Song lyrics in an IF Comp entry

In the game I am working on for 2024 IF comp I have a character riding a stationary bike and listening to 90s alt rock. For fun I have as a feature song lyrics show as the last line of a room description if the player is close enough. It’s three lines from a song, currently from 10 songs. Is this going to infringe on copyright or might it fall under fair use?


(Note: I am not a lawyer)

There’s no strict rule for what counts as fair use, but one guideline I’ve seen for quotations is that it should be less than 10% of the total song/poem/whatever. This is just a rule of thumb, though, not anything definitive.

Personally, I don’t think anyone would care. Song lyrics are reproduced all over the place nowadays, and it’s not harming the artists at all; nobody is going to see three lines quoted in your IFComp entry and say “welp, I’ve now experienced the song, no need to go buy the album any more”. If you were including an actual MP3 of the song with the game, that might be a problem.


I agree that this is pretty paradigmatic fair use, so unlikely to be an issue.


I’m not a lawyer, but I have worked with an Australian copyright royalties and licensing service. And I was involved in asking legal counsel questions. And sometimes even they couldn’t answer, except after two pages of ifs and buts :slight_smile:

The thing about Fair Use is it’s USA-specific law. And in copyright, what matters is the copyright law in the jurisdiction where you intend to publish, not the copyright law of the country of origin of whatever work you intend to exploit.

In the global internet age, this is an eternal headache. The country of origin’s usually easy-ish to work out. Where is the country of publishing? Wherever the player is (i.e. it’s been published there… or has it?) ? Wherever the service hosting the game is? etc. etc. Try publishing a game on Steam and you will field pages of geography-specific questions and limits you can turn on or off.

Because of this, technically, a game that can be downloaded and played anywhere could run afoul of the copyright laws of every single country it gets played in. And without permission from a copyright owner to use their material in your game, you will certainly run afoul of one or more of them.

But that’s technically. In the real context, with IF’s audience size, in a project seeking and making no money (unless you sell it on itch!), the odds that anyone who’d be motivated to act on their copyright for use of their material (OF THE NATURE YOU @Jason HAVE DESCRIBED IN THIS TOPIC) will see, know, or care even if they do see or know, are approaching zero. As others have said.

Because the USA-specific Fair Use is cited so often (even by non-USA people – that’s the cultural drubbing the USA has given everyone. Fair Use is like the Walkman of copyright law) I’d just reiterate that games will be played in other countries within moments of their publishing, so the USA’s Fair Use laws are not a useful metric to test whether you are technically in breach of copyright if you have not sought permission from the copyright owner. Somewhere, you will be.



I feel your pain. I just wrote a game with a good deal of poetry, so I’ve been researching this myself.

Near as I can tell there is no straight answer. In the end, I just went with very old verses in public domain (and all the original authors are long dead.) Even then, unless it was verse I wrote, the game only includes two lines per poem at a time.

It’s sad, because you just want to write a computer game. You’re not hurting anybody if you throw in a song lyric.

I am not really concerned about any of the artists making claims or anything like that. I am mostly worried about being disqualified from IF Comp.

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Given that IFComp allowed an unauthorized adaptation of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, I’d say song lyrics are fine. :stuck_out_tongue:


(EDIT: I just read your other replies. Disregard this unless you just wanna know my opinion on the use of lyrics in games more generally.)

The game I’m currently working on contains two quotes at the beginning. One by Patton Oswalt and one couplet from a King Crimson song (“Dinosaur,” if you must know). Honestly, this is a piece of work that what, less than 1000 people are likely ever to even see and I’ve seen longer song quotes in album reviews read by hundreds of thousands of people.

Point being: we’re a very small pond. Don’t worry about it.

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One thing I found when researching this same question 8 years ago is that song titles are essentially impossible to copyright (which is why so many songs have the same name), so I just kept mentioning what song was on the radio by name, changing it every few turns.


For another reason why I’d be shocked if IFComp cared about this: there’s a long tradition in parser IF of including little quotes every so often, not for any gameplay purpose, but just so players can feel clever for recognizing them. It started with Trinity but Graham Nelson liked it so much it became part of the built-in syntax of Inform, so a lot of other works have done it since then. (As does the Inform 6 documentation, known as the DM4; the Inform 7 documentation dropped the practice.)

And I don’t think anyone’s ever really objected to this, even when the quotes don’t come from public-domain materials.