I made a poster, for my own use, that uses a few lines from a well known song and I liked the outcome so much I'd like to share it. However, I'm not sure if taking part of a copyrighted material and displaying it in another way would be a derivative work. By changing the medium and not having a direct 1:1 representation is that enough to be new? By extension, would this apply to any "inspirational quote" style poster or graphic?

So far everything I've read is all about visual reproduction and has little insight on written or spoken material.

  • 2
    Are you going to be offering this poster for distribution/profit? Either way I would approach the idea to whoever has the rights and get a sign-off for distribution.
    – user9447
    Mar 14, 2013 at 16:13
  • I was thinking of selling prints somewhere like DeviantArt, but I think I'd run into hassles getting permission, etc.
    – Aaron
    Mar 14, 2013 at 18:21
  • ya I've been in your shoes and its not worth it, or for me in the end it wasn't. So much legal loop holes, sign-offs, email tracking, royalties, etc, etc. If you are going to make good money then maybe but DeviantArt I really wouldn't consider worth it.
    – user9447
    Mar 14, 2013 at 18:23
  • Does your poster attribute the quote to someone?
    – DA01
    Mar 19, 2013 at 22:03

3 Answers 3


That question is hard to answer in general.
I think it depends on your location and what you want do with it.

I have found this link, which is about lyrics quoted in books, but I think you can transfer it to your question:
Quoting Lyrics and Dodging Copyright Issues by Grant Piercy

As suggestet, here are some quotes from the article:

Let me make this perfectly clear. Unless you want to pay royalties to someone else, or you want to limit your print run (self-publishing e-suicide), you probably don’t want to quote lyrics.

The first thing I stumbled upon the search for this topic was the term fair use, because of that, I think this is a very crucial part:

Then there’s this other term that gets thrown around: “fair use.” This is a loophole in copyright law that allows the distribution of copyrighted material for educational purposes only. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only a line or two of copyrighted material in your 60,000 word manuscript falls under fair-use, especially if you plan on selling that manuscript.

Then there are other factors that may influence the copyrights:

You can also consider quoting something in the public domain. Almost anything 90 years or older is in the public domain — you’re free to quote it or use it as you will. This is why the field of literary mash-ups (books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) has become so popular in recent years. But this is tricky for different countries and different publication dates: see this List of Countries for their copyright length.

And if you really want to publish your work this might be interesting:

If you’re going to even try, the first thing you’ll want to do is check with Hal Leonard, which is the biggest name in music publishing. They have a searchable database and a form that you can fill out that will help you request the rights to the song you want to quote. But prepare to spend at least $100 per song, no matter how much of the song you plan to quote. This also depends on your desired print run and how much you want to charge for each copy of your book. Considering e-book publication is open-ended, or at least you should hope it’s open-ended, you’ll likely be asked to limit the number of copies you can sell. Once you reach this number, you’ll have to re-up with the contract you’re offered. My price-tag would’ve been somewhere north of the $500 mark.


It most certainly is a derivative work, plain and simple. Translating an artistic work from one medium to another - like a song lyric or speech to a poster - is still creating a derivative work. What you are probably meaning to ask, technically, is "it is fair use" (or "fair dealing" in some parts of the world) - does it qualify for the standard exemptions to copyright law thought to be fair in most countries?

The answer usually depends on, among other things, how substantial the copied portion of the work is. A single line from a lengthy work is almost certainly insubstantial enough to be considered fair use.

However, with a song, it is not as clear: a song is somewhat short, and a single line from it may represent a significant portion of its artistic merit.

I'm not by any means a lawyer, but I work with at least one, and I know that when you reach a grey area like this it comes down to a) luck/risk - how much risk do you want to take? and b) individual rules per jurisdiction - what country/state do you live in?


Seems to me the question is whether your application of the lyrics either enhances or diminishes the original copyright. If people buy copies of the record after they read your poster, you are enhancing the value of the intellectual property. If people stop buying copies of the record after they read your poster, you are diminishing the value of the copyright. I think, in the first case you get a smiley, and in the second case you get a lawsuit. That's what I think.

  • 1
    Welcome to GD.SE! Your answer is fine by Stack Exchange standards I suppose (though source citations are helpful with questions like these); I'm just chiming in to disagree with it :) It's very relativistic. If I straight-up don't want my lyrics being used by anyone, I wouldn't accept an argument of "I'm adding value to you." They're my lyrics and I have the right to do what I want with them, even if that means I keep them to myself forever!
    – Brendan
    Mar 19, 2013 at 20:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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