How to get permission to use song lyrics in your book

Green Light

One of my most popular posts from last year was this one about the steps involved in obtaining permission to reproduce song lyrics and other copyright materials in your own work.

In this update I’m thrilled to share the success story of Tyler, a writer who generously wrote up the process she used based on my tips in the first blog post. The whole process took her seven weeks, or just under two months. She writes:

I began the process on January 7, 2013, seeking permission to reproduce lyrics from three songs. Utilizing the link on your website to ASCAP [www.ascap.com], I identified the artist(s) of each song as well as the initial copyright holder/publisher. It took a little more web navigating, primarily via Google and Wikipedia to track down the current copyright holder, as the original copyright holder/publisher in each instance had been bought out by a large corporation. As it would turn out, separate entities owned the rights to each song, which necessitated three individual requests.

See, I wasn’t kidding when I said it was a drag! Good news is, Tyler has some valuable input to the process to help others improve their strike-rate with copyright requests. In my original post I list three bullet points that set out all the information the copyright holder needs to assess your request. The third bullet relates to quoting the excerpt of your work that includes the copyright material. Tyler suggests wording it this way specifically:

• Please see the following excerpt from CHAPTER # of TITLE OF WORK for the context in which the lyrics will be used: (copy and paste excerpt on the next line)

While Tyler’s happy to have received a green light from all three publishers, each has requested she pay them a fee. Note that the fee is based on a “specific print run quantity” of her book.

“In all three cases,” Tyler writes, “the publishers had no qualms granting me permission. There was no back and forth between me and them. They received all the information they needed to make a decision up front, which in the long run, sped the process up.

Music to my ears, Tyler!

Be aware that you’ll probably have to do some chasing of the publishers. They won’t all have centralized databases or seamless electronic filing and processing systems for permissions requests. Two of the three publishers Tyler contacted had such a system, and permissions were granted within two weeks. The case of the third highlights something else that’s helpful to know:

The publisher’s copyright department must contact all parties that have an ‘interest’ in the copyrighted work. And the publisher must get approval from each party before granting permission to reproduce the copyrighted work.

As you can imagine, that is the part which eats time.

Thanks so much again to Tyler for sharing her experience for the benefit of everyone seeking copyright permissions. Despite being a time-consuming process, this good news story means that it’s far from impossible to get the permissions you need. You just need to make the time to pursue them.

A quick note on titles
By the way, I should note here that titles of anything – songs, books, records and so forth – are NOT subject to copyright. You don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to refer to the title of another art work in your own creative work.*

Good luck!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I found this information most interesting as it seems I’ve fallen into the trap of wanting to include some lyrics in a novel I’m writing. Can you advise please whether permission would still be required if you’re only using an excerpt of a song – say two or three lines and/or if you’re altering the words?

    1. Hi Fin. Yes you need permission to use “only an excerpt” of a song’s lyrics, because even though it’s an excerpt it is still creative work that legally belongs to someone else. All the information you need to get started should be in this post. Good luck! –Virginia

  2. Help, the above link to ASCAP is not working??
    Thanks for posting

    1. Thanks Charlie for letting me know. For some strange reason I haven’t been able to fix it but the link you need is to http://www.ascap.com. I recommend checking out my other post on this topic, to which this one links. Good luck, Virginia

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