A Question of Copyrighted Song Lyrics – Beware!

Have any of you wondered what the copyright rules and regulations are for using song lyrics as part of a blog post?

I have thought about this a lot recently.  Not only that, but I’ve thought about an upcoming post I’m planning and whether I should share a recipe from a recipe book which I’ve used for many years.  What is and what isn’t acceptable?  I just wasn’t too sure and I was feeling just a little uncomfortable about this whole issue.

In essence, do copyright rules for the printed page also apply to blogs?

What to do?  Well, I took my dilemma to LinkedIn where  I posed my questions on a forum of a writer’s group I’ve recently joined there. What I found out from my fellow writers was very interesting, and quite chilling.  I was very thankful for all the responses and it certainly made for a lively discussion thread!

From this discussion and from my research on the internet, I came up with some answers and my first thought was, I must share this with my dear readers. Pay it forward as ‘they’ say.

However, I would just like to make my disclaimer here that I am far from an expert on this copyright issue and I am merely sharing what I have found out and providing the links for you to look up for yourselves for further reading!

Firstly, about quoting song lyrics, the good news is that there is no copyright in song titles so it is perfectly fine to quote these, and of course the artist’s name.   Secondly, and here’s the bad news,  quoting song lyrics (and this would also mean lines from films, TV and Radio shows as an example), even just one word never mind one line, is most definitely a no-no and you could be sued! Yikes!

Permission can be sought but even then it can be very expensive.  Steven Miscandlon shared a link on the LinkedIn forum  to this excellent article by Blake Morrison  and you can click here to read all about his experience with song lyrics.  It is an eye-opener for sure!

Regarding the recipe query, although it would be ideal that permission be sought as far as is possible, it seems that it is generally accepted practice that it would be acceptable to share it even without permission, provided that the appropriate credit is given to the source of the work and a link given as to where the book can be purchased, if it is still in print.  This stands also for quoting short passages from other author’s books, providing that it is no more than say 200 – 300 words (again, things are a little blurry here rule wise). This is common practice.

So why in cases such as these would permission not be needed?

This is because they would come under the ‘fair use’ criteria.  It is the same if you are doing a review and if the work being quoted is for educational and non-profit purposes. In other words, if under fair use it would be acceptable to use parts of other people’s copyrighted work within your own work, with due credit given of course.

Again, since I am no expert, I found this excellent article by Jane Friedman which really helps clarify the subject of fair use and when it is and is not necessary to gain permission.  I highly recommend it as well worth reading.

The other copyright issue I discovered, falls under the umbrella of ‘the public domain’.  What does this mean?   Basically, in Britain and Europe, any work that was completed by an author who died over 70 years ago is considered to be in the public domain and so no longer subject to copyright and, therefore, acceptable for use.   For the USA, this applies to any work completed before 1923.  Generally, it is safe to quote from these works.

However, even with these guidelines, there can be exceptions and it isn’t always cut and dried!

For further information about copyright in the UK click here and for the US click here.  There is also a very helpful chapter in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which gives a great deal of information.  Warning, I tried to read it and it really is quite in-depth!

Although the whole issue of copyright can be complicated, and I know that this article is far from extensive, I hope that I have made a few helpful points. When all is said and done, the best rule of thumb is if you are still really not sure about quoting from another author’s copyrighted work,  then don’t!  Leave it out!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am now going to delete one or two  lines from a couple of my previous blog posts. After all, I don’t want to be sued!

About Sherri Matthews

Sherri has been writing full time since 2011. Currently working on her memoir, 'Stranger in a White Dress', she has been published in a variety of national magazines, websites and three anthologies. Sherri raised her three, now adult children, in California for twenty years and today, lives in England’s West Country with her hubby, Aspie youngest, two cats, a grumpy bunny and a family of Chinese Button Quails. She keeps out of mischief blogging, gardening, walking by the sea and snapping endless photographs. Her garden robin muse vists regularly.
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23 Responses to A Question of Copyrighted Song Lyrics – Beware!

  1. You can quote me anytime – i won’t sue………promise!!

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  2. Very comprehensive blog post, Sherri. You’ve gathered so much information into one spot. Thanks for the work and then sharing it with us.

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    • Sherri says:

      Thanks Bev, glad you found it helpful. It helped me too to get it all down and make some sense out of what can seem quite a complicated and very tricky subject! Have a great Labor Day weekend 🙂

      Like

  3. Dylan Hearn says:

    Really useful information, Sherri. The problem with the “fair use” caveat is that major corporations tend to be happy to sue individuals, as they know the majority can’t afford to defend themselves, and the music industry have shown themselves to be very trigger happy in other areas of litigation.

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    • Sherri says:

      Thanks Dylan, and for your input about the music industry, so very true. I realise now that you must know a lot about this with your background in music 🙂

      Like

  4. Denise says:

    Oh wow, I am going to go back and do some deleting too. The irony is I am so careful with the pictures I use! If I had more time, I would take more pics for my blog, definitely. The ones on my site I have been careful to buy from Fotolia or Dreamstime. That’s why so many images are the same!

    Thanks for the information.

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    • Sherri says:

      You’re welcome Denise, it is a sticky issue with song lyrics, as Dylan says above, the music industry has really stamped down hard on this. Glad to help 🙂

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  5. jennypellett says:

    I’ve just written a complete short story based around song lyrics for my writing group which was well received – spot that tune in amongst the main story. I guess that’s where I’ll leave it if copyright is such an issue. Had fun writing it though!
    Great post Sherri, very useful – thanks.

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    • Sherri says:

      Aaaaaarghh, so sorry Jenny to be the bearer of bad news! I bet your story was lovely too! My book, which I’m supposed to be writing (first chapter, nothing for weeks) takes place against the back drop of the late 70s and of course there are some great songs from that era that I felt would be necessary to use for the story. That’s what got me thinking about this whole copyright issue thing! Guess I won’t be using a single lyric now! Glad you found the info helpful 🙂

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  6. Heyjude says:

    Scary information there. I am aware of copyright and fair use etc. but didn’t know about the lyric issue, thanks for bringing that to my attention. I have some blogs to edit now!!!

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    • Sherri says:

      No problem Jude, glad to help. I was really worried when I found this out!!! I have also deleted some lines I’ve used from films, for the same reason! I’m glad that I’ve been able to share this info with you 🙂

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      • Heyjude says:

        It is a shame though because often adding a line or two from a song really helps to set the scene such as I did about California and they bring back so many memories for people reading. Ah, well, shall have to weave them in subliminally (sp??)

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        • Sherri says:

          Yes, it is a great shame. The songs I wanted to use are also about California and really added to the ‘scene’ of the late 70s. Perhaps we could try and make up our own lyrics! Have a great weekend Jude x

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  7. mudtherapist says:

    thks for the heads up! deleted lyrics from my posts to be on the safe side.

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  8. Thank you for sharing! I am now trying to remember if I have posted a song lyrics in my blog.

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  9. I’ve never posted song lyrics…until yesterday! In a comment because someone’s poem brought them to mind. Did I not see the other day that one of the prompts was to use the third line from a song for the title of a post and write about it? I didn’t do it myself but I’m sure I read some. x

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    • Sherri says:

      Hmmmm, that’s very interesting! I didn’t see that as a prompt, but then I never look at them (I need to explore this WordPress site a bit more!) I’m not sure how that would stand using a third line from a song as a title (sounds like a great idea though!) as that seems to go against what Blake Morrison wrote in his blog but then, as I said, I’m no expert! Thanks so much for the follow, so glad to have you onboard and I love your blog 🙂 x

      Like

  10. xbox2121 says:

    This has nothing to do with you post but I am curious about how often do you post in a week ?

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      I post at least twice a week, sometimes 3. A couple of weeks’ ago I posted every day, but that is the first time I’ve done that! At the moment I don’t have a schedule (I probably should) but the one day I do try to consistently post is Friday. Thanks for asking and showing so much interest in my blog, I really appreciate it 🙂

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