John Lennon lyrics on T-shirts

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  • A Special Olympics event in a small town wants to print partial lyrics from "Imagine" on t-shirts with an attribution to John Lennon since they are using Imagine as the theme for their event. The T-shirts are for the staff and to give to the kids, so they are not being sold.

    I'm checking on this because I know using Beatles lyrics can be a troublesome as using anything from Disney.
  • I'm uncomfortable answering this question for at least a couple of reasons. I have not problem talking to my colleagues about whether or not I think this is legal. Depending on the circumstances, I also don't mind talking to individuals who are involved in the event. However, if you are an official of the event seeking legal advice, you cannot get it here. You need to see a lawyer if you are seeking legal protection.

    Keeping in mind that I am not giving you legal advice, I do have some general comments that you might find useful.

    There are two questions here:
    1. Is it legal? Can you do it without breaking the law?
    2. Is it risky? Will you get sued even if you are not breaking the law?

    Question 2 first.
    Disney is definitely risky. I don't know about the Beatles or Lennono (the copyright holder of Imagine, I think). I suspect that Lennono/Beatles is more risky than average.

    Also, a Special Olympics event is riskier than a family reunion. This is a major reason for my reluctance to talk about this situation.

    Question 1.
    I think this is a fair use, but only a judge can say for certain.

    You could avoid talking to a lawyer by contacting the copyright holder and asking for permission.

    I hope that helps.

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