In copyright law,“Fair use” means that you can use excerpts of articles, books, and other creative works in the course of reviewing them, or in educational materials, or in a transformative way, meaning you change the nature of the final product. However, you are limited in how much of the original work you can use, and also by whether or not your use of the excerpt might take away from the creator’s ability to benefit financially from his or her work.
There are no hard and fast rules about how much of the original you can quote or use, it’s down to common sense (and sometimes the courts). For instance, if you quote 100 words of an article that’s only 150 words long, that would be an abuse of fair use. If you quote 100 words of a novel that’s 75,000 words long, you’d probably be fine.
Song publishing companies are especially touchy and quick to sue. Quoting even one line of lyrics in a novel has led some of them to demand what I think are outrageous payments, with the threat of a lawsuit if you don’t pay.
Another example is a tumblr blog called “This Charming Charlie,” where the author, graphic designer Lauren LoPrete, matches images from the Peanuts comic strip with lyrics from songs by the Smiths. One example: Charlie Brown in bed in the dark bedroom, saying “Last night I dreamt that somebody loves me.” The strips aren’t that different from what Charles Schultz wrote; Charlie Brown (or the late Charles Schulz, who drew the strip) and Morrissey seem to be soul mates.
The blog took off very quickly, now boasting more than 24,000 followers. Of course the fact that it was mentioned in Rolling Stone, Gawker, Time magazine, Huffington Post, Slate, and others didn’t hurt.
It’s not a profit-making venture, it came about because LoPrete loves both the music of the Smiths and Peanuts.
However, Universal Music Publishing Group (which owns the rights to the music and lyrics) has served LoPrete with notices alleging copyright infringement. Although she is claiming fair use, she also has written on the blog, “I know it’s over.”
It’s not quite on the order of the time Disney lawyers went after a pre-school that had painted some Disney characters on their wall, but from a public relations standpoint it’s a disaster.
How was this hurting them? With all that coverage it’s more likely that it reminded some people that they liked the Smiths.
Instead, people who may have been on the fence about music piracy or those already into it can point to this as another example of how the big corporations don’t care about anything but squeezing every last penny out of their products.
For writers, the message is beware of music publishers and their lawyers.
PS: Here's my version. To be on the safe side, I'm quoting Kafka, who isn't that far from Peanuts and The Smiths...