Using the names of songs and movies

by Marissa
(Cincinnati)

Question: Are you allowed to use the names of songs and movies or do you need permission like "We listened to (name of song) along the way." or "It will be just like (name of movie)."


Answer: As always, I must point out that I am not a lawyer and you should not take anything on this site as legal advice.

However, it is my understanding that titles cannot be copyrighted, only the actual text of the song lyrics or screenplay. For instance, you could get in trouble for quoting song lyrics or dialogue from films, or even basing a book on the story told in a song - especially if you do it in a way that could be seen as harming the income of the owners of the copyright on those works.

However, if you are merely quote the title of a song, I suspect you are more likely to inspire your reader to buy the song than not, so you would be helping the song writer rather than harming his/her interest. In that case, the owner is hardly likely to complain.

The other issue, in the case of some famous songs, is whether the title is a registered trademark. Even then, it should only be a problem if you are damaging the brand. If you are just mentioning the title of a song or movie, you are giving free advertising to the owners, which they are hardly likely to complain about.

Of course, the safest thing is to contact whoever owns the rights to a song and ask for permission. But you may not want to go to such trouble until you are offered a publishing contract.

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