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Latin Mottos

Posted: Wed Oct 10, 2018 2:10 pm
by MrsTwosheds
Good afternoon guys

Am just about to launch myself into another project and I’d like to be able to use a Latin phrase in my needlework (a tad pretentious, I grant you, but there you have it).

I had assumed (wrongly, probably) that as Latin is a dead language I would be on safe ground here. I have found some super ones that suit my needs but all the good ones seem to have been bagged already as mottos by Scottish clans, universities and football clubs. Are they covered by copyright laws? I appreciate that those in the know might assume my allegiance to something of which I have no knowledge, but would appreciate any guidance as to how I might stand legally, please.

I’m really hoping that I won’t be required to make up my own original motto as my understanding of Latin is laughable -considerable potential here for absolute disaster and misunderstanding!

Huge thanks as always for your help.

Best regards


Re: Latin Mottos

Posted: Wed Oct 10, 2018 8:46 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Sally,

Of course you already know that it's not the age of the language which is important, but the age and originality of the combination of words which determine whether copyright might apply to something like a motto. However, under normal circumstances just two or three words in a motto will rarely qualify because the courts see them as too insginificant to be worth the court's time to hear a claim. The legal latin tag for this doctrine is de minimis non curat praetor or de minimis, for short

So to discover if copyright does apply you will need to try and track down when, and if possible, by whom, the phrase was coined. In your research you may well find the same phrase or motto being used by several different people or organisations*. This will tend to suggest that they are pretty much free for anyone to use, or at the very least, that no one person has a strong claim to have created the phrase. Wikipedia is quite a good starting point if you haven't already discovered that.

Very occasionally a phrase, in English or latin, may be registered as a trade mark but this shouldn't cause you any problems unless the mark is specifically registered in respect of tapestries or embroidery -which would be a highly unsual occurrence!

* this reminds me of a hackneyed old joke in military circles. Both the Gunners (the Royal Regiment of Artillery) and the Sappers (the Corps of Royal Engineers) have the latin word Ubique as their motto. We get the English word ubiquitous from this source. The joke goes that in the case of the Sappers Ubique means 'everywhere' ie supporting through the theatre of operations, whereas with the Gunners it means 'all over the place' as in their artillery rounds go anywhere except on the imtended target.

Re: Latin Mottos

Posted: Wed Oct 10, 2018 9:21 pm
by MrsTwosheds
Hi Andy

Lovely - thank you so much as always for your sound (and speedy) advice! I think I’ll try to stick to those quotes which either have a sizeable fan base or those which I’m fairly sure were recorded a few centuries back. In truth, I hadn’t really contemplated the possibility that some of the mottos might be ‘new-ish’ and had just assumed that most would have been uttered by a wise ancient guy in frock and sandals.

Love the military joke, by the way! It really made me laugh out loud.

Huge thanks again for your help.



Re: Latin Mottos

Posted: Fri Oct 12, 2018 4:32 pm
While not relevant I can't resist telling.... I once sold rights to a photograph used in a Latin textbook. The invoice read :- To non-exclusive Latin language rights.