Do I need permission to use song lyrics in my book?


Within the hundreds of nonfiction books I've edited over the years, almost every single one has included a song lyric, line from a poem, or quote from a famous person. Fair use copyright guidelines are something every author should be familiar with, and I've outlined what you need to know about fair use guidelines and copyrights.


Song titles do not need copyright permission, but even a few words from a song do. The best way to find the copyright holder is to locate the publisher. This information is on the leaflet sold with an album, and it's often included on lyrics sites at the very bottom below the songwriter and performer. You can also try this address: https://cocatalog.loc.gov. Poem titles do not need copyright permission, but even a few lines from a poem do. The author of a poem is almost always the copyright holder, but you may still need to do some digging to find out how to contact them and request permission to reprint their poem in your book. If you can't find any author contact information, try reaching out to the publisher. Quotes usually do not need copyright permissions, but they do need to be fact-checked and receive a citation (unless used as an epigraph at the beginning of the chapter). Many quotes are easy to track down since they are from a book or video, and you can format the citation per Chicago Manual of Style for that format. If you can't find an actual source, ask your editor for help. (If I had a nickel for every time a quote was mistakenly attributed to Abraham Lincoln . . .lol.) You can quote directly from other books as long as they are are properly cited and don't constitute the bulk of your content. I had an author several years ago who copy and pasted several articles online and tried to pass them off as her own work! I declined working with this author when she did not see a problem with this. Even if you're paraphrasing and not quoting directly, you still need to properly cite the author of the content you're using as a resource. For use of scripture verses, Bible versions have different copyright permission requirements based on the version you use. Most versions only require a verbatim notice on the copyright page of the book, which you can find online by Googling "[Bible version] copyright permissions," but make sure your use of scriptures falls within that version's specific guidelines.


These are some of the most common copyright permissions issues I am asked about as an editor, so I hope this is helpful to you in your authoring journey. What questions do you have about copyright permissions? Comment below!

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