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Song Lyric usage on hand painted items

Discussion in 'Other Legal Issues' started by DecorativeSignMaker, Mar 9, 2018.

  1. DecorativeSignMaker

    DecorativeSignMaker Law Topic Starter New Member

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    I make hand painted farmhouse style wooden signs. I sell on the internet. Some of my signs contain song lyrics portions such a verse, or Chorus.. i was wondering the law concerning this if it violates copyright to do so? Since it’s only portions of the lyrics..
     
  2. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    It does. (Unless the songs are so old as to be public domain.)

    Stop doing it.
     
  3. DecorativeSignMaker

    DecorativeSignMaker Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Thx for the reply.. Found this on this site though..

    Song titles generally don't fall within the protection of copyright law since most are not sufficiently original or independently conceived by the artist. Are phrases like "born to run" or "on the road again" sufficiently original so as to deserve legal protection? The few words in a song title may have been used many times before and should be able to be available for general use as a natural part of the English language. Copyright law in itself doesn't seem to prevent anyone from placing a song title on a bumper sticker or t-shirt.
     
  4. DecorativeSignMaker

    DecorativeSignMaker Law Topic Starter New Member

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    I’m not talking about complete lyrics.. just phrases.. which in all honesty would be used regularly in conversation anyway.. they’re are just recognized as a lyric because someone put them in a song..

    Thoughts?
     
  5. mightymoose

    mightymoose Well-Known Member

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    Of what you are doing is easily identifiable with the owner of the content and you are profiting from it then you might rethink what you are doing.
    However, as above, if the lyrics are old enough that they are public domain (is it 20 years?) then it could be fair game.
    You don't want any appearance that your use of the lyrics are intended to be associated with the song or the original performer... unless it is old enough.
     
  6. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    It MIGHT be possible, for example, "I love you", "Happy Birthday Darling"; in reality you're embarking upon a very slippery slope.

    I suggest you consult at least two copyright attorneys of your choice.

    The initial consultation is normally offered free of charge.
     
  7. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    Unless you're using lyrics from songs that were written prior to 1922 or 1923 (can't remember the exact year off the top of my head) or which are otherwise in the public domain, what you're doing is copyright infringement.

    It is generally (but not universally) correct that song titles are not protected by copyright law, but the reason stated ("most [song titles] are not sufficiently original or independently conceived by the artist") is absolutely wrong. However, in your original post, you told us that your "signs contain song lyrics portions such a verse, or [c]horus." There's a huge difference between a sign that says "Born to Run" and on that says, "There's a lady who knows all that glitters is gold, and she's buying a Stairway to Heaven." Also, the statement that "[c]opyright law in and of itself doesn't seem to prevent anyone from placing a song title on a bumper sticker or t-shirt" implies that other areas of law (e.g., trademark law) might impose such a legal prohibition.

    So...we've moved from "a verse[] or [c]horus" to song titles to "just phrases." Obviously, the effect of the law depends on specific facts, and you've been inconsistent about what exactly you're doing. If you want certainty, you'll need to have an attorney review what you're doing. However, it seems obvious to me that you're seeking to make money by capitalizing on someone else's use of a phrase in a song. For example, unless you're also selling signs that say "Elevator to Nirvana," your (hypothetical) use of "Stairway to Heaven" on a sign is a rather obvious attempt to profit from someone else's work. In other words, while the phrases might be used in ordinary conversation, you wouldn't be putting them on signs if they weren't known because of the songs. Right?
     
  8. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    20 years? Nope. Not even close. Under the 1976 Copyright Act, copyright protection for works created on and after January 1, 1978 subsists for the life of the author plus 70 years (or, for anonymous and pseudonymous works and works for hire, for the lesser of 120 years from creation or 95 years from first publication). The rules for works created prior to 1/1/78 are more complex, but most such works of any notoriety are protected by copyright for 95 years from the date on which copyright was first secured. Of course, some works that are not that old may have fallen into the public domain for other reasons, and each work needs to be looked at individually.
     
  9. ElleMD

    ElleMD Well-Known Member

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    If you are using others' works to profit, you are in violation. The owner of the rights to those works/author would have to show that you used their work and didn't just chose a phrase at random that happened to appear somewhere in a lyric or song title. Using your "Born to Run" example, if your other signs are, "Born to Dance", "Born to Sing", "Born to Be a Couch Potato", you have a better (but not slam dunk) case than if your other signs are, "Born In the USA", "Glory Days", and "Dancing in the Dark".
     

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