Copying & Using Lyrics As Lyrics, Names Of Bands, Magazines & Organizations


“We may have to walk near dangers, close to awful things…

I’ve been gone from this space for too long – most of November – but for very good reasons.

There was the trip to St. Louis to speak to students and faculty the St. Louis University Law School (October 23-24, 2013).

That was followed by a stay in Birmingham, Alabama where I spoke about fair use and copyright and my views on these subjects at a UAB Music Department convocation on November 6, 2013.

I also did a follow up to my 2nd Annual Indian Cultural Society Lecture to members of the Indian Cultural Society on November 8, 2013.  And that was sandwiched between attending the rehearsal and concert of Anoushka Shankar on Thursday, November 7 and Diwali, The Festival of Lights on Saturday, November 9, 2013.

On Saturday, November 16, I spoke about uses of social media and the future of the music industry at the IBS 2013 East Coast Regional Radio & Webcasting Conference at Simmons College in Boston.

On Monday, November 18, 2013 I spoke to students and faculty at the Harvard University Law School in Cambridge.

On Tuesday, November 19, 2013 I spoke to students and faculty at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.


I want to mention and briefly discuss the copying of lyrics.

Many questions can arise pertaining to the copying of lyrics, questions that can be extremely wide-ranging.  For this space today, I am mostly concerned with identifying a few examples of copying that I find constructive, reconstructive and progressive, i.e., these examples of copying do not infringe copyright or constitute laziness on the part of the new author/creator.

Why are lyrics copied?  Are lyrics copied for some of the same reasons that music is copied?  I will pose a few possible answers as to why lyrics are copied:

Why do authors/creators copy lyrics? 

They like the meaning of the lyrics.

They like the sound of the lyrics.

They like all or some of the lyrics’ surrounding melody, harmony, rhythms, instrumentation, loudness levels, sounds, etc. isolated or in combination and believe that the copied lyrics can connote the same or similar meanings or feelings as the original.

They believe the copied lyric will sound good/function well in the new work of authorship.

To pay tribute to or honor a lyricist/author and/or a lyricist/author’s specific expression.

To make a lyric/cultural reference – to “signify.”

To answer what the original lyrics may have addressed, i.e., the new use constitutes all or part of an answer song.

To give the borrowed lyrics new meaning by placing them in a new context.

To comment, criticize or ridicule the borrowed lyrics, i.e., parody.

To use the lyrics to comment, criticize or ridicule something other than the borrowed material, i.e., satire.

To draw attention to one’s own lyrics and/or music because the new author believes her/his new lyric is an improvement on the original source.  The new author is asserting that if the original had been better, it would have been authored like this.

To draw attention to an “opportunity” to spend money on a product or service.  This is especially common with lyrics and/or expression used in television commercials as the company wants to draw your attention before your eyes and/or ears leave the “messaging area.”

To draw inspire action that is not commercial in nature but instead a “call to duty,” engagement, action or involvement.

To draw attention to one’s own lyrics and/or expression (especially so if the borrowing occurs at the opening of the new work of authorship).

The borrower was capable of original expression but felt that borrowing from a few to many sources could result in original expression, i.e., the borrower aimed to make original expression out of earlier or contemporaneous expression.

It may have worked well the first time – it is a good lyric and will work again (which leads to the worst reasons for borrowing – the next few reasons;)

The borrower has run out of ideas and needs to borrow, copy or steal from elsewhere.

To ride the coattails of a better lyricist/author and/or better expression.

They borrow/copy accidentally, unconsciously or unintentionally, i.e., they believe their lyric was original and not borrowed.

The borrower was never capable of original expression and chose to copy others’ expression.


The examples below can be divided into several parts:

Lyrics used as lyrics

Lyrics used as band names/artist names

Lyrics used as magazine name

Film titles used as band names

Lyrics used as name of organization


1.  Lyrics Used As Lyrics


Isaac Hayes’ Shaft used in Pearl Jam’s Dirty Frank.

The Rolling Stones’ Get Off Of My Cloud used in SheDaisy’s Get Over Yourself.

James Brown Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag used in Mystikal’s Never Gonna Bounce.

Jimi Hendrix If 6 Was 9 used in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Almost Cut My Hair.

Jimi Hendrix If 6 Was 9 used in They Might Be Giants How Can I Sing Like A Girl.


the referenced lyrics and locations are:

Isaac Hayes’ Shaft – “you see this cat Shaft is a bad mother—-Shut your mouth!—well I’m talking about Shaft— we can dig it” – is heard between 3.21-3.28.

It is copied (and altered) in Pearl Jam’s Dirty Frank – “well that Dirty Frank was a bad mother—Shut your mouth!—hey man I’m just talking about Dirty Frank” – and heard between 1.47-1.52.

The Rolling Stones’ Get Off Of My Cloud – “get off of my cloud” is first heard at 0.43.

It is copied by SheDaisy’s Get Over Yourself and first heard at 0.50.

James Brown Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag – “Papa’s got a brand new bag” is first heard at 0.20.  “Papa’s got a brand new bag” is used in Mystikal’s Never Gonna Bounce at 0.27-0.29.

Jimi Hendrix If 6 Was 9 – “but I’m gonna wave my freak flag high, high!” is heard at 1.42.

It is copied in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Almost Cut My Hair  – “I feel like letting my freak flag…” and heard at 0.52.

Jimi Hendrix If 6 Was 9 – “but I’m gonna wave my freak flag high, high!” is heard at 1.42.

It is copied in They Might Be Giants’ How Can I Sing Like A Girl  – “I want to raise my freak flag higher and higher and, I want to raise my freak flag…” is heard between 0.58-1.11 and 2.30-2.43.


2.  Lyrics Used As Names Of Bands


Bob Dylan’s Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest was used for band name, Judas Priest.

Talking Heads Radio Head was used for band name, Radiohead.

Queen’s Radio Ga Ga was used for artist name, Lady Gaga.

Tommie Johnson’s Canned Heat Blues was used for band name, Canned Heat.

Muddy Waters’ Rolling Stone was used for band name, The Rolling Stones.


3.  Lyrics Used As Magazine Name



Muddy Waters’ Rolling Stone was used for magazine name, Rolling Stone.


4.  Movie Titles Used As Names Of Bands


The film, Black Sabbath was used for the band name, Black Sabbath.

The film, All The Fine Young Cannibals was used for the band name, Fine Young Cannibals.

The film, Shaolin and Wu Tang was used for the band name, Wu-Tang Clan.

The film, They Might Be Giants was used for the band name, They Might Be Giants.  In a very cool nod to the film, They Might Be Giants also wrote a song called, They Might Be Giants.

I love the closing scene of the film, They Might Be Giants.

“We may have to walk near dangers, close to awful things…

Does justice ever lose?

It does from time to time…”


5.  Lyrics Used As Names Of Organizations


Elvis Costello’s Poor Fractured Atlas – “poor fractured Atlas…” was used for nonprofit organization name, Fractured Atlas.

Much more about this subject at another time….

H A P P Y    S U N D A Y    E V E R Y O N E !