When you start talking about copyright and fair use, you are breaching an extremely sensitive and ambiguous subject. How am I suppose to know if a piece of work that is copyrighted is okay to use in my novel?
You may hear somebody quote the Fair Use Act. What is fair use? It’s the legally permissible use of copyrighted material for specific purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, or scholarship, but that doesn’t give you the right to their complete work. If you are only quoting a few lines from a full length book, you should be within the guidelines of fair use and not need to seek permission.
The reason I am interested in the laws surrounding copyright, is a song from the ’70s plays an important role in my novel. Something I didn’t realize when I started writing the book, is fair use doesn’t apply to songs. That’s because songs can have very few lines to use.
If you are thinking about slipping a line from a song in your novel, think again. Using lyrics from a song written in the past century or so can be a very expensive proposition, so most publishers won’t accept a book that quotes lyrics.
If you have to have the song lyrics in your book, follow up to see if the song is public domain or still under the copyright laws. If it’s public domain you are good to go, if not, you need to decide what you can afford to pay the owner for permission to use their work.
Anytime you use third party content without permission, you are at risk of being sued. The best thing you can do is be original. If you find it necessary to borrow from another writer, do your research and make sure you are within the law.
A good place to start your fair use search, is on the website of the U.S. Copyright Office.
Something to think about. I know I’m reviewing my novel to ensure there are no copyright infringements.