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I get asked a lot about particular copyright and trademark situations by blog readers. One that has come up several times recently is using song lyrics or titles in products made in your Silhouette or Cricut small business.
Let’s tackle one specific question today: “Can you legally use song lyrics in products you make for sale?” And unfortunately, it isn’t an easy question to answer – so be sure to read through to the end.
Important Dates to Know for Song Copyrights in the USA
- Before 1923: Songs that were published before 1923 are now public domain. The copyright on these songs have expired.
- 1923 – 1977: These songs are protected by copyright laws. The copyright on these songs expires 95 years from creation.
- 1978 and on: These songs are protected by copyright laws. The copyright on these songs expires 70 years from the death of the author.
What about songs published outside of the USA? You’d need to look up the copyright laws of the country where the song was published.
Modern Day Song Lyrics & Copyright and Trademark Concerns
First, we are going to take a look at songs written in 1923 to present. Let’s call these ‘modern day songs’.
Can You Legally Use Modern Day Song Lyrics in Handmade Products?
For modern day songs, you can not use the song lyrics without written permission from the song writer or the music publishing company/record label.
But what if… you wanted to put the song lyrics and credit the singer/songwriter on the product? For example, if I wanted to make a painted wooden sign that read: “You belong among the wildflowers, You belong somewhere close to me, Far away from your trouble and worries, You belong somewhere you feel free .” -Tom Petty. This wouldn’t matter, you would still need to obtain written permission from the song writer or music publishing company/record label.
But what if… you wanted to use a portion of a lyric? For example: “She was an American girl, raised on promises.” If you don’t know, this is a portion of a Tom Petty song. Obviously, it’s a few lines from an entire song. No, you wouldn’t be able to use a portion of the lyric since it is a part of a copywritten work.
But what about song titles? In general, song titles are not protected by copyright since they are short and not unique. Amy shared insight on this in this question and answer post. But wait! There’s more – some modern day song titles and lyrics may be may also be trademarked. For example, artists like Beyonce and Taylor Swift trademark their titles and popular lyrics. A quick search of TESS can help you in these situations.
Can You Legally Use Older Song Lyrics in Handmade Products?
First, when I refer to ‘older songs’, I’m referring to songs that were written before 1923. The copyrights on these songs are expired and are now considered public domain. You can use the lyrics in products you make and sell freely. You can find public domain song lists at PDinfo.com. Additionally, if you are looking for Christmas public domain songs, I have a list on the blog at this link.
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