Question about lyric copyright

I am not a lawyer. I also feel artists should be compensated for their works. Now that that is out of the way…

Let’s take an example. Recall the WKRP episode The Americanization of Ivan. Now, I know about acquiring the rights to entire songs, which is why so many episodes have the music changed. But why is it a copyright issue when Ivan looks at Bailey and says “Hold me closer, tiny dancer”? (the line is changed in syndication, annoyingly).

To me, a line from a song is not the entirety of the work, for copyright purposes. Sometimes, lyrics are also just phrases used in everyday speech. If I write a blog about how I can’t find anything for Christmas, and I title it “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”, will U2 sue me? It’s just a phrase. Confusion! I don’t know what I should do! It’s got me in a stranglehold (baby). Anyway, I want it, and that’s the way I need it.

Shouldn’t the use of the one lyric be covered under fair use?

Bonus question, maybe related to my first question:

Although they are a part of the entirety of the work, why ARE lyrics by themselves so protected? Protection from them being sold as uncompensated sheet music-that I understand. But I ask about lyrics sites. The words to a song are “out there”, so to speak. The artist usually intends them to be understood. So why is the act of writing them down illegal? If the artist is worried about someone stealing their lyrics, barring someone from writing them down doesn’t prevent the theft. All the thief has to do is listen to the song.

(Yes, the listener/thief can also ‘reverse engineer’ the music as well, but if he performs the song he still has to pay royalties to be legal, whether he learned the song legally or illegally.)

It seems odd that a person would create a song and deny the listener access to half of it (If we the listeners can’t understand what he is singing.) If I need help understanding why he is singing, that’s not stealing. It’s clarifying.

Is it because the websites often get ad money, and they are using other people’s copyrighted work as content? Would a site with no income derived from viewing be legal?

Fair use is not a thing; it’s more of a process. Something under copyright can be used under fair use if and only if the use does not infringe upon its value or else serves a specific useful purpose, usually defined in broad strokes as educational. (It’s more complicated than that, but I’ll let the lawyers expand on it.)

Quotable lyrics are normally short and immediately identifiable with a particular work. In practice, lawyers will almost always caution not to use lyrics, or even a famous phrase from a lyric. “Hold me closer, tiny dancer” is obviously meant to take its value from the value of knowing the song and its use on a commercial television program can’t be defended as educational, although my using them here to explicate a point of law can be.

Lyrics sites are undoubtedly in infringement, since they lessen the value of issuing sheet music with the lyrics that can be profitable to the writer (or, technically, to the writer’s publishing company). In fact, sales of sheet music were once by far the most profitable form of the industry. The sheer futility of policing the Internet means that most lyrics sites, and the great majority of all copyright infringement, goes unchallenged. But a tv show is an obvious target.

That’s the answer to why: because that’s the law and has been since before any of us here were born. If you want to argue that it shouldn’t be the law, feel free to do so, but ask a mod to move the thread from GQ.

Ah, I see I wrote so much it seems like GD territory, but I didn’t mean to.

You’re second paragraph seems to answer the question. Although the use of the lyric was meant to evoke a specific reference (even the next line of dialog shows that -“well, I guess we know Elton John toured Russia”) one could (but not in GQ) argue it was parody.

In general, fair use does not apply to lyrics. Music is not only copyrighted, it’s licensed. If you want to sing a part of a song – even a single line – you need to pay a licensing fee. And the lyrics are considered part of the song.

WKRP undoubtedly had a blanket ASCAP license when it was on the air, but the licensing did not cover DVDs (obviously). Thus the producers have no right to play the music, or any reference to the music until they paid a fee. Sometimes the fees were such that it was easier to rerecord the line.

There’s also the possibility that the line was changed on the lawyer’s suggestion, not because it infringes, but because it’s a lawyer’s job to avoid any possible lawsuit.

Not necessarily. However,

this is unquestionably true. Lawyers prefer to render opinions on the safe side. It’s up to the lawyer’s client to “do the math” to see if a risk is worth a reward. In the case of these TV shows, it’s likely that they’ll get the same revenues regardless of line changes that avoid the potential for a lawsuit, and the cost of fixing the lines is relatively small.

Lyrics and music are both covered, in a PA (“Performing Arts”) copyright. They’re covered separately. Without permission or paying fees, you can’t use the music with different lyrics (or no lyrics), and you can’t use the lyrics with different music (or no music).

However, there are ways you can use copyrighted stuff without infringing. It has to do with a lot of factors, including how recognizable and how central it is. Or so says my father, a retired patent attorney. For example, if a photo is framed and on the wall and happens to be caught by the camera as an actor passes by, and isn’t particularly significant, it isn’t necessarily infringement. Likewise, if you take a sound source that’s copyrighted and mangle it beyond recognition, it’s not covered. (That is, it’s not covered specifically, but if you violated any DRM software to do it, it’s not just infringement, but is criminal, thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Also, users’ licenses may apply.)

ASCAP does not license the use of music in television programs (or films). In order to use music in an audio-visual work, such as a television program, you must obtain what is called a “synchronization license” direct from the publisher of the work. If you are using someone else’s recording of the work, you must also obtain “master rights” for the recording (usually from the record company). ASCAP does not get involved in any of this. The licenses have to negotiated individually. And the issue is that the synchronization and master use licenses that the series producers obtained did not include the right to release the music on DVD.

Now, when a television station wants to broadcast a program containing music, it needs a license from ASCAP.

The same is true for the other Performing Rights Organizations:
BMI does not issue synchronization licenses.

SESAC does not issue synchronization licenses, although they have a servicethat will put you in touch with the publisher so you can negotiate your own license.

Yes, you can find ways to use copyrighted material without infringing. We’re doing so right here. I realize that once a question is answered, people will flood the thread with nitpicks and exceptions. I just want to make sure it’s clear to everyone that the OP’s example is surely not one.

ETA: That was for Learjeff. For Alley Dweller, while that’s all true I’m fairly sure that the reference to a lyric in dialog is not covered under music licensing but is a standard copyright matter. I invite correction on this, though.

Thank you all. My basic question has been answered.

Despite how silly it may seem to a layman, that is in fact the legality of the matter. I am less ignorant today. (But still annoyed! I want my WKRP the way it was intended! [pout])

I believe also that one of the factors considered is the how much of the original is copied or used. It’s one thing to copy a sentence out of a book or a magazine - but one or two lines of a hit song are likely a significant part of the whole song; there’s not a lot of lyrics to begin with in a 3-minute song. So quoting a single line, especially from the chorus, and especially the “hook”, means you are stealing a lot of the song’s life essence.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…

Not trying to sound paranoid here, but how long until none of us can speak in public because every phrase has been copyrighted? :confused:

Note that a lot of phrases are common to multiple songs. (quick, how many songs with the phrase “I love you” can you think of?) Single common words cannot be copyright. But… a specific combination in sequence could be strongly identified with a well-known work.

Forsooth, if we all talk in Shakespeare and King James Bible English we should be immune.

I seriously doubt any lawsuit has a scintilla of hope of success when the words in question are
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”
Throw in the “turn, turn, turn” and the lawyers might have a case.

The Fair use doctrine would allow for quoting a line from a lyric in any kind of work. Major TV and movie producers might just be over cautious about potential litigation.

IANAL but I believe this is incorrect. There are few blanket statements one can make about what is and is not fair use. The U.S. Government says

The reference goes on to give examples of use where the courts have generally decided are fair use. However, quoting a line in the teleplay of a commercial TV show (per the OP) does not fall into any of the examples. Clearly cases exist where quoting a line from a lyric would not be fair use.

I am a lawyer specializing in copyright law. The government guidelines are written vaguely and conservatively, but except in extreme circumstances, the quoting of a single line from a song lyric will be fair use. Note, however, that this is “quoting.” Using a clip or sample from a recording is a completely different issue.

Infinitely long. Copyright doesn’t prohibit or lay claims on ordinary conversation. And Fair Use is actually quite broad in application. As I said above, we can write anything we want here on the Dope about copyrighted works, although the copying of complete works or large blocks of works will be redacted by the mods.

And that’s true even though every single post here by everyone, including you, has an inherent copyright attached to it the moment you post it. Copyright doesn’t work the way most people thinks it does.

Subdue my ignorance: the post is copyrighted by the Chicago Reader (or its parent company), yes?

By my troth, I am off. (Copyright infringement–“Calvin & Hobbes.”) :eek: :smiley:

What makes you think that this is even remotely possible?

I’d say it’s more than paranoid; it sounds like deliberate misrepresentation of copyright law in order to incite panic.

Single words, names, slogans, titles, and short phrases are not protected by copyright law. Copyright law also does not govern ordinary speaking.

Not one what? Not an infringement or not an exception? My guess is that it would be hard for the copyright owner to win a lawsuit over something like this, but lawyers for the TV show would nevertheless render a conservative opinion and suggest changing the line.

Thanks! A lot of misinformation gets spread on the internet about copyrights, and I sure hope I’m not adding to the noise. A lot of people over-apply Fair Use, too, so it’s interesting to hear your opinion on this.

I should let Ascenray answer this, but I’m pretty sure you would be the copyright owner, since it’s not a “work for hire”, which is what it would have to be for the website’s owner to get copyright. Note that “work for hire” has a fairly broad definition, covering what either employees or contractors might do, but probably wouldn’t apply here.

Actually, in the absence of a contract explicitly saying otherwise, freelancers or independent contractors are not employees and their works are not works made for hire.