Well, not quite. It’s complicated. 

You’ve probably heard of the ‘Fair use’ clause. The specifics differ from country to country, but it works on the same principle everywhere; that it’s ok to quote a ‘fair’ amount from a copyrighted work without consent, under certain circumstances. In the US, ‘fair use’ is usually judged on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration factors like ‘purpose and character of use’ (not-for-profit or educational books are more likely to make the cut here), and substantiality of the portion used, in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.    

When you’re dealing with a song, even just a few lines would constitute a ‘substantial’ portion. Which is why, if you’d prefer to not take the risk of having to prove your intentions and ‘fair use’ in court, it’s much safer to just avoid using song lyrics at all. 

Sure, you might get away with it. Chances are very slim that the copyright holder will ever pick up your book; but what if they do? Or if someone else reports you? And even if this never happens, do you really want to be the kind of author who takes someone else’s intellectual property in an illegal manner?

Don’t be that guy. Come on.

Instead, you could just the song title, which does NOT qualify for copyright protection, and go on to explain the gist of the song in your own words. No one can sue you for that, and you’ll feel better about yourself.


Stay legal, and happy writing!