Use of other authors titles

by james shimwitwa
(Zambia)

Question: Is it in order to make use of a phrase in one's story that form the title of another book? For example: A writer in African wrote a popular book entitled "the beautfiful ones are not yet born". Apparently this has become a common african adage.would it be correct to use this adage as in examples below:

**My heart got excited when I looked at the girl Seated on one of the four seats around the table.
Before 6th Dec, 2008 I accepted the aphorism that the beautiful ones are not yet born. But on this day, looking at this girl with a superb and intriguing figure, I realised that the precept was wrong. This girl who instantly took my breath away, was hundred per cent beautiful. I had never before met a pretty girl as this one. She was Mwenya’s friend. I greeted her rather shyly
“Hi, Tandy, glad to meet you”

Or as this:


**"Is that Mwanza’s wife” I asked deliberately.
“No, I don’t think so. Mwanza is a womaniser he plays games with the beautiful ones in town. That must be one of his girlfriends.” He laughed,
“He changes them like clothes. But he won’t finish them, perhaps he doesn’t know that the beautiful ones are not yet born” he laughed again. “He has everything women want, good looks and money”

Answer: Interesting question!

Keep in mind that I am not a copyright lawyer, so the following is just my understanding from what I've heard and read elsewhere.

An author cannot copyright a title, which is why you will see different books with the same title (generally published years apart and in different genres to avoid confusion).

You are also allowed to quote a small percentage of another author's work, if you give credit. The phrase you mention is probably a very tiny percentage of the book.

If the phrase you have in mind has become part of popular culture, and the original book was published a long time ago, those are also points in your favour.

Most importantly: I doubt the author could argue that your use of the phrase could lower sales of his book. If anything, you are reinforcing his book's place in the culture.

On the other side of the issue: it is usually better if you invent your own phrases simply to make your book more original. After all, wouldn't it be nice if people started quoting your words?

If you sell this manuscript to a publisher, you may want to ask your editor (who should have legal expertise at his/her disposal). But I doubt it will be a problem.

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