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

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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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


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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