Allusion, Homage and Copyright Violation

It may sound like I’m asking for legal advice but free advice is worth what you pay for it. You are not my lawyer.

My question is: do I need a songwriter’s permission to quote their lyrics in my song?

Does it matter how long the quotes are or how many different quotes I use? Does it matter if I make small changes in the quotes?

For example:

Etc. Not all quotes are from the same song but all are from the album “Blue”. My intention is that 50 or 60 year old hipsters will recognize the allusions and smile knowingly - not that anyone will think the words are original with me.

If permission is really required to record this, presumably I have to talk to some one here but do I need to or am I worried about nothing?

Heck, what are you worrying about? Those aren’t even direct quotations. Even if they were were I think that amount would be fair use/parody.

If you are using a very similar melody it might be a problem I guess, but Joni Mitchell does not get to copyright metaphors, or all sentences that share grammatical structure and a few words with hers.

OF course, IANAL.

I can’t advise you on the legal issue, but here’s an anecdote that might be relevant since the allegedly copied lyric is so short. I’m not familiar with the Chuck Berry song referenced, so I don’t have a sense of how musically similar the two songs are. (Wikipedia).

Yes. And songs are different from other copyrighted material in that there really isn’t any fair use: if you quote any recognizable section, it’s a copyright violation.

I have a copy of a Straight No Chaser CD where they do their “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” When they perform the song they take a single line – “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” from another song. They also use the lines, “You better not shout. You better not cry.” The CD lists these songs (as well as Toto’s “Africa,” but which they take far more) in the credits with the words “Used by permission.”

Since they have to get permission to use even these small bits of songs, you can bet that any recognizable use of the tune and lyrics requires permission.

The one exception is parody. You can parody any song by rewriting its lyrics (ASCAP sued Mad Magazine over this and the Supreme Court allowed for parody). As long as you aren’t playing the tune, you can do a parody version without permission. If you do play the tune, though, you need to pay the appropriate performance fees for the song, though the songwriter can’t prevent you from using it (Campbell v. Acuff-Rose).

Thank you for your replies, njtt and Sidney Evgeni Jordan.

Lennon’s recording of “You Can’t Catch Me” was rather pointedly done to the tune of “Come together” as I recall.

Getting back to the OP, musically, my song doesn’t sound like her at all as far as I can tell except for a section that sounds like the way she quotes “Jingle Bells” in her song “River”.

Thanks RealityChuck. It sounds like my question ought to be, “who do I talk to about getting permission?” This page lists contacts for:

[li]I’d like to record one of Joni’s songs.[/li][li]I’d like to use one of Joni’s songs in a film, on TV, in a live stage production, or some other form of media.[/li][li]I’d like to sample one of Joni’s songs.[/li][li]I’d like permission to reprint Joni’s lyrics.[/li][/ul]
Which would you contact?