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TexLaw, Attorney
Category: Legal
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Experience:  Lead trial/International commercial attorney licensed 11 yrs
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I recent wrote a novel about the 1970s. On several occasions

Customer Question

I recent wrote a novel about the 1970's. On several occasions in written text in my novel I used lyrics from famous musical artist of the 70's.
How many lines of particular song is considered fair share? I tried to get this information from the copyright office but I'm a bit confused because they say song lyrics created before 1978 are on micro fish and I would have to physically go to Washington D.C. to look up the originator of the songs before I could receive permission to use them. Can anyone tell me what is fair share and what is the easiest route to accomplish my goal of getting permission to use these lyrics in my novel. Thanks Tony
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  TexLaw replied 5 years ago.

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
copyright rules.

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.

Best Regards,
Zachary D. Norris
TexLaw and other Legal Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

If you have no intention of profiting off the work you're creating, you likely would be fine, quoting the lyrics. I am a first time novelist and I don't expect profit from this novel. On the other hand what is the best way to obtain permission from these various musical artist? Since I have a limited time and several diffterent entries that pertained to lyrics and events in the novel is there some one who could advise me about the different entries if they saw how I used them in a word document?

Expert:  TexLaw replied 5 years ago.
To clarify, it's not whether you actually profit, it's whether you are writing the novel for profit, as opposed to being a text book. It's very grey area, but your proposed used does not likely fall under the Fair Use Doctrine.

The best way to get permission is to send a release form to the copyright holder. Remember, its not always the artist. Often the artist has sold the copyright to the music label. The best way to do it in my opinion is to contact ASCAP or BMI, who are the entities which arrange for licensing fees for playing a song.

Again, your use of the lyrics in a fictional novel that is offered for sale does not constitute Fair Use.

Technically, it would be a copyright violation. However, if you truly don't expect to sale many books, then it is highly unlikely that you would actually be caught. If the book gets picked up by a major publisher, the publisher would then go through the effort of contacting the copyright holder and getting a release.

Best Regards,
Zachary D. Norris