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[Copyright] Song Lyrics and Poetry

– a note on copyright and public domain

· Music Law,Copyright,Entertainment Law,Film and Television,Contract

Music has never been more essential in this new working-from-home century. During COVID, music became my way to connect with my roots. A taste of familiarity. In my humble opinion, Albert Leung (林夕)is a magnificent modern poet who possesses the power to touch every nerve that attached to your emotions by writing lyrics so painfully beautiful yet full of passion (In Chinese, 淋漓尽致,荡气回肠). If Albert Leung was born at a different time, he and Nalan Xingde would be rivals. Nalan Xingde, who was also a talented poet from Qing dynasty, left many poems contributed to his lovers.

So, what are the intangible rights associated with song lyrics and ancient poems?

Lyrics and Copyright

Depending on the nature of the work relationship and the agreement between parties, the copyright and all associate rights of the lyrics can be solely owned by the production or record company. There are a few factors to consider such as whether a lyricist is an employee or independent contractor and whether a written work-for-hire clause is in place. If a lyricist works as an independent contractor and wants to obtain copyright of the lyrics, signing an exclusive license of the lyrics with the record company would be a good solution. Aside from the ownership of copyright, lyricists, especially non-union lyricists, should try to get full accreditation for their work and put it in writing.

Ancient Poetry and Public Domain

Most ancient works owned by individuals have fallen out of protection of intellectual property laws. Any work that within the public domain is free to use and adapt for any purposes. However, one could still infringe another’s work when using public domain materials. For example, the character and story of Peter Pan are within the public domain, but because Disney made a Peter Pan movie, one should steer away from using similar cartoon designs and Disney film content.


A straightforward and simple way to get music licenses is through Creative Commons. This non-profit organization offers 6 types of licenses with different combinations of rights, either free or for a fee. Great resource for songwriters and lyricists.

Contact for questions.

Sincerely yours,

Silvia Sun, Esq.

Copyright © 2020, Xiaoyun Sun for discoveries site

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