Art Business Language

Fair Use as a Writer

One side project I’m interested in exploring involves analyzing song lyrics, breaking them down, and memorizing them. I want to consciously digest the harmony, rhythm, melody, dynamics, etc. I realize that I often treat songs as ear candy. I hear them, but I don’t truly listen to them. Hopefully by putting in more deliberate effort towards understanding a song, I can connect with it better, improve my musicality, and maybe even my memory (I’ve always had bad memory for lyrics).

However, before I start writing I want to know what I’m getting myself into (and if I do get into trouble, I’ll just treat it as a learning experience). I’ve done a little research and found out that, according to Section 107 of the Copyright Act, there are four main factors that determines whether your use of copyrighted material falls under Fair Use. For more in depth information, check this out.

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

I’ll just be going over each of these points, before running off with the ball and continuing with my side project.

  1. Most courts determine that copyrighted material used for “nonprofit educational and noncommercial” purposes fall under Fair Use. As this website is new and currently generates no profit, and since writing these posts are mainly to help supplement my own learning (although if someone did enjoy these posts, that would be awesome), I see myself falling under this category of a “nonprofit educational and noncommercial” user.
  2. Since song lyrics are creative and imaginative pieces of work akin to poetry, and since creativity fosters creativity, the nature of the work allows more leeway in regards to using it under Fair Use.
  3. Before researching, I was tempted to copy the entire lyrics into my blog post for easy reference. Post-research, I’ll just be referencing line numbers, and forwarding readers to legitimate song-lyrics providing services. I’ll be doing analogous actions for other forms of creative media. Bullet dodged.
  4. Since a blog post is not a substitute for actually listening to a song, there should be no noticeable impact in regards to its marketing value. As of now I have two measly blog posts residing on this website, so I don’t think anything’s going to be affected anytime soon. And if anything, me writing an article on a song should theoretically give it more exposure. Free publicity is good publicity (as long as it’s intelligent).

Although I’ve been addressing mainly song lyrics for now, I’ll be using the same reasoning for any form of media I write about in the future (just replace “song lyrics” with “movies”, for example). Now that I’ve quelled some of my subconscious fears related to writing about preexisting bodies of work, hopefully the next post won’t be too far aways.

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