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Copyright permission is not required when quoting from literary and musical works in the public domain, that is, those on which the copyright has expired or never existed. Unfortunately there is no simple rule of thumb that works created before a certain time are in the public domain.

Works created on or after January 1, 1978, are protected for the author's life plus 70 years. In the case of anonymous works, pseudonymous works, and works by staff writers or writers on commission, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of first publication, or 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For works created but not published before 1978, copyright endures to at least December 31, 2002.

The previous law provided for a term of 28 years renewable for 28 years. However, you cannot rely on this combined 56-year term because ad interim extensions of the renewal term have had the effect of extending the total term to 75 years.

Foreign countries generally follow the term of author's life plus 70 years. Under a U.S. copyright law some copyrights of foreign entities that had previously entered the public domain in the U.S. may now be entitled to protection.

Brief excerpts from published works may be considered fair use, and therefore no copyright permission is required.

In all cases where any doubt exists, consult the National Geographic legal office.

When copyrighted material being quoted does not fall under the doctrine of fair use, contact the publisher for permission to use the quoted material. (Sometimes permission to omit the copyright information is obtainable from the copyright holder.) As a general rule use the copyright credit provided by the publisher. It should include author, title, and publisher, and may also include the date of publication.

When the title or author appears in text, give the rest of the pertinent information in the footnote:

Theodore H. White in his excellent book on postwar Europe, Fire in the Ashes, wrote: "The wreckage of Germany that so stupefied Germans and conquerors alike in 1945 was the wreckage of buildings and stone."*

*Copyright © 1953 by Theodore H. White. Reprinted by permission of the publishers: William Sloane Associates, New York.

The 650 letters from Vincent to Theo fill three volumes...Vincent wrote Theo a letter of congratulations. "I am so glad that we shall both be in the same profession."*

*From The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh. By permission of Little, Brown and Company in conjunction with the New York Graphic Society. All rights reserved.