I have carefully researched your question and have your answer. I have
significant experience working with copyright laws.
To conduct this research I first searched the following terms: u.s.
patent and trademark office
You may view the results of my search online. The link is
You may visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark web site online. The link
According the the USPT, song lyrics without the attached music fall
under the "literary" copyright category. You may view the definitions
as pertaining to copyright law online. The link is
You may view the full set of U.S. Copyright laws online. The link is
Depending on what you're using the lyrics for, you may be in violation
of copyright infringement laws. The copyright rules explicitly state
that you may not use any lyrics from a song that's owned by someone
else without expressed permission. No specific number of lyrics is
provided in the law.
Obviously, you are safe using one or two of the words. It's when you
take an entire phrase or section of a song's lyrics and insert them in
your own literary work as if they're your own work... that's when
there's a problem.
If you have no intention of profiting off the work you're creating,
you likely would be fine, quoting the lyrics. News reporters,
teachers, and the like may quote song lyrics without infringing on the
This is called "fair use." To determine whether your use would fall
under Fair Use rules, consult the copyright laws:
"Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use
of a copyrighted
work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or
by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as
news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use),
scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining
whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors
to be considered shall include?
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a
commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to
work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of
the copyrighted work."
You may view this on page 18 of the link
If you are planning on using a phrase or refrain from a previously
published set of song lyrics, you should contact the owner of the
lyrics to ask permission. Have them sign a brief release form that
gives you expressed written permission to use the lyrics.
I hope this helps. If you need further information or clarification,
please don't hesitate to click on the "clarify" button.
Clarification of Answer by
24 Jan 2004 12:53 PST
Yes, you would be in violation of copyright rules by printing those
lyrics on a hat, if you would be selling it or be doing anything with
it other than using it for at-home use. To achieve permission to use
the lyrics, you may wish to contact the owner of the lyrics, which my
guess would be Slim Shady's recording company.
Regarding "I have a dream." This is of particular interest. The family
of MLK over the years has made it very clear they expect those who
quote or use clips of MLK's speeches to gain permission before using
the quotes or audio or video clips. Again, if you're simply using the
quote on a hat for at-home purposes, it wouldn't be a problem. It's
when you try to profit off the words someone else owns, that's when it
becomes problematic in the eyes of the Copyright laws.