Searching the records of the U.S. Copyright Office is the only way to determine if a quotation is protected by a copyright. A copyright search may be conducted either online or by manually searching records at the Copyright Office in Washington, D.C. An online search is easier and more convenient, and may be done from any computer with Internet access. If you find the quotation in the online Copyright Office database, you will be able to immediately obtain basic information, such as the owner's identity and when the copyright was issued.
Go to the Copyright Office home page. Click on “Search Records” at the top right hand portion of the screen. On the next screen, click on “Search the Catalog”. This will bring you to the Public Catalog page. Using the Basic Search function, you will be able to search Copyright Office records by keyword, title, author, registration number or document number. To search for a quotation, it is best to start with a keyword search.
Type the quotation in its entirety in the keyword search, then click “Begin Search.” If no results are generated, expand the search by using individual words of the quotation or groups of words appearing in the quotation. Try a keyword search of the person or organization with which the quotation may be associated. You can also use the name of the original source where you read or heard the quotation as a search term.
Set search limits by clicking on “Set Search Limits,” located at the bottom right of the Basic Search screen if you are having no luck with the basic search. This function will enable you to limit aspects of your search by date or item type. This may allow for a more specific search for the quotation.
Use the Boolean search function on the Public Catalog page if you only have a portion of the quotation for which you are searching. A Boolean search allows you to use a combination of search phrases with the connectors “or,” “not” and “and.” For example, for the quotation, “Give me liberty or give me death,” a Boolean search may be comprised of “give” and “liberty” and “death.”