Beware: the cost of quoting song lyrics

I think all writers do it. We try to put words into a character’s mouth, and a familiar, much-loved song lyric leaps to mind. DON’T. USE. IT. The expense of paying a royalty fee for using song lyrics cannot be exaggerated. Author Blake Morrison learned the hard way. “I still have the invoices. For quoting one line of Jumpin’ Jack Flash: £500. For one line of Wonderwall: £535”.

Before you jump up and down to protest, these songwriters are protected by the same copyright rules that we authors are. Songs, books, the same. You cannot expect something for nothing, every artist has to earn a living. And it is the author’s duty – not the publisher’s – to secure the necessary permissions.

Blake Morrison

[photo: Justin Sutcliffe]

Next time a line from The Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel comes to mind, I will do as Blake Morrison [above] advises: make up the song myself. After all everyone knows what the Stones sound like playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash, just mention it for atmosphere/setting/characterization [delete as appropriate] BUT do not quote the lyrics.

Click here to read Blake Morrison’s full article in The Guardian.
For more about Blake Morrison’s writing, check out his page at The Guardian for links to articles.
To read the Quick Guide to Permissions by the UK’s Society of Authors, click here, and for the SoA’s Quick Guide to Copyright and Moral Rights, click here.

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Think about the cost before you quote song lyrics #writing via @SandraDanby


  1. I purchased a license in advance so I could quote song lyrics in one of my novels. It was reasonable, but I could only get North American rights. That’s why there are two versions of Will O’ the Wisp on Amazon.

    • sandradan1

      I had a mixed experience, mostly due to admin delays. The US rights came through, the UK and world didn’t. So I paid for one lot I couldn’t use and published without any at all. Though mine was poetry, not songs. Overall, it was a disappointing experience. SD