You Need Permission to Quote Song Lyrics

June 16, 2011

One of the biggest issues I come across when editing is authors quoting song lyrics. They hear a song and the words speak to them or say what they haven’t been able to. They love the lyrics and think the words would work well in their book so authors include them–or at least part of them.

Big no-no!

Although I’m not an attorney, so cannot and am not giving legal advice here, I can tell you that you need express written consent to quote song lyrics. If you don’t get that consent, you open yourself up to a copyright infringement lawsuit and who needs that!

Very often the copyright holder of the lyrics will grant you the permission to quote the song, so don’t be afraid to ask. You didn’t have permission before, thus if the answer is no, nothing’s changed. If the copyright owner asks for a huge fee to use the lyrics, you have a decision to make–pay the fee or don’t use the lyrics. At the very least you can imagine how much you saved in damages if you had used the lyrics without permission and been sued.

In most cases, you are better off to give the song title and paraphrase the song’s message in your own words.

Keep Writing!