Copyright and Song Lyrics

Posting song lyrics on your blog

A few days ago I found myself in a discussion with my husband and son regarding song lyric websites.

Not even two days later I found myself in a similar discussion with a fellow writer about posting song lyrics on a forum board.

These past two discussions lead to the question:

Do you need permission to display song lyrics?

Per the Copyright Act, posting song lyrics in their full entirety to your blog, Facebook page, website or forum message board without permission from the artist does in fact violate copyright laws, and could subject the poster to legal action.

What about quoting a few lines of the song?

Fair use and song lyrics

If you are posting a small excerpt of the lyrics for the purpose of critic or review then it may be considered okay to do so under the “fair use doctrine.” Again this is a Grey area. ( For more information on understanding the fair use of song lyrics please see “The Fair Use of Lyrics and Literature.”)

My son asked “What about lyric sites?”

“Many of them are violating copyright by republishing the lyrics without permission,” said Elinor Mills, staff writer for CNET News in her article “Lyrics sites out of tune with copyrights.”

In 2007, Yahoo Inc. and digital media company Gracenote launched an online lyrics service. According to their website, Gracenote has “A Lyric-specific royalty payment system ensures that songwriters get paid seamlessly.”

My son believes posting the lyrics benefits the copyright owner as it promotes their music. This may be so, but it still violates copyright. You can justify copyright violation by telling yourself and others that the artist ‘won’t mind.’

And yet truth remains: If the lyrics are not explicitly labeled as public domain, you can not repost them without permission. Remember that citing the source (giving credit) is not the same thing as obtaining permission.

Your thoughts?

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