Music lyrics in novels – have I the right?

Music is a very dominant theme in AMOLAD – each chapter heading is the name of a song, so using a couple of lines from a song here and there surely wouldn’t be a problem? After all, an author may even be helping to flag up some tracks to new listeners.

In journalism the code of ‘fair usage’ covers the reproduction of song lyrics and quotations from literature and films – it’s rare for copyright infringement to be raised particularly if lyrics/quotes are credited.

But books are different – here if you use a finely honed lyrical couplet from a song to neatly nail a point or underline a motif, you’re asking for a sizeable bill to go with it. In almost every case. Plus, even if you deigned a lyric essential to your work and were prepared to pay, applying to a copyright owner to use a line could result in a considerable wait – adding yet more months to an already extensive production process.

Many first time – and not so inexperienced – authors take the view that it’s worth taking a gamble – nobody will ever find out and why would a music copyright owner bother chasing a low selling author anyway?

I was indebted to Blake Morrison on the subject who related how he picked up a bill of almost £4,500 for unauthorised use of lyrics in his novel South of the River, each line of a lyric costing between £200 and £1,000. On AMOLAD, I could have been looking at a bill of £40,000 before I’d even sold a copy. Cheers, Blake!

Thankfully, you can use song titles without any issues even if you can’t use lyrics for free – check out the songs featured in the AMOLAD chapter headings here or listen to them on Spotify here.