Does someone violate copyright laws when quoting song lyrics?


I know there are tons of sites out there that list song lyrics that are surrounded with advertisements and pop up ads. I don't imagine the song writers had this in mind when they were writing their songs.

In any case, if someone wanted to analyze the lyrics of a song in a scholastic way, and quoted the source, and perhaps even sent users to where they could purchase the song and give that artist money...

Is this a copyright violation?

Is it different than citing a source in an academic paper?

Legal Copyright Licensing

asked Feb 6 '11 at 07:20
468 points
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2 Answers


Most of those lyric sites are not actually licensing the content, and are breaking the law. If they don't pay royalties, they may be liable for copyright violation.

There is a concept in copyright law called Fair Use. You should study the rules closely if you plan to use any copyright material, as the rules are subtle and not always obvious. The basic idea is that if you quote a small fraction of a work (for example, one or two lines of a song) for certain purposes (for example, as a part of a scholarly research paper), it may be OK to do so without seeking the copyright holders permission. Because reprinting all of a song's lyrics is not a small fraction of the work, it does not fall under fair use.

answered Feb 6 '11 at 14:13
Joel Spolsky
13,482 points
  • Breaking the law and yet no body sue because artists want their lyric popular. – Sharen Eayrs 11 years ago


You are, in effect, asking whether such use constitutes fair use under copyright law.

That determination is highly fact-specific, so any answer here must have an "it depends" component. The factors that are considered include:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

This issue is discussed in "The 'Fair Use' Defense: One Term, Two Different Meanings" at

Disclaimer: This information does not constitute legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

answered Feb 9 '11 at 05:27
Dana Shultz
6,015 points
  • Ok, So for a blog, I want to look at expressions people put in songs and explain things in english that might be otherwise hard to understand to someone who is not a native speaker. The purpose would be for education.... In theory I could profit from ancillary issues like ad revenue or other purchases from blog. I think it would be a good method but don't want to get sued. – Scott 13 years ago

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Legal Copyright Licensing