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Can I mention songs in my fictional writing?

If you are a writer, then you probably know that the key to writing good fiction is to keep it true to life. There are many aspects of daily life that you will find in books, such as characters using cell phones or drinking fancy coffees. For many writers, an important part of life and a great way to strike emotion and bring a story to life is to mention music. Specifically, you may want to include a song title or some lyrics in your writing. However, Pen and the Pad cautions that you have to keep copyright in mind in order to stay on the legal side of things.

You can mention a song title and artist with little issue, but there is a problem when you start quoting lyrics. It is not enough to use quotes even if you attribute it to the artist. In fact, you typically cannot get away with quoting any part of a song in a work of fiction without getting permission from the copyright holder.

Be aware that if you do seek permission, you will probably have to pay for the rights to use the lyrics, and those rights do not come cheap either. Actually, it may not be worth it for a new author to use a few words from a song.

Nevertheless, keep in mind, you may come across some songs that fall in the public domain. This means they are no longer or have never been under copyright protection. Some examples include the national anthem and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” You are free to use these songs in part or whole within your work of fiction with no need to pay a fee or get permission.

To find out more about copyright law and get help keeping your writing free from copyright violations, please contact us.