This helpful article by Helen Sedwick details ways for self-published authors to request permission to use lyrics in their novels. Click the link to learn more, future writers:
How to Use Lyrics Without Paying a Fortune or a Lawyer
Whenever I speak at a conference, I ask who uses lyrics in their writing. Without fail, hands go up, including my own.
Lyrics are a quick way to communicate setting or reveal character. A Sinatra ballad evokes wartime romance while Grateful Dead ramblings transport readers to a smoky love-in. When I explain that using lyrics may be copyright infringement, an audible groan fills the room.
Lyrics are intellectual property, like text and images. If you use someone’s property without permission, whether it’s a car, a bicycle, or the words to a popular tune, you are violating their property rights.
Using lyrics is particularly risky, not because they are special in the eyes of the law, but because they are owned by music companies that aggressively protect their rights. You could get a lawyer letter demanding you “cease and desist” using the lyrics. Translation–shred every copy of your book, even though the infringing words are 25 out of 95,000. Worse, you could be liable for monetary damages.
Writers tell me I am overreacting. If a book sells a few hundred copies, who’s going to know or care? But that’s planning for failure. What if your book takes off and you sell 10,000 copies, 100,000 copies? This is one case where it is cheaper to get permission than to ask forgiveness.
The cost of getting permission to use lyrics in self-published books is often affordable, typically between $10 and $50. Now that won’t get you permission to use lyrics from Jumpin’ Jack Flash or Eleanor Rigby, but it is likely to cover many Sinatra ballads.