A woman with dark skin and close-cropped hair sings into a microphone.
There’s nothing like finding the perfect song lyrics to capture a moment between characters, or to illustrate the concept you’re trying to express. But think twice before you include the song lyrics in your manuscript. Bookbaby has a few things to say about using song lyrics in this article.   Using song lyrics gets into the very murky copyright arena. Because songs are short works of art, a snippet from a song (even one line), will be protected by copyright laws.

But maybe you’ve decided that you must include song lyrics in your manuscript. What do you do?
1. Seek permission from the person who holds the copyright to the lyrics (could be the musician/band, the songwriter, or even the music studio). See this article for more on permissions.

2. Be prepared to pay up. Using song lyrics can be very pricey. I’m talking hundreds of dollars for one line. Think I’m exaggerating? Read this article for details.

What can you do if you don’t want to jump through all the hoops to use song lyrics?
1. Reference the song by band name and title and trust your reader to know the tune. Band names and song titles are not copyrighted.

2. Get creative and write your own lyrics.

The Big No-No!
Do not say, “Screw it. I don’t need permission. I probably won’t get caught. I’m using them.”

You might get sued, and that would stink.

It never hurts to ask.

I had a conversation with an author who really wanted to use lyrics from an Avett Brothers song in her book. She wrote to the band and asked. Not only did they give her permission to use their lyrics, they let her include them free of charge.
Copyright Ayers Edits 2021