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Quoting Songs on T-Shirts? Legal or Illegal? Please Help

Posted: Wed Aug 01, 2012 5:10 pm
by RichWade
Hi I'm planning on starting my own clothing range and wanted to use some lyrics from songs on them. I will also be listing the artist and song on the t-shirt too. Is this legal? I'm kind of thinking it might not and if this is the case, how do I go about obtaining permission for me to do this?
Any help or info anyone can spare would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Rich

Posted: Wed Aug 01, 2012 9:41 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Rich,
The lyrics of songs are classed as literary works and it would be an infringement of the copyright in them if a substantial part of the lyrics were quoted without permission. Substantiality is gauged by qualitative standards rather than quantitative ones, but even so, given that many pop lyrics don't actually have that many words to them, when you take into account the chorus and other repeated lines, there won't be a lot of difference in many cases. I imagine for your idea to work you would need to quote fairly well known lyrics, and this is where you run up against the quality test, because chances are you will want to use the words that represent the 'heart' or 'soul' of the song. Unfortunately I don't think any of the statutory exemptions which apply to criticism, news reporting or review will apply to your proposed use.
There have been a number of court cases in which the amount of copying (or sampling) between two songs has been at issue, and generally it doesn't seem to take very much to convince the courts that infringement has occurred. For example see here.
Of course, you are not intending to perform a song or parts of it, but it is still infringement to issue copies to the public which is effectively what you would be doing by selling tee-shirts bearing the words.
As for where you can obtain permission, I suggest that as you would effectively be seeking to publish the lyrics, you should contact the Music Publishers Association for guidance on how to licence this.

Posted: Tue Aug 07, 2012 5:00 pm
by RichWade
Hi and thanks for the reply. Great information from you and it really is quite scary how the copyright law works. Will be following up with the link that you gave me as I really believe in the designs and concept of my ideas. I just hope I can get permission.
Thanks again, Rich