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Rules on usage of song lyrics?

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Does anyone know the rules of the usage of song lyrics in books?  Are we allowed to use them? And if so, how should the lyrics be quoted.

Thanks in advance  ;D
#1 - October 10, 2018, 08:07 AM

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Lyrics are copyrighted, so you must get permission from the rights holder. If it was published before 1923, it is in the public domain, so you may quote it without seeking permission.

There are many helpful articles about this on the internet, like this one: http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/10/lyrics-in-books/
#2 - October 10, 2018, 08:23 AM
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Thanks a lot Vonna! I'll take a look at the article
#3 - October 10, 2018, 08:26 AM

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Lyrics can be hard to use because it can be hard to track down the authors, who often aren't the performers. Keep in mind also that you can use a small portion without permission. Because songs are short, it can be a very small snippet. Look up Fair Use laws  to learn more. Songs are a unique thing, so add the word songs to your search.
#4 - October 10, 2018, 06:18 PM
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Lyrics can be hard to use because it can be hard to track down the authors, who often aren't the performers. Keep in mind also that you can use a small portion without permission. Because songs are short, it can be a very small snippet. Look up Fair Use laws  to learn more. Songs are a unique thing, so add the word songs to your search.

Thank you Debbie!  I will definitely be looking into the Fair Use law!
#5 - October 11, 2018, 10:56 AM

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Anything written within the last 90 or so years is likely copyrighted. I used the lyrics of an old song in my MG, and because it was in the public domain - written in the 1920s, with a dead composer/lyricist - it was fine. I checked to make sure it was in the public domain before I used it. I also used lyrics for 'fictional songs' from the 1940s and later, but I made up my own words to them.  I am also a vocalist/musician/songwriter. I did this so that I didn't have to worry about getting permission.

So, if you want to quote a current pop song, you, or your editor, will have to get permission. If you want to quote something written in 1740, look it up and see if it is in the public domain. It probably will be, and you are free to use it. Always check, no matter what year it was written. Family members will sometimes get something under copyright even if it is old.

Edited to add: I meant to say "publisher" not "editor".  Also, make sure your publisher is okay with getting permission and using this sort of material and let them know if something you use is not in the public domain. Some things will be obvious, like a current pop song, but unfamiliar lyrics may not be so clear. They may think you wrote them, so always communicate.
#6 - October 11, 2018, 12:58 PM
« Last Edit: October 11, 2018, 01:20 PM by Melody »
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Adding to what Melody said. Sometimes something seems to be in the public domain but a new artist has reissued the song and now holds copy right.

If you can write your own, you may be better off. I've heard others suggest this.
#7 - October 11, 2018, 06:23 PM
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I got this suggestion from a published experienced writer:
You may include/quote the lyrics to a well known song in your manuscript if they serve it well and inform and inspire your process. Upon editor/agent interest, the matter of copyright arises, at which point you can (usually) easily write your own to replace it (almost all song lyrics are not hard to replace, let's be blunt) or re-write it as a parody, which is allowed to be used under copyright law. But what you don't want to do is inquire the copyright owner at a stage where you don't have an offer or clear monetary compensation coming. There's really no need at that point, and they often ask for much $$$ for the right to use what you only have as an unpublished (or, let's be positive, yet-to-be published) story.
If you intend to self-publish, it's safest to take these steps (parody or writing your own) to begin with, as you revise.
#8 - October 12, 2018, 12:33 PM
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