'm curious about the quote you're using.
    The ending of the Tractatus Logicus (i.e. early Wittgensteing). I don't know how it's usually translated but it's losely:

    "That which you cannot talk about, you have to be silent about."

    Wikipedia says:

    Where (or of what) one cannot speak, one must pass over in silence.
    and

    The Ogden translation renders it: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."
    I prefer the Ogden translation. It's closer to the German original.
    Last edited by Dawnstorm; January 22nd, 2010 at 02:06 AM.

  8. #8
    bmalone.blogspot.com BrianC's Avatar
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    According to Wikipedia, Ludwig Wittgenstein died in 1951. Copyright expiration rules, however, are first and foremost dependent on publication, not the date of death of the author. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was first published in Germany in 1921, and translated into English and published in the UK and the US in 1922. The copyright protection for this work is, therefore, expired at least under US law. It is in the public domain and you can use it, with or without attribution, without infringing on any copyright.

    A good writers reference for understanding copyright expiration is at this link: http://www.copyright.cornell.edu/res...blicdomain.cfm

    However, in general, using a short quotation from a copyright protected work is complicated. The "fair use" exception is limited and vague at best. If the quotation were used in a technical sense, or for the purpose of commentary or criticism, or for some non-commercial purpose such as education, then the fair use exception probably applies. However, use of even a small quotation from another work for commercial purposes (which would include a short story or novel) is much more tricky. There is no magic number of words, under which the exception will apply, and for commercial works the question of whether a quotation violates a copyright will probably boil down to a few factors: (1) how much was quoted, (2) is the source published or unpublished, and (3) does the quotation harm the marketability of the source material?

    Now, lots of SFF works use small excerpts or quotations as chapter headers, or in-text to provide context. We've all seen numerous examples of this, and there is no possibility that in all cases permission was obtained from the source author. In many cases, like yours, the source may be in the public domain. Feel free to quote Shakespeare or Dante or the Bible (or Wittgenstein) all you want. Quoting a copyright protected work, however, I would avoid unless you get permission. So, no quoting Vonnegut or Salinger or Tolkien without permission. And, yes, copyright permission extends beyond the death of the author in many, many cases for 50 to 70 years.

    Note, however, that providing an attribution to the source will not cure any copyright infringement. Citing the source will not change anything.

    Two sources for the fair use doctrine are probably worth taking a look at if you're unsure: http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html and http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyrigh...er9/index.html.
    Last edited by BrianC; January 22nd, 2010 at 09:22 AM.

  9. #9
    Thanks for offering that link and that information BrianC. For my purposes, the quote from Wittgenstein's, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, would indeed be used to add context to my own short story. Wittgenstein is, I believe, speaking on the idea that not all ideas can be communicated into spoken verbiage and it is the unspoken thoughts we formulate, which we cannot put into words that--at least to a degree--define our sentience and distinguish us from the machines we create.

    At least that is how I intend to use it in my work.

  10. #10
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    copyright law

    Thanks, BrianC for further clarifying the info I posted ... and for educating me a bit!

    --WB

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