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!