Wednesday, January 2, 2019

But the sun's been quite kind while I wrote this song.....

Have you ever wanted to quote song lyrics in your story? Here are a couple posts at Bookbaby:
1. Overview of legalities of using song lyrics.
2. Answers to questions about using song lyrics.

If a music artist wants to record someone else’s song, there is a set fee for that use, but rights and fees are entirely up to the publisher when it comes to printing lyrics in books. If you don’t want to violate US Copyright Code, read on.


Jolynn said...

Thanks for the informative post. Very interesting.

Adrian said...

Those articles seem rather one-sided, are slightly out-of-date, and one of them misses an important point.

The media companies don't want there to be fair-use exceptions, so they go out of their way to secure explicit permissions from each other even when fair-use would have been sufficient. They believe this sets precedent that all others should have to follow, but I'm not sure that's actually been tested in court. Sure, if you quote some lyrics in your book, you have technically violated copyright, and the rightsholder could sue you, but whether a fair use defense would hold up is going to depend on a lot of circumstances. Of course, if the rightsholder is a major media company, you probably can't afford to risk an expensive legal battle. I guess, in one sense that means they win.

But do you suppose Penn Jillette got permission from every rightsholder whose lyrics he worked into _Sock_? (If you're not familiar with the book, virtually every paragraph quotes a classic rock or pop song from the '70s or '80s.)

Now that it's 2019, the Sonny Bono copyright extension act has finally expired, and old works have begun--once again--to enter the public domain in the U.S. Of course, it's not as simple as adding some number of years to the copyright date, so it still can be hard to figure out exactly what's under copyright, and many works under copyright are orphaned (which is evidence the system isn't doing what the Constitution says it was intended to do).

And, of course, you have to think about rights in all sorts of jurisdictions, not just the U.S. What's in the public domain in Australia might still be under copyright in the U.S. What's fair use in the U.S. might not be considered fair dealing in Canada or the U.K. It's a big damn mess.

Alicia said...

We do tend to throw copyright to the winds (when it's not OUR copyright, that is! We get a lot more scrupulous when someone violates our copyrights, I think :). I agree, most of us might take the risk sometimes-- using a photo or graphic off Pinterest without getting permission, embedding a music video in our blog posts. And generally we'll get away with it.

I know a writer who quoted a stanza of a song lyric, however, and got sued, and another who asked for permission of the music company (not the artists, who didn't own the rights any more, interestingly), and was told she would have to pay $1000 upfront, and then a small percentage on each sale. They learned that music publishers are a lot more sue-happy than most copyright holders, and have some kind of additional protection that I didn't quite understand-- after all, there are SO MANY stakeholders with any recorded music, the songwriters, the musicians, the producers, the recording company-- and any one of those might take some exception.

Fair use is a lot less useful when it comes to short works. To quote 4 lines from a novel would likely be fair use. To quote 4 lines of a 16-line lyric (that is, 25% of it), might not be considered fair use, as you're not supposed to use a "substantial" segment. Also, commercial (rather than educational) use would complicate-- when we're actually offering this work for sale.

I was/am going to write some stories linked to pop songs, and I am going to be pretty careful, not having Penn Jilette's financial resources or legal advisors. I'll maybe quote a line from each song, but no more than that. Titles usually can't be copyrighted, so I might also use the title. And in the ebook, I can probably link to the Youtube of the song-- let Google/Youtube deal with the copyright holder!

As you said, there are all sorts of jurisdictions too. I know in the EU, the "moral rights" of the original creators are protected more than here. A big damned mess, yes! I am a cautious risktaker, really. I very much want to use a Frost poem in a story, but I think his work is still under copyright, impossible as that might seem, considering how long ago he wrote that poem. So I'm thinking of asking for permission from the estate, though of course all that does is alert them. :) Oh, well. It's usually possible to write around the problem, though paraphrasing a lyric or poem is really no solution. Alas.