Imagine writing an article or book about philosophy that includes an examination of the lyrics to Don McLean's song American Pie.

Obviously, it would be illegal to post the complete lyrics, since they're copyrighted.

But would it be legal to post the lyrics one verse at a time, followed by a discussion of that lyrics's meaning?

For example, the first section/chapter would begin with the lyrics...

A long long time ago

I can still remember . . . And maybe they'd be happy for a while

Or if six lines is too excessive, that verse could be split into two sections...

A long long time ago

I can still remember how

That music used to make me smile

The lyrics would then be followed by a brief comment or analysis, like this...

"McLean was simply reminiscing about the music he enjoyed when he was younger."

  • In what country is this being written/published?
    – Makyen
    Dec 7 '19 at 19:49

This would be an interesting test of "fair use". Although "copying the whole thing" is disfavored under fair use analysis, "for the purpose of research and comment" is strongly favored. The courts would disfavor complete copying which only had a thin veneer of research / commentary usage. In this circumstance, the factors of non-commercial (or, minimally-commercial) use and research-and-comment would be significant factors; effect on market would be in favor (the philosophy paper does not constitute a license to perform the works or otherwise distribute the lyrics as sheet music); and the product is highly transformative. The "one verse at a time" consideration seems to me to be mostly irrelevant, but would if considered point in the direction of fair use (as a subcase of transformativeness)

  • Every line, but getting like, 500 words of commentary per line... Hmm...
    – Malady
    Dec 7 '19 at 15:12
  • How would this be different from writing a pamphlet/website called "The Annotated American Pie"? IANAL, but I feel like that would be considered a derivative work.
    – Barmar
    Dec 7 '19 at 19:09
  • American Pie isn't the book's main focus. It's more or less a sidebar. Dec 7 '19 at 21:10

That is specifically allowed under copyright law. The analysis should be larger than the quoted text to prove the exception.

  • 1
    Can you give some references that show how this is explicitly allowed?
    – cjs
    Dec 8 '19 at 2:02

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