Using song lyrics for a pub quiz generator

Copyright matters affecting music and musicians.
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Using song lyrics for a pub quiz generator

Post by julescopeland »


I hope this will be an interesting topic, apologies in advance for it's length - There are quite a few questions around the same topic.

I'm currently developing an online pub quiz generator. One of the sections will eventually let users search for a song, see all of the lyrics, and then select a small section and use that as the question for the quiz. e.g.

Q1. Which song contain's the line
"You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one"?

A.1 'Imagine' by John Lennon

Is that against copyright law?

My heart tells me that it can't be, but having read a few things here and there, I'm having my doubts.

Furthermore, if I wanted to store the entire lyric for a song in my database, would that be even worse? Even if the only reason is only to allow quiz masters to find questions easily?

I'm probably going to have some advertising on the site, mainly just to fund the server costs (I realise it's not going to make me rich!).

Would that mean that I was profiting from someone else's work?

The other problem is where I source the lyrics from...

Could someone point out which (if any) of these options are legal please?

* Providing an i-frame on the page, so that the quiz master can see an entire lyrics search website within my page, search for the lyrics he wants, and then cut and paste the lines he wants to use in the question into my database.
* Sitting down, listening to the song and typing in the lyrics to my database as I hear them. (Then allowing quiz masters to search them)
* Googling the song lyrics, then cutting and pasting the lyrics into my database. (Then allowing quiz masters to search them)
*Writing a screenscraper or plugging into an API that pulls the lyrics directly into my database automagically. (Then allowing quiz masters to search them)

There are hundreds of lyrics websites out there, and I've read the Ts&Cs on a few of them. Here's an example:

"By using the Service, you acknowledge and agree that you have no right to provide any files obtained through the Service to any other party or through any other means. You agree that you will not duplicate or otherwise reproduce the Content, or any portion thereof, onto any physical medium, memory or device now known or hereinafter devised; except, however, that you may print out text-based Tablature and/or Lyrics for your personal, non-commercial use."

Now, I'm a little confused, as to how they can claim any rights to them. They don't own the copyright to the lyrics (I guess they may licence the rights from the owners???) Presumably "their work" constitutes someone actually sitting down and transcribing the lyrics into digital text.

Either way, would I be considered a non-commercial venture if the advertising revenue only covered the server costs? i.e. a non-profit venture.

I know there's a ton of questions I just asked, but any info on anything I've said would be much appreciated.

Thanks a lot,

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Post by AndyJ »

As you have rightly acknowledged, this is a very confusing issue. First of all, you mention about making money out of your propsal. For most purposes this is irrelevant as far as copyright infringement is concerned. If someone copies, say, DVDs of feature films and sells them in quantity then this is likely to be treaed as a criminal offence under Section 107 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, with harsh penalties such as a prison sentence, but this might not not apply if the financial gain was from a separate activity, namely providing some sort of internet service.
But there would almost certainly be infringement of copyright if you published (ie made available to the public in whatever manner) the full lyrics to a song without permission. And you could have damages awarded against you in proportion to the amount of profit it is alleged you made from that infringement. There could also be damages even if you made no financial gain.
The tricky area is if you only quote a few words from a song. Clearly there has to be some balance between the normal everyday use of some words from songs and the wholesale lifting of the entire lyric. The Act does allow the limited quoting of copyright items for the purposes of criticism, review, private study and news reporting, but I think it would be stretching these categories too far to say that what you propose falls within these exemptions.
The problem you face is that the rights in most lyrics are administered on behalf of the actual individual copyright owners by various collecting societies, which for the UK means PRS for Music. They are not averse to litigation and so if you go ahead with your venture without permission you can expect them to come after you at some point. At best they could get your host to take down the site, and in the worst case, they could take you to court for damages.
I suggest you contact the PRS, who represent most UK composers/lyricists, to discuss obtaining a licence to set up this service.
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