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Thread: Questions on using lyrics or a song in Novel

  1. #1
    writing_diva
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    Post Questions on using lyrics or a song in Novel

    Hello everyone.
    I'm pretty much stuck right now. I remember once reading somewhere you're allowed to use lyrics or the name of a song in a novel. Which is it?

    I'm at a point in the book where a song is suppose to play which takes the character back to a point in her life and I need to know if anyone can remember or knows if I can use the name of the song or parts of the lyrics.

    Help me please!
    Diva

  2. #2
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by writing_diva
    Hello everyone.
    I'm pretty much stuck right now. I remember once reading somewhere you're allowed to use lyrics or the name of a song in a novel. Which is it?

    I'm at a point in the book where a song is suppose to play which takes the character back to a point in her life and I need to know if anyone can remember or knows if I can use the name of the song or parts of the lyrics.

    Help me please!
    Diva
    You can use the song title but not the lyrics unless you ask permission - and pay. And it's very expensive.
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  3. #3
    Neverending WIP Mistook's Avatar
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    you can't use copyrighted lyics of well known songs.... sorry. Titles are up for grabs, but lyrics aren't your's... they're theirs. Editors won't be thrilled that you've inclued other works into your book. It's no easy thing to get permission and pay for its use.

    Name the title, describe the mood of the song, but you can't quote the lyrics.

  4. #4
    writing_diva
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    Okay, so I can write in the manuscript,
    In the background Jack heard Sway and thought back to the days.....

    And writing any part of the lyrics is a no no.

    Thank you for your help. I appreciated it!
    Diva

  5. #5
    Apex Predator Jaws's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mistook
    you can't use copyrighted lyics of well known songs.... sorry. Titles are up for grabs, but lyrics aren't your's... they're theirs. Editors won't be thrilled that you've inclued other works into your book. It's no easy thing to get permission and pay for its use.

    Name the title, describe the mood of the song, but you can't quote the lyrics.
    This is incorrect, regardless of the nonsense put forth by BMI and ASCAP (and the Harry Fox Agency, which is not an agency but a wholly owned rights-protection racket!). Admittedly, quotation of song lyrics is very limited; but the fact that they're song lyrics does not mean that there's no fair use. I have yet to find a reported opinion holding that two lines (or less) of lyrics that do not contain a proper name fall outside of fair use—and it's not for lack of looking.

    Consider this example:
    Hello darkness, my old friend,
    I've come to speak with you again.
    This does not create a copyright problem. The rights agency lost this one, and is bound by that result.
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  6. #6
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    I don't think fair use extends to commerical works (such as novels).

    It's probably safe to assume that everytime you want to use copyright materials in your works, you need permission.

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  7. #7
    Apex Predator Jaws's Avatar
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    Exclamation

    Fair use absolutely does extend to commercial works such as novels. That particular factor may (or may not) weigh against fair use, but the other three factors might very well weigh in favor of it.

    I suggest reading the 2Live Crew decision, formally called Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994) to see how the four-factor test works. In that instance, an avowedly commercial work—a song parody that quoted extensive parts of Roy Orbison's "Oh Pretty Woman"—in a rather raunchy fashion and was reproduced as part of a platinum record (can't get much more commercial than that) was found to be fair use. Justice Souter's discussion is not limited to parodies; it is widely considered, even in the academic community, the definitive description of weighing fair use factors.

    All of that said, it's good practice to obtain permission for anything more than a de minimis use. It is not, however, a legal requirement, except if the publishing contract explicitly makes it so (which is, in the end, essentially unenforceable, but that's for another time).
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    Any legal comments in this message are general commentary only, and not legal advice
    for your specific situation. You should not rely on such comments — or any other published
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    Unfortunately, no scam agents, vanity publishers, or other similar carrion-eaters were bent,
    folded, spindled, or mutilated in creating this post (not for want of motivation).
    Of course it's "fine print" — it's small and red.

  8. #8
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    Aright, I've got a question; What would the rules be for the paradying of a song in the body of a novel?
    Exempli Gratia:

    (Original section of song Lyrics)
    The night I was born,
    The moon turned a fire red,
    and my poor mother cryed,
    She said, 'The Gypsy was right,
    And she fell right dead.... ect. ect. some business about voodoo...

    (Hypothetical Novel passage)
    The night that Bob Roberts was born, the moon burned a flaming, fire red. His mother had been warned months before that the child would be the death of her, and as she lay upon the hospital cot, she screamed that the gypsy was right, and fell dead.

    Granted that this Hypothetical example is horridly written, abrupt, and riddled with mediocrity, I would certainly appreciate an answer. Thanks.

  9. #9
    I'm back! ccarver30's Avatar
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    I wrote a song for my novella A Precise Moment. Maybe that's an avenue for ya?

  10. #10
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    The FAQ page on this subject.

  11. #11
    figuring it all out caitysdad's Avatar
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    you can name song titles. like betty is listening to "Sweet Caroline" on the radio as she made herself lunch, but Betty can't sing the lyrics to "Sweet Caroline." No, no, no. You'll just be financing Neil Diamond's next divorce if you do that.
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  12. #12
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    Song Lyrics in a Novel

    I'd like to include some verses of several older songs in my novel. One of my minor characters is a girl singer who sings old Cowboy songs in a modern day bar. I'd like to give my readers an inkling of what she likes to sing--then too they're fun songs.

    What are the rules about this? Do I put in a footnote at the bottom of the page, giving credit to the writer of the lyrics? I'm only going to include a single verse from 3 different songs. Do I group the credits together at the end of the story? Anybody know?

  13. #13
    @LeaveItToIan IDGS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robere210 View Post
    I'd like to include some verses of several older songs in my novel. One of my minor characters is a girl singer who sings old Cowboy songs in a modern day bar. I'd like to give my readers an inkling of what she likes to sing--then too they're fun songs.

    What are the rules about this? Do I put in a footnote at the bottom of the page, giving credit to the writer of the lyrics? I'm only going to include a single verse from 3 different songs. Do I group the credits together at the end of the story? Anybody know?
    Yeah, no. Big no-no.

    Unless the lyrics are in the public domain, you need the rights (or permission) to publish these lyrics. Much like if someone published a part of your novel in theirs, it's subject to copyright, and it's illegal.


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  14. #14
    Keeper of Fort Blanket L.C. Blackwell's Avatar
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    Off the top of my head--and I'm sort of compiling what I remember: don't quote me on this--

    Attributions are the least of it. Unless the songs are so old as to be out of copyright, you or your publisher will have to get permission from all the copyright holders. According to agent Rachelle Gardner, you--not the publisher--will pay for the use. This can get pricey.

    Permissions

    In the meantime, it's probably best to go ahead and write. If your agent, or publisher, suggests changes based on the difficulty of using the lyrics you've chosen, that will be the time to tackle it another way.

    Good luck!
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  15. #15
    Keeper of Fort Blanket L.C. Blackwell's Avatar
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    Just to add a footnote: Unless you need to quote a familiar song for some reason, you can study the style of the older songs and make up your own lyrics--just Google them and make sure you don't plagiarize by mistake. Much easier, and less expensive.
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  16. #16
    @LeaveItToIan IDGS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by L.C. Blackwell View Post
    Just to add a footnote: Unless you need to quote a familiar song for some reason, you can study the style of the older songs and make up your own lyrics--just Google them and make sure you don't plagiarize by mistake. Much easier, and less expensive.
    This. I originally had song lyrics at the beginning of every chapter, and had my MC sing one song (as part of the context of the narrative). Needless to say, my publisher said, "hell no." Maybe not a direct quote, but close enough.

    Instead, to sub in, I did what Blackwell suggested - I made up a hokey song (cause I was filling in for a real hokey song) and went along with it. All you need to do is make up a song that fits the tone / rhyming structure of an original song, and it should work.

    For a great example of this, see "Year of the Flood" by Margaret Atwood. She has 20+ "songs" from the Gardner's Handbook in there, and they all perfectly fit to the tune, metre and rhyming structure of "For Auld Lang Syne" (the New Years song) - and it probably saved her a hell of a lot of money, while allowing her to be creative with it. Think outside the box!


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  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW
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    Write it how you want. If it gets to the point where the novel is accepted for publication, you'll be required by your publisher to get permissions from the copyright holders and/or the publishers.

    The notice that permissions were received will then appear on the copyright page, so I don't think you need to include anything formal in the text itself.

    I've never had to get clearance to use lyrics, but I've heard it can cost. The process, though, is pretty straightforward. I've gone through it to get clearance on excerpts from books and poems.

    Once you have a publisher for your book, you write a letter saying your book is scheduled to be published by so-and-so, you say the format your book will appear in (hardcover, paperback), and you say exactly what text you want to use.

    You may have to send this letter to several people (agents, publishers, lawyers who handle estates). Who can actually grant permission is not always clear.

    Once you find the right person, though, it's simple, at least in my experience. You say please. They say yes.

    That said, and again, I've never gone through the process with lyrics. With them, I think money is often involved, which I haven't had to deal with.

    Hope this helps.

    EDIT: And if specific songs aren't necessary, only a certain style of song, making up lyrics as suggested above is certainly the simplest way to go. If you think real songs add something, though, keep them in and try to get clearance. If you can't, or if the price is too high, you know you have an alternative.
    Last edited by Ryan David Jahn; 03-13-2011 at 11:22 AM.

  18. #18
    That hairy-handed gent
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    This issue gets discussed with regularity here, and you can find numerous other threads addressing the issue. Aspects of which summarize to:

    1. If the lyrics are in public domain, you may quote them freely. Essentially, in the U.S., this means something published prior to 1923. So you have to define "old". Things by the Beatles, in this definition, aren't "old".

    2. If the lyrics are still protected by copyright, you'll get general advice from the most experienced and best writers here that basically goes:

    DON'T. Just don't. It ain't worth it.

    3. Beyond the legality issues, there is the issue of artistic effect. What do you gain by quoting lyrics? In general, there is a tendency for inexperienced writers to think they get a lot more mileage among readers by quoting lyrics than they actually do. To which the best advice is probably:

    DON'T. Just don't. It ain't worth it.

  19. #19
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    One of the big issues in copyright is, "How much of an entire work have you quoted?" Song lyrics are generally quite short, so even a single line can be a substantial part of the work. A verse is generally a very substantial part of the work -- one song verse is often around 20% or 25% of the whole song. So, in terms of how much of the work you've quoted, quoting one verse would be like quoting 50 pages verbatim from a 250 page novel.

    Both writing your own lyrics and using public domain lyrics are good ideas. Since you want old cowboy songs, you can probably find plenty from the 19th century.

  20. #20
    Writer is as Writer does Terie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan David Jahn View Post
    I've never had to get clearance to use lyrics, but I've heard it can cost. The process, though, is pretty straightforward. I've gone through it to get clearance on excerpts from books and poems.
    Actually, finding the copyright holder for lyrics can be very much the opposite of straighforward. The older the song, the more difficult. There are experts in the field who talk about how very very difficult it is.

    Not to mention that it can be prohibitively expensive.

    And if your reader doesn't know the song anyway, why bother with the hassle and expense?

    As blacbird said, your best option is just not to do it.

    If it makes it easier for you to write the book, there's no harm in putting them in your manuscript. But even if you decide to leave them in for submission, make sure they're easy to extract, because if you sell the book, the publisher is likely not to want to keep them.
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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ryan David Jahn View Post
    ...
    I've never had to get clearance to use lyrics, but I've heard it can cost. The process, though, is pretty straightforward. I've gone through it to get clearance on excerpts from books and poems.....
    Thanks for your comments! I need to ask for permissions for quotes to use in my nonfiction book that I'm writing, and it's pretty intimidating. It's nice to hear from someone who made it through the process.

    Did you have anyone turn you down at all?

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terie View Post
    Actually, finding the copyright holder for lyrics can be very much the opposite of straighforward.
    Yes, I said exactly that two paragraphs on.

    Even so, I have a shelf full of books with lyrical quotations in them, so it's neither impossible to obtain permissions nor something that nobody does. It may be a pain, it may not be worth it, but that depends on how important it is to the person who'll have to go through the work of getting permissions.

    EDIT: I do think your point about how difficult it is with an older work should be emphasized though. Good Lord, it's a pain. Finding out who controls a novel from the 1930s or 1940s -- written by a writer who's now dead -- can be nearly impossible, and, from what I've heard, that's a cakewalk compared to dealing with music.

    But I still tend to think writers should go for what they want, try to get clearances, and only give up after it's proved to be more work than it's worth. Yeah, it might mean pointless effort; but it also might mean you get exactly what you want instead of an approximation of what you want.
    Last edited by Ryan David Jahn; 03-13-2011 at 12:53 PM.

  23. #23
    Geekzilla BigWords's Avatar
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    Old cowboy songs? Depending on how "old" you are talking about, there are some brilliant songs which are out of copyright (and have been for decades), so there is no reason to abandon the idea entirely. Of course, even if you think a song is out of copyright, you still have to do the necessary checks to make sure that it is so.
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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by JudyS View Post
    Thanks for your comments! I need to ask for permissions for quotes to use in my nonfiction book that I'm writing, and it's pretty intimidating. It's nice to hear from someone who made it through the process.

    Did you have anyone turn you down at all?
    Not yet, but I've only hunted down four permissions, so my experience is limited, and even so, I almost gave up on one of them. It was simply a pain to find out who controlled the work. But in the end I managed and am glad I did.

    That said, I've only dealt with estates. I've never asked a living person for permission to use an excerpt from their work.
    Last edited by Ryan David Jahn; 03-13-2011 at 12:56 PM.

  25. #25
    On location Hillgate's Avatar
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    Or just write: 'Mary-Jane was in the bathroom murdering an Aerosmith song.' Or some such. That's absolutely fine.
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