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Poems, Printing, and Permission

by Dani Eberbach | Jul 25, 2019

Inspirational poetry can be meaningful to a family during the grieving process. If your funeral home offers printed or personalized stationery that includes poems, it’s important to understand a little bit about copyright laws and how they apply to written works like poems and song lyrics.

What is copyright?

Copyright protects any creative work by giving the author or creator exclusive rights to decide when and how their work can be copied or used. As soon as a creator composes a song, takes a photograph, or writes a novel (etc.), they own the copyright. Nobody else can sell, use, or distribute copies of the work unless they have permission from the copyright owner. This is why it’s illegal to download a song without paying for it, or to make copies of DVDs and movies.

Some works were created so long ago that their copyright has expired, making them part of the public domain. This means anyone can use them. Traditional hymns like “Amazing Grace” and any verses from the Bible fall into this category. In general, a work becomes part of the public domain 70 years after the author dies.

How do these laws affect my funeral home?

Poems and song lyrics are protected under copyright law, too. This means you need permission or a license to print copyrighted works in the stationery pieces you’re offering. It’s not okay to print poems or song lyrics without proper permission, even if you credit the author by name.

Why do I need to worry about copyright law?

If you use a copyrighted work without permission and the copyright owner finds out, you can find yourself in serious trouble if the owner decides to pursue legal action. You could receive a cease and desist letter, or even face fines or expensive licensing fees for violating someone’s copyright. It’s never a good idea to use a copyrighted work without permission hoping you can just “get away with it.”

I found a poem on the internet for free. Does that mean I can use it?

Just because a poem is available on the internet doesn’t mean it isn’t copyrighted. Whoever uploaded the image with the poem on it may be in violation of copyright law. Even if the work was shared by the copyright owner, that doesn’t mean they’re giving anyone else permission to use or share it. And, just because a family brings you a poem, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have rights to use it, either.

If your car is sitting in your driveway, your next-door neighbor can’t just borrow it to give their friend a ride to the airport. Even if your car was unlocked (“free” to use), and even if your neighbor told their friend whose car it was (giving you “credit”), you’d probably still file a police report about a stolen vehicle. And just because you let one person use your car once doesn’t mean someone else can use it without asking you first.

You can always contact the author or copyright owner of a particular work to ask for permission to use it. Or, you can look for works that are public domain and free to use.

A family provided a poem they want to use. Can we use it on our Signature Service or Design Service order?

Messenger cannot print any poems that are protected by copyright, even if the family provides the poem to your funeral home. All parties involved (the family, your funeral home, and Messenger) are subject to U.S. copyright law and could face fines if the copyright holder decided to file a claim.

We can only print a verse or poem that’s not in our library if it’s part of the public domain (such as traditional hymns or Bible verses), if it was written by the deceased or by the family member providing it, or if your funeral home or the family can provide a signed release from the copyright holder.

How can I find poems to use?

The easiest way to find poems for your stationery is to search Messenger’s Make It! Personal verse library. Messenger has obtained licenses from various poets to include their works in our verse library. That means we and our customers have permission to use these poems in register books and on any printed stationery pieces. We’ve done the work for you to make sure your families have access to a variety of inspirational verses and poems – without having to worry about copyright law during an already stressful time.

If you have a family looking for a poem with a specific theme or topic, reach out to Messenger! We may have just what you need in our verse library. Or, we may be able to find a poem and the necessary permissions for you.

You can browse Messenger’s Verse Library to see our licensed poems.

Where can I learn more about copyright law?

U.S. Copyright Office – Frequently Asked Questions

Information about the public domain from Stanford University

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