How to Use Song Lyrics in Your Story

mu’sic (mŭ’zĭk), n., any art over which the Muses presided, esp. music, lyric poetry set and sung to music, fr. mousikos belonging to the Muses or fine arts.

Webster’s New International Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 1954.

For many writers music is the muse itself, inspiring their writing often to the point of being inseparable from it. While the desire to use the lyrics of others in their work is strong, writers find that actually doing it is a challenge.

I discuss those challenges in a post on The Better Novel Project:

In order to use someone else’s lyrics in your fiction without infringing that creator’s rights, you need to either:

1. Establish that the song is in the public domain;

2. Obtain permission from the publisher of the lyrics;

3. Satisfy the requirements of the fair use defense; or

4. Avoid the use of lyrics altogether by just referring to the song title.


photo credit: Pippalou

photo credit: Pippalou

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2 thoughts on “How to Use Song Lyrics in Your Story

  1. Monica

    Hi Kathryn:
    I found you through your post on Alyson Stansfield’s Art Biz Blog. I have long wondered about the use of quotations in a visual work? Is that permissible?

    1. Kathryn Goldman Post author


      It’s a great question. Short phrases are not subject to copyright. Using quotes in a visual work really depends on the way you plan to use them whether as an element of the work or the focal point. If they are quotes from famous people, you have to be careful about infringing their right to publicity, not copyright infringement. You should not use quotes in your marketing or advertising materials. Quotes should always be fully attributed.

      These are general guidelines. Without knowing more about the piece, it’s difficult to be more specific.


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