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Spoken Lyrics

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Ryan KrickowSpoken Lyrics
by on Jan 17, 2009 at 9:21:24 am

Can you have characters in a movie use the name of a song and/or lyrics from a song out of context (spoken not sung)? For example, could I have a high school student tell a new student "welcome to the jungle" in reference to the school or would that pose some clearance issue because of the song "Welcome to the Jungle"? Are there any rules about using song lyrics/titles in speech without reference to the song itself? Off hand I can't see why it would be a problem as long as the words are spoken rather than sung but it might be a stickier issue than I imagine. Thanks, Ryan

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Todd TerryRe: Spoken Lyrics
by on Jan 17, 2009 at 2:47:58 pm

It depends on the usage, context, and how much that you are using.

If you are just using the titles like in your example (if one character says to another "Welcome to the jungle" or say one asks another "What's new, pussycat?") I seriously doubt you would ever have any issue with that. Song titles themselves generally do not enjoy any copyright protection. There are, after all, multiple songs that share the same titles.

The same could go for slogans, etc., even though they have copyrights. If one character was paying for sometime in a store with a Visa card and said to the cashier, "It's everywhere you want to be," I doubt there would ever be any repercussions.


If you have a character start reciting actual lyrics, then you do have issues. Spoken lyrics recited even without music still have full copyright protection. The same publishing rights are in place, just as if the song were being performed.

In some cases, separate music rights exist if the composer and lyricist were two different people. We ran into this problem once when producing a television commercial for a country music star who was releasing a line of his own barbecue sauce. We (and he) wanted to use one of his songs as a music bed, but it turned into a music rights nightmare even though it was his own song. In the end he performed a custom version of the song for the track that was music only with no lyrics. That made securing the rights a little easier since although he had written the music, his now late partner had written the lyrics and those special-usage rights were held by his estate though a different company than his regular label (Sony Music) who held the rights to the music.

As you can see, it can get complicated.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Noah KadnerRe: Spoken Lyrics
by on Jan 17, 2009 at 8:17:45 pm

Yeah if they just say plainly, welcome to the jungle I don't see any problem other than it sounds a bit cliche. But if they sing it in an Axl Rose voice and do a hip thrust- you gotta pay.


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