I was talking with another author recently, and we got into a discussion about using song lyrics in books, stories, or articles. She’d heard a presentation by an attorney on the subject, and the bottom line is: if you use copyrighted lyrics in your writings, you need permission from the songwriter, his or her estate, or the publishing company. It depends on who owns the copyright.
This generally refers to lyrics published after 1923, and specifically to those written after 1977, because those lyrics are not in the public domain. The best practice is to check any title you’d like to use to ensure you aren’t infringing on another’s rights. And to avoid a possible lawsuit. Here’s the website with the list of songs in the public domain, http://www.pdinfo.com/public-domain-music-list.
Learning who owns the copyright is not always easy, but it is necessary. Once you obtain that information, you can seek permission and see what happens. According to a 10-30-2013 article by Chris Robley on Book Baby Blog:
“The writers and publishers of the lyrics you want to quote are entitled by law to:
* deny you the right to quote the lyrics.
* grant you permission and set the terms for usage.
* ask you to pay them any fee they want for those usages.
* ignore all your requests until you throw your hands up in the air and decide to just invent some song lyrics of your own to fit the scene.”
Have you had an experience acquiring the rights to use song lyrics, or other copyrighted material? I’d love to hear about it.
Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mysteries. Secret in Whitetail Lake is the sixth in the series.