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Copyright question about song lyrics

by Kieran


I've googled this and found conflicting answers. I have quoted some song lyrics in my book, not complete songs obviously, just one or two lines from one or two songs. What IS the legal stance on this?


Hi Kieran. As far as I know there are not any hard rules on this, though there are "fair use" rules in the US and Canada ( that apply to educators and people promoting a work in some way, such as in a review. The best resource for you would be the copyright office in Australia.

The US Copyright Office has this to say:

"How much of someone else's work can I use without getting permission?

Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances. See FL 102, Fair Use, and Circular 21, Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians."

I do know that when my partner, author Robert Hilles, wanted to quote three lines from an Auden poem, he had to get permission from Random House, who charged $75 for the use.

So, if in doubt, check with the copyright office, the copyright holder, or the record label, as each case will be unique.


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