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I tried to find copyright information about music lyrics, but it is too confusing, because it is related to the usage.

There are lots of websites providing lyrics, but it seems they are somehow illegal (though no complaint against them). Most of them put copyright notice that the copyright holder is the owner, and some indicates that the lyrics have been contributed by users (probably claiming that it has not been copied from the commercial CD).

However, the case of copyright for published materials like books is more serious. Consider a book about music, is it needed to obtain copyright permission for including a song lyrics?

It is popular to translate the lyrics of a singer to another language, and the final book contains the original lyrics and its translation?

Is copyright permission needed, or it is treated as a referenced materials (no need for copyright permission as we are referring to/citing the original world). Moreover, the main part of a song is its music rather than lyrics.

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4 Answers 4

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While I am not a lawyer, if you purchase a physical CD (bit of a rarity these days, I know) and look at the booklet which has the liner notes, you should see copyright notices for each song. If lyrics have been provided, the notice will be at the end of each set of lyrics. (KISS used to copyright theirs under an entity called "Opporknockity Tunes," which always made me laugh.)

And yes, you would need permission to quote a song lyric in a book. Look at the frontspiece for Stephen King's novel The Stand, and you'll see the copyright and permissions notes for all the songs he references.

As far as "the main part of a song is its music rather than lyrics," I don't think that's true — you can copyright an a cappella song, which uses no musical instruments beyond the human voice.

I don't know about translations.

As a general rule, if you are referencing or using someone else's work in yours, and yours is for profit in any capacity, then you should make an effort to get permission first.

Websites just listing lyrics are more of a gray area, since the only "profit" is from the ads, but if the person on the page is using an ad blocker, then even that source of revenue is eliminated.

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By "referencing the song/someone's work in yours", do you mean quoting it, using it in the plot somehow, or simply naming it? Would I need permission to write that a character was listening to [singer-here]'s song named [song-name]? –  Mussri Dec 14 '12 at 13:17
    
@Mussri: Referencing a real work by its true name is never a problem. As a side note, not only are music lyrics copyrighted as usual, but so is the textual representation of the music itself: Musical notation, guitar tabs and so on. The terms and limitations of the copyrights tend to differ though. –  Martin Sojka Dec 14 '12 at 15:19
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@Mussri: I would say that something like "John sat listening to Josh Groban's L'Ora dell'Addio until he thought his heart would break from weeping" would be fine from a legal standpoint, but once you start quoting lyrics, you should get permission. But if you have any doubt, talk to a lawyer and find out about getting permission. If your use or reference is not insulting or defamatory, it shouldn't be difficult. –  Lauren Ipsum Dec 14 '12 at 18:55
    
The only part of this I take exception to: "you can copyright an a cappella song, which has no 'music' at all." It does indeed have music, it has a melody. I think you mean "accompaniment"? –  Neil Fein Dec 15 '12 at 3:46
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To be fair, whether or not your work that is for profit is not an actual measurement for infringement, though it may be factored when people are deciding whether it's worth litigating against you. Warner Bros. likes to crack down on Harry Potter fan fiction sites, but magazines and newspaper regularly use snippets from copyrighted material in reviews (or even articles) because it is falls under fair use (or close enough that it's not worth the time and money to litigate). –  Joel Shea Dec 20 '12 at 9:29
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Yes. The lyrics are covered by copyright and you need permission to reproduce them. I think at least some of the "lyrics search engines" on the web pay their dues to the copyright holders (Wikipedia says: Lyrics licenses could be obtained in North America through one of the two aggregators; Gracenote Inc. and LyricFind.)

Translations are also covered by copyright. If you are the one translating, yours.

It's worth remembering that copyright exists even if you don't register it with the Copyright Office.

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Yes you require permission from the copyright holder of the lyrics in question to reproduce them in a book. It is not treated as referenced materials.

Whether you intend to profit from the book or wherever you intend to reproduce the lyrics is entirely irrelevant.

The copyright holder holds the rights to those lyrics and he/she/they can stop you from reproducing them without his/her/their permission.

If the lyrics are demonstrably in the public domain you can reproduce them without permission, but not copyrighted ones.

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Well, it's not "entirely irrelevant". There's the whole "fair use" doctrine, and one of the criteria in fair use is whether the work is for profit. –  Jay Dec 18 '12 at 15:46
    
Fair use is country-centric. You are assuming (as most people appear to) that the OP is referring to copyright in the USA. That may not be the case and it would not cover copyright issues in other countries. Fair use is mostly prevalent in the USA, it is not necessarily prevalent elsewhere and to give advice based on fair use may be misleading, hence my comment to ignore for profit. –  spiceyokooko Dec 18 '12 at 15:53
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Yes, they are copyrighted. BUT, if you aren't quoting them in their entirety you don't necessarily need to obtain copyright permissions if your use is a fair one according to the rules of Fair Use. This includes uses for profit.

See my answer on this question for a breakdown of how to determine if your use is fair: Can you reprint screen shots of a game application or program without permission?

An original translation is a difficult area. If you translated it, you would be fine using that translation. But using the entire original lyric alongside it would be less likely to be considered fair.

Also, as my note in the above link indicates: you should see how your publisher handles it. Many will attempt to get permissions even when they don't really need to (such as in the Stephen King example cited in an answer here, assuming it was a part of the song's lyric rather than the whole thing.

The only "problem" with simply always asking permission is that a copyright holder can say no even if your right is fair. You are not then required to abide by their decision, if you think your use is fair, but it makes things needlessly more difficult. There's a poet whose son says no to EVERY proposed use even, in his words, a single word from any of his father's poems. This is an extreme example, but it's not uncommon at all to ask and be refused or asked to provide compensation that you don't actually have to.

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Please keep in mind that, even if a use is "fair use", a copyright holder can still take action against you. (i.e., a cease and desist letter, etc.) –  Neil Fein Dec 15 '12 at 19:26
    
Sure, but a C&D is meaningless without something to back up the claim. I've dealt with quite a few of them in the past...most often it's a reflex reaction and is ultimately meaningless. It can be another way that copyright holders attempt to exert rights they don't actually have. So it's an action without consequence (assuming that one is legitimately using it fairly). –  Chris Dec 16 '12 at 5:32
    
I think it's fair to say that a court would be unlikely to take seriously a claim that you had violated copyright because you used "a single word" from someone's poem. Like, I once wrote a book that used the word "the". Now I will sue everyone who uses the word "the". I doubt I'd get far. Of course someone can initiate a ridiculous lawsuit, and it may cost you something to defend against it, but stupid as our courts can be at times, I don't think he'd win on one like that. –  Jay Dec 18 '12 at 15:49
    
Of course the court won't take it seriously! I was just using an extreme (and real-life) example of copyright owners trying to scare people away from fair uses by using a C&D. –  Chris Dec 19 '12 at 15:35
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