Thursday, January 16, 2014

Can I use song lyrics in a book?

Short Answer: No. (Not without written--and usually expensive--permission.)

Long Answer: Because songs are so short, "fair use" doesn't apply to them the same way it does to other written works. Song titles can be used, because you cannot copyright a title. However, you have to be careful how you do that if the title is a distinctive line from the song. If you reference it as lyrics and not as the title, it can bite you in the ass.

(NOTE: A friend of mine said that in some countries, it's NOT okay to use the titles. This post is for US writers, so be careful and do your research.)

The exception to using lyrics is if a song is old enough to be in the public domain. As in, it was written before 1923. Again, do your research.

But, but, I WANNA use song lyrics! 

Then make up your own. (You are a writer, are you not?) Make up an artist and song (with title) that expresses what you want to say, but in a different way than the popular song you want to quote. Or use JUST the title. Here's the thing: remember that in ten or twenty years, or whatever, the song and artist might be virtually unknown. You're far better off making up your own lyrics, which you can then publish in its entirety in the book without repercussions.

See the following links for more information:

1 comment:

  1. It's worth writing (email often suffices) the copyright holder to ask permission to use song lyrics in a book. Lyrics are half of the song, and your book, no matter how good it is, doesn't include the music. So including the lyrics or a part of them may provide an impetus for readers to seek out a recording and buy it, which means royalties for the copyright holder. Not much, admittedly, but if enough people.....well, you get the idea. Plus publicity. It has been said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, and your book is not giving bad publicity.

    Remember Night Court, the TV show, and what Harry Anderson did for Mel Tormé?