Waxing Lyrical

Do I need permission to quote song lyrics in my novel?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer:  Yes.  Song lyrics are protected by copyright, and some music companies are notorious for charging large amounts for very short extracts.  (See link to article under Resources.) Song titles, generally, are not copyrighted, but if they are associated with a trademark or brand, then this would need further investigation.  There are no standard fees or procedures for obtaining permission, and each copyright owner will apply different charges.

You may be familiar with the term ‘fair dealing’.  Note that this only applies to non-commercial research and private study, criticism and review, and reporting current events.

If you are writing a book (fiction or non-fiction) that you intend to publish, so that it is available to the public, and where you intend to make money from it (it doesn’t matter how small the amount), then permission is required from the copyright owner to reproduce song lyrics, even if it is just a few words.  To publish them without permission is an infringement of copyright law, meaning that legal action could be taken against you.

There is a lot of incorrect information and advice about copyright, in general, on the Internet. The links below should help to steer you in the right direction for UK copyright law, at least.


An article by Blake Morrison in The Guardian on 1 may 2010

Copyright Law – An Introduction (PRS for Music website)

Directory of MPA Members (Music Publishers Association)

Music Sales Group (A US site offering a searchable catalogue of the most prominent composers in the entertainment industry)

The UK Copyright Service

GOV.UK Copyright Information