Is it copyright infringement if I sell T-shirts with music lyrics on them?

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Is it copyright infringement if I sell T-shirts with music lyrics on them?

I am starting a clothing line and web based retail store. Some of our T-shirts are to feature a

screen printed line or so from hit songs by popular artists. They will not have the name of

the song printed anywhere on the shirt, only a lyrical verse. If we sell these to consumers,

would this be considered copyright infringement? If so, is there a way around it,

perhaps by changing 1 or 2 words?

Asked on March 23, 2016 under Business Law, Texas

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Yes, it is copyright infringement: the lyrics of songs are copyrightable and would essentially always be copyrighted except for very old songs (generally, 75 years or more) or if the artist or other copyright owner deliberately put the lyrics into the public domain. Changing one or two words would not make this legal, since the copyright owner also has the right to control all adaptations or derivative works, and the lyrics with one or two words changed would be an adaptation or derivative work.


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