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Can You Use Song Lyrics in Your Books? By Joylynn M. Ross, Literary Consultant & Publishing Coach

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

If you take the time, money and effort to obtain permission for use of song lyrics, then the answer is an easy yes; you can use song lyrics in your book, those of which have been exclusively outlined in your permission of use contract. Using song lyrics in your book can definitely subject you to a copyright infringement lawsuit, that is, if you do not seek the proper copyright permission. Some authors feel it’s safe to use only one line of a song without having to gain copyright permission. But I wouldn’t take that risk if I were you.

Regardless of whether you feel citing your favorite artist’s song in your book is a sign of respect or your way of paying homage, in this case, artists don’t want to be paid homage, they want to be paid! So, show them the respect they deserve by paying them should you decide to cite their song lyrics. Either get copyright permission for the use of song lyrics (no matter how few or many lines you wish to use), or make up your own song lyrics.

When someone says it's okay to use song titles, do your due diligence, because typically this advice is being directed to authors when it comes to referencing song titles in their books.

A particular song title may not be protected under copyright law, while it could very well be protected under trademark law. Generic song titles and phrases are likely not able to be protected, but don't ever put your business endeavor at risk by infringing on someone else's.

The circumstances in which you use a song title could possibly subject you to a lawsuit. A restaurant in Hawaii called Cheeseburger In Paradise was sued by Jimmy Buffet for use of his song name.

Many "use of song title" lawsuits are thrown out, but not before thousands of dollars have been spent fighting them; some defendants opting to pay a settlement versus spending years in court (or opting to pay a settlement AFTER spending years in court).

For all you authors out there, it's typically quite alright to use a song title in your book without having to worry about copyright infringement. If you are going to list a song title in your book, make sure you also list who the song is by. And if you really want to be MLA (Modern Language Association) correct, add a reference page to the end of your book citing the proper information in relation to the song.

How to properly cite the song at the end of your book:

Make an alphabetical list starting with the last name of the artist followed by a comma, then the artist's first name followed by a period, and then the title of the song (in quotation marks) and a period in quotation marks. Next, type the name of the album (in italics) in which the song first appeared followed by a period. Then write the name of the production company that produced the album, followed by a comma and the year the album was released followed by a period. Lastly, indicate what form of music the song was on (CD, audio cassette, record, etc.) followed by a period.

If you want to learn other ways to protect your book and your book business, join over 200 authors September 20-22, 2018 at the "Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business" 2018 Conference by registering now: pages. You can change your layouts at any time, even after you’ve published your blog.


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