Use of lyrics / passages from novels in one off / limited artworks

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  • Hi,

    I work in music and movies, so am aware of copyright in normal uses, however I am wishing to create one off and/or very limited (25 max) artworks (pictures/paintings if you will) that will feature printed lyric segments (one or two lines only) that are intended to make a commentary message on the underlying work.

    I could contact the relevant music / literary publisher - however it is a very limited / unusual request... is there a precedent in this kind of use?

    Is prior authorization required? (i.e. do I need to spend a lot of time, money and effort to produce an original piece of art that can then be turned down?).

    Would fair use apply?

    Many thanks,

  • There are many factors that impact whether or not the use you describe would be fair. Some questions that come to my mind are: are you selling your work? how much of the songs would you be copying and how key is that portion to the song? is there a mechanism set up for licensing the lyrics, or would you need to track down the copyright holders? Is is possible that the use you describe might be considered fair, so I would suggest that you do a fair use analysis, using what you know about your particular situation. You can find information on fair use and a handy tool for guiding your analysis linked from our wiki at

    In any case, I would recommend that you make a fair use analysis and gain any permissions, if necessary, prior to using a copyrighted work. Be sure to keep a copy of your analysis to protect yourself! I do think that late is better than never, in this case, so if you have already created a piece, I would certainly go back and take care of it.
  • Freya - Many thanks for your response. I tend to agree that pre-approval is the best course of action. Thanks again.

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