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youdancefunny
12-22-2009, 09:24 AM
I have a number of questions regarding the use of classical music in novels. I hope this doesn't get too hairy, but here goes.

I am writing fiction novels involving dance. Like writing, in order to choreograph a dance to a piece of music, one must first obtain a license to do so. But what if I'm writing a novel, about a character choreographing a dance to said piece? I've done a little research ahead of time, and because the music I have in mind is more contemporary, they are copyrighted.

I've searched the forum and found great advice on using song lyrics (with the general consensus being to avoid it if you can), but couldn't find any information for how things work with classical music, so I'll try to break down my questions on the topic as a whole.

1. If a license is needed to choreograph a dance to a song, is a license also needed to write about choreographing a dance to a song?

2. Does mentioning a song title require permission? For example: Rozalyn had her heart set on choreographing her next ballet to Ralph Vaughan Williams' 'The Lark Ascending.'

3. Realizing that I can't quote lyrics from songs, what is the equivalent in classical music? Obviously I can't "spell out the notes," but what if it's something like: Rozalyn explained to the ballerina that she wanted her to begin the series of leaps and pirouettes during the sweeping phrase of the solo violin. She was to turn around and look offstage when she heard the flute, as that would signal the entrance of her partner.
Is it okay to point out specific, instrumental cues in the music?

So those are the technical questions, but I am also seeking some advice. I fully understand that I could make up my own composers and music within the frame of the story, but for one novel the fiction is kind of built around a true event. There is a piece of music that a famous ballet choreographer created a work to, but has been lost. The music is fantastic (one of my absolute favorite pieces) and that is part of the motivation for this fictional character to create her own ballet to it. As I said, I could make up the composer name, make up a title, play with wording of movements (instead of "Andantino" I can write "the slow movement") and basically write it with the same inspiration but if I can legally use the title and name attached to the work I would prefer that, because there is a historical significance to this particular song.

Would this be something that's asking for rejection by publishers? I ask because I'm already brainstorming a few things for a second novel, and in that one the character's goal is to choreograph an entire 3 act ballet, using music from an actual composer (again, deceased, music copyrighted to his foundation). I'm trying to clue people into the process of creating a full length ballet, and this is part of it. But if it's going to get ugly like in the example above for just one piece, it's going to be hideous if I write:

Rozalyn decided to use an excerpt from his Symphony no.2 for the openning number, but the solos would come from the Harp Concerto in C. The grand pas de deux would be a combination of the Andante from the Harp Concerto as well as an excerpt from the Piano Sonata in E minor.

It won't be quite so..."listmania" if I were to actually write it, but you get the idea. If titles are not fair use, is something like:

Rozalyn decided she would choreograph her ballet to various works by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
(quick question, but in this last example, would it be okay to write out musical cues like "enter during the violin solo," because it doesn't point to a specific work?)

I'm kind of terrified at the prospect of writing a request, and finding out it's going to be 85 million dollars to mention the composer and song. Especially in the case where the character Rozalyn is creating a full length ballet, I'd have to write a few letters to a couple of different publishing companies (is it uncommon to just ask how much they would charge in royalties?), which may end up costing a lot, and look incredibly unappealing to a publisher. Preserving the integrity of the inspiration I get from the music itself without getting into a legal mess is proving to be tricky. I've read posters in other threads regarding lyrics that a lot of times lyrics don't necessarily add the dimension to a work that authors are going for, the "universal understanding," but in this case I feel it's a little different...I'm not necessarily expecting anyone to know the music I am writing about, but I also feel weird "renaming" composers and their songs, because I'm writing about the inspiration I get from those songs, not a made up work.

I'm stuck as to what to do and how to proceed, so any advice would be appreciated.

Thanks!

benbradley
12-22-2009, 09:50 AM
Most classical music is old stuff. About the only popular exception I can think of is Aaron Copeland, but I only know a little about classical music.

With just a little research I found this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lark_Ascending

The Lark Ascending is a popular piece for violin and orchestra, written in 1914 ...
You're in luck. US Copyright law extends back to 1925, further than any other country. Anything before then is public domain, and you can mention it, spell out the notes, if it's got words you can write out all the lyrics.

And even if it's been choreographed since then, I think as long as you're not saying whose choreography it is, and not describing that actual choreography, you're okay on doing all the above.

youdancefunny
12-22-2009, 10:37 AM
Thanks for your response! I didn't know about the 1925 date...that helps a bit...but what about works after that date? Perhaps classical was misleading...some of it is more modern or romantic era music. (Like another work I'm looking at is William Alwyn's Symphony no.4, written in 1959).

Also, the Lark Ascending appears in ASCAP's database...but that doesn't mean it's necessarily copyrighted? Alwyn's Symphony no.4 is in ASCAP's database as well, both with publisher information.

David Wisehart
12-22-2009, 11:16 AM
You can't reprint the score if it's under copyright.

But you can certainly write about classical music, reference specific pieces and composers, mention the movements, choreograph to phrases, etc.

However, unless you're talking about a very well-known classical piece (Beethoven's 5th, perhaps), most of your readers won't be able to instantly recall the musical phrase to memory as they read your novel.

Probably the best way to use classical music in your story is to describe how it makes your viewpoint character feel.

bonitakale
12-22-2009, 03:57 PM
Even with rock songs, about which owners are extremely particular, you can name them and describe them. You can always name a book, a painting, a piece of music, etc, and describe it in words. You just can't use the same words the author used (if it's a verbal medium like a book or song). You can use the title, though; titles aren't copyrighted.

Music and art historians wouldn't exist if they had to pay for naming and describing a work.

And what your character does with it-- choreographs a dance, goes insane listening to it, cuts up the second movement for mulch -- is irrelevant.

The difficult part is to convey the emotion (as David said) and the general tenor without the reader's being familiar with the piece.

Laws are often stupid, but I don't think they're that stupid.

RevisionIsTheKey
12-26-2009, 09:01 PM
Even with rock songs, about which owners are extremely particular, you can name them and describe them. You can always name a book, a painting, a piece of music, etc, and describe it in words. You just can't use the same words the author used (if it's a verbal medium like a book or song). You can use the title, though; titles aren't copyrighted.

Recently, a university professor told me that a writer can quote lyrics if the quote is short, maybe only one line or two. Does anyone know if that is truly the case?

Maryn
12-27-2009, 06:41 PM
The lawyer across the hall says it depends. (He says that about all my legal questions.) In this case, it mostly depends on how great a percentage of the lyrics that one line is, whether the work including that line is satire or criticism, and on how litigious the copyright owner is.

Maryn, talking to lawyers in bathrobes

RevisionIsTheKey
12-27-2009, 08:49 PM
The lawyer across the hall says it depends. (He says that about all my legal questions.) In this case, it mostly depends on how great a percentage of the lyrics that one line is, whether the work including that line is satire or criticism, and on how litigious the copyright owner is.

Maryn, talking to lawyers in bathrobes

Thanks, Maryn. It makes sense that if a song had only four lines that kept repeating, quoting two of them would be a bigger deal than two lines from a song with 60 lines.

benbradley
12-27-2009, 10:47 PM
Everything I've heard is that you could be sued for quoting ANY string of words that's long enough to be recognizable as being part of a song (and presumably that would be the point in quoting the lyric, to show enough for the reader to recognize the song).

You generally won't be sued for quoting lyrics in a review of a song, as a review is the one of the few specific things that are spelled out under "Fair Use." But I've heard of other cases where "Fair Use" was used as a defense for quoting short lines of lyrics, and the defense lost.

Percentage wise, quoting one line of a pop song is roughly equivalent to quoting a dozen pages of a book (an amount that would go beyond a "Fair Use" argument), and that may have something to do with lyrics being so well protected.

There's a memoir with the title "And You Know You Should Be Glad" which is (obviously to any Beatles fan) a line from the Beatles song "She Loves You", but Amazon shows the copyright page and there's nothing about having permission to use that line as I would expect. From what I've heard about the Beatles defending their intellectual property, if I had anything to do with the book I'd be worried. A title is a pretty blatant use of a lyric.

RevisionIsTheKey
12-28-2009, 03:21 AM
You generally won't be sued for quoting lyrics in a review of a song.

Percentage wise, quoting one line of a pop song is roughly equivalent to quoting a dozen pages of a book (an amount that would go beyond a "Fair Use" argument), and that may have something to do with lyrics being so well protected.

There's a memoir with the title "And You Know You Should Be Glad" which is (obviously to any Beatles fan) a line from the Beatles song "She Loves You", but Amazon shows the copyright page and there's nothing about having permission to use that line as I would expect. From what I've heard about the Beatles defending their intellectual property, if I had anything to do with the book I'd be worried. A title is a pretty blatant use of a lyric.

Paragraph 1: As someone who loves to weasel around the law (unless we are talking about the rules lawsof grammar!), what would they do if I had a character writing a review? That'll stump 'em.

Paragraph 2: Good point about the lines in a song being equivalent to a rather large bunch of pages in a book.

Paragraph 3: Doesn't the Michael Jackson estate own the Beatles songbook?