Song lyrics without the attached music fall
under the "literary" copyright category. You may view the definitions
as pertaining to copyright law online. The link is
You may view the full set of U.S. Copyright laws online. The link is
Depending on what you're using the lyrics for, you may be in violation of copyright infringement
laws. The copyright rules explicitly state that you may not use any lyrics from a song that's owned by someone
else without expressed permission. No specific number of lyrics is provided in the law.
You are safe using a few of the words from the song. It's when you take an entire phrase or section of a song's lyrics and insert them in your own literary work as if they're your own work... that's when there's a problem. In your case, even though you are not claiming them as your own if you are profiting off the work in your novel.
If you have no intention of profiting off the work you're creating, you likely would be fine, quoting the lyrics. News reporters, teachers, and the like may quote song lyrics without infringing on the
This is called "fair use." To determine whether your use would fall under Fair Use rules, consult the copyright laws:
"Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment,
news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining
whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted
work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work."
You may view this on page 18 of the link
Based on what you have told me in your question, your use does not fall under the Fair Use exception. Thus, you will need to contact the owner of the copyright to the music and get written permission.
If you don't know who owns the music, an easier way of going about this is likely to contact BMI or ASCAP to see if they can either give you a license or put you in touch with the copyright holder.
Please let me know if this answers your question.
Zachary D. Norris