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Thread: Permission to use song lyrics in book?

  1. #1
    Finestkind underthecity's Avatar
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    Permission to use song lyrics in book?

    Does anyone know how to obtain permission/rights to use song lyrics in a book? I would like to use four lines from a song from 1941, but have no idea how to call or write to.

    Any ideas?

    underthecity

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by underthecity
    Does anyone know how to obtain permission/rights to use song lyrics in a book? I would like to use four lines from a song from 1941, but have no idea how to call or write to.

    Any ideas?

    underthecity
    That's why most of us write our own lyrics when the need arises.

    I'm not trying to be a wise guy -- I've been through this myself. It can be very difficult to find out the current owner of the rights to a non-current song, and if you do manage to find out, it's even more difficult to get the rights to quote it in your book.

    That's not to say that it can't be done, but there are enough roadblocks to make it not worth the trouble in most cases.

  3. #3
    Finestkind underthecity's Avatar
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    Thanks for the advice. I actually wanted to use it on the copyright page of my book to kind of "set the tone" for the book. You know, kind of like an opening quote for the book.

    Here are the lyrics, in case anyone's interested:

    If the pleasure you're about
    And you feel like steppin' out
    All you got to shout is
    Let me off uptown.

    (from Let Me off Uptown by Anita O'Day with the Gene Krupa Orchestra, 1941)

    That's the plan, anyway.

    underthecity

  4. #4
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daughter of Faulkner
    songs were among public domain. I do all the time. At the end, when it's accepted for publication, then it will be credited. Just keep a list of what you did use for that time.
    Don't do this.

    Songs are not public domain unless they're really and truly public domain because of the date they were published. And even then there are all sorts of odd loop holes. This is a rights issue, and a particularly ugly one because of the nature of the music industry. I've had to do the research and write the request to license two lines from one song, and four from another, and it's a total pain in the neck, and it was exceedingly expensive given the kind of book and money to be made from said book.

    Moreover, the music industry is exceedingly litigious. If you have to use the song, get permission, and you might think about consulting an expert, by which I mean an attorney who is deeply familiar with music licensing. Sometimes you need to pay fees and get permission from more than one person/entity. Neither agents nor editors are the best guides for this rough water.

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  5. #5
    Just the Basic Facts Uncarved's Avatar
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    Plus to add to what Medievalist said, they are notoriously more expensive in their Permission fees as well. Better to get a song that is well behind the 1921 date or shell out some serious cash for those little lines.

    I'd either do without it, or if its an integral part of the story, pay the fee. DON'T try to circumnavigate this law. Songs are not in the public domain unless they fit the requirement that ALL works have to fit (novels, brochures, whatever).

  6. #6
    Dreamer of dreams, teller of tales Absolute Sage Susan Gable's Avatar
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    Amen to what everyone else has said - Make sure the song you want to use truly falls into public domain (Daughter of Falkner, your editor is very misinformed! ) or get the permission - which can be both expensive and difficult to do.

    There are ways to get around this, depending on your intent in your work. If the song is playing in the background of a scene, you can mention the title. I've done other things like:

    He hummed along with the radio. "Damn straight, I'll be home for Christmas." Then your reader knows what song is playing. (Of course, the song has an impact on the story. Otherwise, why bother?)

    Keep your legal ducks in a row. This is one case where "Sorry, I didn't know" isn't going to cut it when a suit is filed against you.

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  7. #7
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    Songs

    Quote Originally Posted by underthecity
    Does anyone know how to obtain permission/rights to use song lyrics in a book? I would like to use four lines from a song from 1941, but have no idea how to call or write to.

    Any ideas?

    underthecity
    Songs are NOT part of the pubic domain. Songs have the same copyright protection as any other writing, and if you use song lyrics withuot permission you can be sued right down to your underwear.

    When you see song lyrics in a novel it's because the writer obtained permission to use those lyrics, and most likely had to pay for them. The only way to do so is to find the copyright owner, which will often be on the sheet music, and write to them. Gaining written permission, which you will need, can be very expensive.

    No sane or legitimate publisher will pubish anything containing copyrighted song lyrics unless you have the written permission.

    If you get caught using song lyrics without permission, you will end up in court, and you will be foudn liable for damages. This can be considerable.

  8. #8
    Finestkind underthecity's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone for the replies. I understood that song lyrics were subject to copyright and I would need permission to use them, and possibly pay a fee. My only issue is how to go about doing that part.

    So, rest assured I will not use the lyrics without permission.

    underthecity

  9. #9
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    First you'll have to do research; find out who wrote the lyrics, and who owns them. If you have a CD you can start by using the lyric information there; you may find not only the author, but the name of the author's rights holder. Often times the rights are owned by one of a few Very Large Corporations; you then look up the contact information on the web, and you write them. You can do an initial query by email, but after that initial query it's better to stick to U.S. post.

    Don't do a query until you have a publisher; you'll need to be able to tell the license agent/rights holder all the publication information, send them an excerpt showing where and how the lyrics are used, and they'll want to know how many copies will be printed; that and the kind of publication affect price. You really really need an expert at this point; your publisher may have a boiler plate query you can use, and that's a start. You will need to be very specific; each kind of rights, and the geography (world? US?) and duration need to be specified, and it's not a lot of fun.
    Last edited by Medievalist; 02-22-2005 at 04:19 AM. Reason: Today's omitted letter is the letter "p."

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  10. #10
    Leaving on the 2:19
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    Try this link for info

    http://www.justaboutwrite.com/A_Arch...lectProp3.html

    Here's some basic information on how to get use permission for song lyrics. If the lyrics of your song are printed in the CD insert, you can look there to see if the publisher is ASCAP or BMI or SESAC.

  11. #11
    Finestkind underthecity's Avatar
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    Thanks!

    Thank you both, Medievalist and Ketzel for that helpful information. Using the link provided by Ketzel, I was able find the song on Ascap's database. I then sent them a query using Medievalist's info as a guide.

    I don't care that it's extra trouble to get permission. The title of the book is mentioned in the lyrics. If it doesn't cost too much to use them, they would make the book extra cool.

    And I do have a publisher. This is my third book for them, and it's due in July. I'm supposed to be writing that, not this!

    underthecity
    Last edited by underthecity; 02-22-2005 at 12:42 AM. Reason: edited to add publisher

  12. #12
    Registered curmudgeon katdad's Avatar
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    You don't need to do anything

    You can go ahead and put lyrics in your book, and you don't need to do anything except make a note of this for later reference.

    When your book gets published, the publisher's legal staff will vet the musical excerpt. They will decide how, and whether to get permission for the lyrics' use, or if the use constitutes "free use". If there's a problem, they will simply ask you to edit the lyrics out and find a suitable alternative way to describe your topic.

    So you don't need to worry about it.
    Ineluctable modality of the visible...

  13. #13
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    One way to improve almost any manuscript is to go through and remove any poetry you find, regardless of its source.

    Leaving the copyright/permissions question entirely aside, most poetry is bad. Even if no lyrics are used, most references to popular music only serve to date the story more quickly.

    Assuming that your readers are a) familiar with a particular song, and b) will have the same emotional reaction to that song that you do, is probably a bad assumption.

  14. #14
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    Songs

    Quote Originally Posted by katdad
    You can go ahead and put lyrics in your book, and you don't need to do anything except make a note of this for later reference.

    When your book gets published, the publisher's legal staff will vet the musical excerpt. They will decide how, and whether to get permission for the lyrics' use, or if the use constitutes "free use". If there's a problem, they will simply ask you to edit the lyrics out and find a suitable alternative way to describe your topic.

    So you don't need to worry about it.
    It's more likely the publisher will decide not to get permission, not to pay big bucks, and you'll have wasted an awful lot of time and energy writing a novel no one wants. Publishers generally want you to have permission going in, especially if you're a new writer. And it isn't always possible to get permission, even if you (or the publisher) are willing to pay. Quite often, the copyright holder will deny permission to use the lyrics, and then all the effort writing is really wasted.

    And as often as not, publishers would simply rather you don't use anything in a novel that needs permission. Even if they receive permission, they may have to get it all over again for any new edition of the book.

    In fact, if you're a new writer, odds are good that you'll either be asked to cut anything that needs permission, or the manuscript will be rejected. The publisher is already risking enough money to publish a novel by a new writer, and anything that is likely to cost them more money, time, and effort is one huge strike against the writer.

    Far and away the best thing to do is to forget all about putting copyrighted song lyrics into your manuscript.

  15. #15
    Finestkind underthecity's Avatar
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    Permission continued

    I'd like to clarify a few points,

    I posted this question in the "Writing Novels" forum because I knew I'd get a larger response than if I put it in the Nonfiction forum, which doesn't get near the traffic that this one does.

    This book is a nonfiction book, specifically about entertainment history in Cincinnati 1900-1960. The song lyrics in question encapsulate the overall theme of the book. I wouldn't bother with them if they did not.

    Researching how to obtain permission to use them has taken extremely little time, perhaps maybe fifteen minutes total, thanks to the post that pointed me to ASCAP. Doing a search on their database revealed the composer of the song as well as who holds the rights to the song, which is Music Sales Corp of New York. The database also provided the phone number. A quick visit to their website told me the right person to call. I've called her this morning and left her a message. When I speak to her she'll tell me exactly what I need to do, and perhaps give me a quote for rights. If the cost is prohibitive, I won't do it. If it's not, then I probably will.

    I'm not a new, unpublished writer. I'm twice published with the same publisher and the book I am working on now my third; I signed the contract in January. I have already spoken to my editor at the publisher, and she likes the idea of using the lyrics.

    The overall process has been simple. Turned out ASCAP had the info on its database and even provided a phone number.

    I do thank you all for your input and advice. At this point, all I can do is offer the board a final follow-up about what the cost will be.

    I think the responses given in this thread will be very beneficial for anyone else wanting to do the same thing.

    underthecity

  16. #16
    Registered curmudgeon katdad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie
    Publishers generally want you to have permission going in, especially if you're a new writer. In fact, if you're a new writer, odds are good that you'll either be asked to cut anything that needs permission --- etc Far and away the best thing to do is to forget all about putting copyrighted song lyrics into your manuscript.
    Here's my own specific example, from my novel "Full Circle", Chapter 1. My protagonist is driving along a parkway:

    =============

    Steely Dan was on the classic rock station, playing Do It Again. I turned up the volume and helped Donald Fagen sing a few bars.

    Then you love a little wild one
    And she brings you only sorrow...
    Go back, Jack, do it again,
    Wheel turnin’ round and round...

    ==============

    The lyrics set the mood of my novel. I could have paraphrased them but I chose to quote 2 lines from the song.

    My agent has specifically told me that the quatrain I quoted in my book is okay, and that it constitutes "fair use". He said that such brief quotes are acceptable.

    In the past, I've done similar things in both fiction and non-fiction (very brief attributions) and it's gone straight through into print.

    That being said, an alternative is to use indirect quotes or paraphrase.

    I don't know what your agent or publisher has told you. Perhaps your situation is different from mine. I have never heard of a publisher rejecting a manuscript out of hand for this.
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  17. #17
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    Katbad, that's not fair use. You need permission, and sometimes you need to pay for that (depending on the agreement you get from the songwriter). It's not fair use, especially if you're using it in a piece of work that is going to be sold commercially. You may have gotten away with it, and your publishers probably thought you did get permission. But if someone decides to sue you, it can get messy.

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  18. #18
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by katdad
    Here's my own specific example, from my novel "Full Circle", Chapter 1. My protagonist is driving along a parkway:

    =============

    Steely Dan was on the classic rock station, playing Do It Again. I turned up the volume and helped Donald Fagen sing a few bars.

    Then you love a little wild one
    And she brings you only sorrow...
    Go back, Jack, do it again,
    Wheel turnin’ round and round...

    ==============

    The lyrics set the mood of my novel. I could have paraphrased them but I chose to quote 2 lines from the song.

    My agent has specifically told me that the quatrain I quoted in my book is okay, and that it constitutes "fair use". He said that such brief quotes are acceptable.
    With all due respect, an agent is not the person to consult. The publisher, who presumably has access to legal expertise, is. Remember too that you have to go to court in order to determine fair use. I'd go ahead and quote from a work, but make sure to explicitly discuss the issue with your publisher.

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  19. #19
    Registered curmudgeon katdad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist
    With all due respect, an agent is not the person to consult. The publisher, who presumably has access to legal expertise, is. Remember too that you have to go to court in order to determine fair use. I'd go ahead and quote from a work, but make sure to explicitly discuss the issue with your publisher.
    Agreed. The publisher is the one to make the decision. All I am trying to say is that the writer should not worry, since those issues will be sorted out later. If the publisher thinks that the lyrics should be omitted or paraphrased, the editor will let you know.

    As for "fair use"? No, you don't have to go to court to obtain fair use of song lyrics. That use is implicit in freedom of speech. However the original copyright owner may take exception and sue the publisher.
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  20. #20
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    Maestro's right about fair use. Whether you or your publisher does it, you must get permission unless the work quoting the lyrics is a review or scholarly work, etc.

    Katdad's probably right about the publisher taking care of these issues for a writer, but it sure wouldn't hurt to have done some of the legwork ahead of time, it really doesn't take much effort at all. I wrote a short story once with lyrics from Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum in it. It took me two e-mails to get permission in principle from the publisher who held the rights to the song. I figured it wouldn't hurt to be able to tell an interested publisher that I already had that in hand.

    Never sold the story tho'.
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  21. #21
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    Fair use

    Quote Originally Posted by katdad
    Here's my own specific example, from my novel "Full Circle", Chapter 1. My protagonist is driving along a parkway:

    =============

    Steely Dan was on the classic rock station, playing Do It Again. I turned up the volume and helped Donald Fagen sing a few bars.

    Then you love a little wild one
    And she brings you only sorrow...
    Go back, Jack, do it again,
    Wheel turnin’ round and round...

    ==============

    The lyrics set the mood of my novel. I could have paraphrased them but I chose to quote 2 lines from the song.

    My agent has specifically told me that the quatrain I quoted in my book is okay, and that it constitutes "fair use". He said that such brief quotes are acceptable.

    In the past, I've done similar things in both fiction and non-fiction (very brief attributions) and it's gone straight through into print.

    That being said, an alternative is to use indirect quotes or paraphrase.

    I don't know what your agent or publisher has told you. Perhaps your situation is different from mine. I have never heard of a publisher rejecting a manuscript out of hand for this.
    Your agent is simply wrong on this issue. That isn't fair use, and I've seen writers successfully sued for using considerably less. FAir use with songs and poems is considerably different than fair use when quoting fiction or nonfiction. A song or a poem is so short that using any of it can get you in trouble.

    And "Fair use" itself is greatly misunderstand. In truth, there is no provision in fair use law to use any copyrighted material in your fiction. None at all. FAir use law is very specific in where and how you can use copyrighted material, and using in your own fiction isn't one of the allowable categories. This is triply true for song lyrics and poetry.

    Fair use law can be murky, especially when dealing with how much you can quote, but the courts have held fair use is allowable in the following categories:

    “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

    No mention whatsoever of allowing any use in fiction.

    If you use any amount of copyrighted material in your own fiction, you'd better have permission. If you use a copyrighted song lyric or any part of a poem, you will need permission because fair use doesn't cover it. Courts have upheld numerous claims against using portions of song lyrics and poems.

    If you want to use any portion of a song or a peom in your own fiction, you will need to get written permission, which can cost many thousands of dollars, and generally isn;t worth the effort for a new writer.

  22. #22
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by katdad
    As for "fair use"? No, you don't have to go to court to obtain fair use of song lyrics. That use is implicit in freedom of speech. However the original copyright owner may take exception and sue the publisher.
    Yeah, you do have to go to court to determine if a specific use falls within the so-called "fair use" clauses. Fair use is not a right, and has nothing to do at all with freedom of speech. It's a sort of potential safe harbor intended for very specific uses, like educational purposes, or critical works. Moreover, the author is often the defendent, not the publisher.

    Most publishers require authors to sign a statement indicating that the author has copyright or has obtained permission. An infringement can cost thousands, even tens of thousands, plus legal fees.

    Increasingly publishers require authors to obtain the rights, and pay for them; even textbook publishers are doing this. Even though I've frequently obtained permissions for images,text, including literature, and video, I generally avoid lyrics and music because they are both such an expensive quagmire. The two instances where I did agree to do the research were both for academic, scholarly publications, North America and Europe only, one for two lines of a song and one for four, for specific print runs. In both cases the rights were thousands of dollars. The author essentially used the advance to purchase all the rights he needed. As a scholar, that's a viable option; he has a day job. That might not be true in all cases.

    So. Sure, include the lyrics, but don't set your heart on them. Alert your editor to the use of the lyrics, and work with the publisher to decide what to do. Attempt to determine the intial contact for a query. Don't publish without obtaining consent from all the rights holders in writing (for instance, the lyric author, the Big Corporate Entity, the lyric publisher).

    Be prepared to consult a professional; some publishers will refer you to an in house expert/attorney, some will provide you with sample queries and permission forms, a rare few will do the work for you, or at least some of it.
    Last edited by Medievalist; 02-24-2005 at 08:08 AM. Reason: Helping verbs; they make English tense.

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  23. #23
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    "Fair use" isn't a right, it's a defense against a charge of copyright infringement.

    Maybe a use is fair, maybe it isn't, but it ain't nothing 'til a judge bangs his gavel down.

    The author, who signed an indemnity clause in his contract, is probably going to have to fight that one out in court, and may bear the whole cost of the defense (depending on that indemnity clause).

  24. #24
    Always a writer Daughter of Faulkner's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Congratulations Sam a.k.a. Katdad!

    on the signing of a contract with a literary agency, the completion of "Full Circle," and just on being a writer.
    Since you have an agent and all good things going for you, I'd say that along with your proven track record speaks volumes.

    Keep up the good work.
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  25. #25
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    Yup. Look closely at your contract with the publisher. There's usually a clause there, to the effect of something like this:

    ... contains no matter that, when published, will be libelous or otherwise unlawful, or which will infringe upon any proprietary interest at common law or statutory copyright... that the Author and his/her legal successors and/or representatives will hold harmless and keep indemnified the Publisher from all manner of claims, proceeding and expenses wich may be taken or incurred on the ground that said work is subject to any such lien, claim, claim of plagiarism....

    Thus, it's the author's responsibility to make sure your work is free from such lien and claim...

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