Did you ever wonder why you never see song lyrics quoted in books? The simple reason is a small legal matter known as copyright. Just as you don’t appreciate your writing plagiarized without permission for personal or commercial use, neither do music artists.
Some writers think they can get away with incorporating lyrics into their novels without being caught. What harm could a couple of lines do?
In today’s technological world and quick, easy access by millions of users, rest assured you will get caught. When you are, running afoul of trademark law with the two lines you wrote in your twentieth chapter, it will cause unnecessary headaches. Violating trademark law may result in fines, the demand for the destruction of your book, payment for the lyrics use for all published work sold to date, and much more.
As a writer, you should respect others’ artistry and be capable of writing your own lyrics or find alternative ways to incorporate mood-setting music in your book. For example, suppose you want to combine a song by the Bee Gees into your writing. Write the Bee Gees’ falsetto voices blasted from the radio singing to love somebody or Madonna crooning about being a virgin drifted over diners heads. There’s no law against printing a song’s title or referencing the music in your writing. Just don’t quote the actual lyrics of any song unless you have the artist’s permission.
If you absolutely must quote actual lyrics in your book, consider using songs written before 1923. In the United States, much of the music published before then is in the public domain. Meaning it’s free for anyone to use for any purpose.
Regardless, caution is key when considering the use of someone else’s work. Check its copyrighted standing to avoid running into legal issues. If you recall, Happy Birthday until 2013, when the lawsuit against Warner/Chappell, the publishers who claimed to own the copyright to the song, was launched, many considered it to be in the public domain.
Your best option is originality. Write it yourself.
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