Proper Acknowledgement

I was on the Underground a couple of years back, schlepping my way from Paddington to Charing Cross, when I saw a poster that cheered me up immensely.

An insurance company – I can’t remember which – had come up with a clever advertising campaign using lyrics from the song “Help!” by The Beatles.

It all fitted together brilliantly, using popular culture and nostalgia to pique interest whilst perfectly encapsulating the customer need for assistance when calamity strikes.

And the cherry on top from my perspective?

The proper acknowledgement of the two songwriters and their music publisher.

When it comes to music and references to it, there’s a whole lot of misinformation about what you “can” and “can’t” use, so today I thought I’d just answer one of the key questions I’ve been asked more than thrice:

Can song titles or lyrics be used as text in marketing copy?

Well, it depends…

Generally speaking, song titles aren’t protected under copyright law, but they MAY have separate trademark protection – it’s not smart to assume you can use them carte blanche, without finding out for sure.

What copyright law does protect against is the use of song lyrics in any form of reproduction that could include merchandise, and certainly any use by a brand in any form of marketing.

So what do you do if you want to use song lyrics?

Firstly you’ll need to secure an appropriate licence by applying to the relevant rights owners – usually the music publisher(s) or songwriter(s) for unpublished works – and you’ll need to negotiate and agree a licence fee. Remember that there’s no guaranteed approval. Your request could be turned down.

If you manage to secure an approval, only then can you start using those lyrics in your marketing materials within the agreed parameters – but if you do as good a job as the insurance company did with Help!, people’ll still be talking about it years later.

Although I still can’t remember the brand…