I am working on an app to learn languages, and beside the usual texts, dialogues, and lists of words, I was thinking to include also written lyrics of famous songs, to help the users practicing the languages.

I know that "educational uses" are part of "fair uses" of copyrighted material, but I am not sure it this applies to the case in question?

Note that the texts will be freely available in the app, so I am not asking the users to pay to read them - the app will monetise though other system (ads, services like statistics on the learning curve of the user etc).

Would that be legal? Or if not, how should I proceed?

  • While your questions have been generic enough to be on topic so fair, remember that Arqade is for education purposes, not for legal advice. I'm not saying you can't or shouldn't ask these questions here but I am suggesting you consult an actual legal professional, especially if you're going to mess with the infamously litigious music industry.
    – Unfair-Ban
    Apr 30 at 20:28

First of all, this is probably a poor idea even if it is legal. Verse, and song lyrics, are notoriously hard to translate well, and make poor examples for language learning, They tend to employ metaphor, allusive language, and idiom heavily, and will in many cases distort the sense of the language for the sake of rhyme, meter, or other auditory effects. But suppose you still want to go ahead.

The developer of such an app could use songs old enough to be in the public domain. "The Star-spangled Banner' for example is not protected by copyright. Neither is the French national anthem, the La Marseillaise. Most well-known songs published before 1900 will not be under copyright. But more recent songs will almost surely be protected.

The use of a line or two from a song might well be permitted under fair use (in the US) or fair dealing (in those countries that recognize this exception to copyright). Use of the entire lyrics of any given song would be more questionable. The use for educational purposes would tend to favor the applicability of any such exception, but the availability of the whole lyric (or even a major part) might serve as a replacement for the original, and harm the market for the original.

No one can ever be sure in advance if a given use will be ruled to be a fair use. That determination depends heavily on the specific facts of each case.

It would avoid risk to use songs that are out of copyright, or short sections of songs, if songs are to be used at all.

  • Thank you very much for that! And just a comment: metaphors, allusive language, and idioms are also part of a language (often an important one), and are worth being taught :-) May 1 at 7:40
  • @LanguageExplorer Such thingd are indeed part of a language, often a cital one, anmd should be taught. But translating them, except in a versy general way, is often dubious, and teaching them must make their special nature clear, where such a phrase often cannot usefully be analyzed at the word level. I have encountered this a good deal when answering on the English language Learners.SE (ELL) site. May 1 at 12:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.