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Do I need to have copyright permission for song lyrics if I am doing a written review of a concert that contains those lyrics and I quote the lyrics in my review?

4 Answers 4

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First, nothing you read on Writing.SE should be taken as legal advice. I don't think anyone of us is a lawyer, and I don't even know where you are (I'm not in the USA for instance) and rules will of course be different in different places and so on...

Anyway...

EDLs advice on commerciality is probably a good indicator.

Another one is if you use the quote as part of an argument, it's easier to claim fair use.

Say for instance that you want to argue that the band has a dystopian, nihilist worldview. Then quoting lyrics that show a dystopian, nihilist worldview will be more on the side of fair use than just adding "nice" parts of the lyrics at the beginning of each chapter because they make the text sparkle more...

I.e. decorative use is seldom counted as fair use...

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As @erk said, understand that I'm not a lawyer. Take all of this with a grain of salt.

No, you do not need permission in this case. You do need to cite/credit the the song and artist appropriately. This is a review. Reviews are considered fair use because they are transformative.

From Stanford's website: You need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Has the material you have taken from the original work been transformed by adding new expression or meaning?

  • Was value added to the original by creating new information, new aesthetics, new insights, and understandings

A review is definitely considered transformative. However there are other ways in which the review itself would disqualify itself. For example: if you sent out CD's with it, your review is libelous, something like that. Similarly, there are other ways something qualifies as fair use; educational material is typically given a pass.

Reviews are generally considered transformative, and thus fall under fair use.

This doesn't mean people won't try to sue you of course. Fair use is a legal defense, not a law.

TLDR

Reviews are generally considered transformative, and thus fall under fair use. This doesn't mean people won't try to sue you of course. Fair use is a legal defense, not a law.

You'll be fine, as long as you credit/cite the artist and song.

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  • Also: This question has a good answer about song lyrics more broadly. writing.stackexchange.com/a/6798/39969 There, the respondent says you do need permission. The example used there is Stephen King's The Stand. Which a book sold for profit. News, which can included reviews, are different. Mar 10 at 16:43
  • The other thing to keep in mind with any legal thing is to not listen to people on internet. I'm not sure why Stephen King would need permission for that, but I didn't read The Stand. In his other books it was like a character singing to themselves. I think most wouldn't have to worry. However certain people or corporations of a certain size will pay the money and take the time remove any shadow of a doubt. King may not have needed it, but he got permission just in case. Mar 10 at 16:43
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Broadly no, you don't.

Genuine review or research are excused from copyright in the great majority modern jurisdictions.

Check that by reading any textbook you can find which purports to be an introduction to law in general, or publishing law in particular.

(No idea why someone downvoted the question, unless it's for lack of research.)

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  • Thank you, Robbie. I think your advice is probably correct, but copyright laws are definitely a murky subject. It is now a moot point with me, because after six, long, arduous months and great cost, I have procured the permission I need to use the song lyrics that are part of my stories. Mar 8 at 22:27
  • Uh… Stories? You Asked about a written review. Switching to talk of stories is not "murky…" It's just plainly different. Here in the UK, the writing arm of the creative industry has tended to look towards writersandartists.co.uk Could you make future Questions less murky? Mar 9 at 18:17
  • I edited your answer (and have edited it again) because meta-commentary does not belong in an answer. If you object to an edit, a question's downvotes/close-votes, or any other moderation activity, the place to discuss it is Meta, not here in your answer. This time, I've elected to be diplomatic and split the difference.
    – F1Krazy
    Mar 9 at 19:38
  • @KayCoraJewett I do agree with Robbie in that you should edit your question to clarify what exactly it is that you intend to use these quotes for. Quoting a song lyric in a review of a song, and quoting a song lyric in a novel, are two entirely different things and will have two entirely different answers.
    – F1Krazy
    Mar 9 at 19:46
  • Sorry, I should have clarified. I am writing a book of true stories mixed with commentary. The concert review is part of the commentary. Thanks for the comments, everyone. In that I just paid (dearly) for the copyrights of the lyrics, I think the problem is resolved as far as I'm concerned. Mar 10 at 20:31
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Yes. You don't need permission to list the names of the songs, but to quote the lyrics in a commercial work, you need permission. The laws around fair-use and song lyrics are really dicey and have been historically narrowly interpreted.

If this is for a college paper that is free, then you'll likely get a pass. You can quote song lyrics in your high school or college essay, but if it was every published commercially, permission would have to be obtained -- assuming the lyrics are not in the public domain.

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  • Thanks. From what I've been able to glean, you are right on. The law is not clear about the public domain, so it's probably better to just get permission and pay the (exorbitant fee). Mar 6 at 5:53
  • You can theoretically claim fair use for criticism but this depends how much you quote, and there is no fixed limit.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 7 at 11:59
  • Limited use of song lyrics in a review article seems likely to fall under Fair Use, as it's a critical/commentary work that would have no conceivable impact on the on the market for the original work. Non-commercial use generally gets more leeway for Fair Use, but it's simply not true that any commercial work needs permission to quote copyrighted material regardless of the extent or purpose. Mar 9 at 19:48

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