Skip to content

More Stupid Questions on Fair Use

I always find fair use in the United States trickier than fair dealing in the U.K. and Australia (where I first studied IP law), so I’m often surprised at the confusions about what is and what isn’t fair use in the U.S. because it doesn’t necessarily comport with what I expect.  And I know that the beauty of the U.S. approach is supposed to be its flexibility and ability to adapt to changing circumstances unlike the more “brightline” and less flexible fair dealing approach taken in some other countries.

Having said that, I was just reading a psych book where the author used 4 lines of a Simon & Garfunkel song to illustrate a point he was making.  Throughout the book, the author made use of other works to illustrate his points, but I think this is the only music lyric he used.  The other works cited were mainly psychology texts.  All works cited (including the song) were given appropriate attribution in the text.  In addition, there is a specific note at the front of the book stating that the copyrighted song was used by permission.

I assume that quoting four lines of a song with appropriate attribution in this kind of context should qualify as fair use even in the U.S.  Thus, the copyright permission purely was taken for the avoidance of doubt?  And I assume whoever advised the author about this assumed that copyright holders of musical works may be more likely to complain about unauthorized use of their works than copyright holders of previous psychology texts?

It seemed unusual to me as a matter of law that the citing of music lyrics in terms of copyright permissions was treated differently to the citing of other literary works.  Is this a conventional practice in American publishing?  If I write a law review article citing song lyrics, should I obtain copyright permission to do so?