I'm starting a theatre company and one of the ideas I have thought of for a production is an ongoing series of monologue/scratch evenings. I want to have the premise of each night to latch onto the theme and revolve around the use of a song lyric and actors have to create their own original writing using this lyric as inspiration. For example, the lyric "All flowers are pretty when they're dying" is a taken from a Rina Sawaymama song called 'To Be Alive'. Would I be able to use this lyric as the title of the production?


1 Answer 1


There are two principles in copyright law that seem most germane to your question.

Lyrics are rigorously protected by copyright since by their nature they are very creative. But, the notion that dying flowers are beautiful is a long standing poetic theme. It comes in poems by Homer which predates the artist who wrote the song you are interested in.

If the refrain from the song is a simple restating of an old idea, then it might not be considered a highly creative work, therefore a short phrase might not rise to infringement.

Assuming it is regarded as a highly creative work, then if your use of the phrase expresses them same sentiments as the prior work, then you'd likely have a problem claiming fair use. In other words, if you are saying the same thing in your play as the artist said in their song, using the artist's words you might be infringing on their work.

But if your play takes the notion in a different direction than is established in the song, then your work might be considered transformational, and thereby covered by fair-use.

Copyright law is subtle and hard to predict. You can always ask for permission. But it doesn't matter unless the play is actually published. If it is only performed on one weekend in a dinner theater in East Hoboken, it doesn't really matter.

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