View Full Version : Music copyrights in novel
09-07-1999, 10:54 PM
I actually have a question no one will fight with me over. I'm kind of embarrassed about this, and I promise it won't happen often.
I've written a novel--a pretty good one, actually. I tell you this not because you're supposed to admire me for it (though you're certainly welcome to), but because I did something potentially stupid--I used song quotes, which plunges me into the morass of copyrights and permissions.
I quote virtually all of one song--it's esentially the foundation for an entire chapter--and I know I'll have to obtain permission to use it. I quote a few lines of a couple other songs, and I know I need permission to use those. But most of the quotes are brief--generally one sentence--that I use to decorate my part headings.
My questions are:
(1) Do I actually need permission for brief quotes, or is a copyright acknowledgement sufficient?
(2) Is there ordinarily a fee for permission to use song quotations in novels?
(3) Is this something I need to handle before submitting my novel to publishers, or is this something that publishers will take care of? Or would submitting it to publishers be copyright infringement by itself, witout permission?
Thanks in advance to any writers or attorneys with copyright experience--or anyone else--who can help me out.
AOL Instant Messenger: Hrttannl
You've plunged yourself into the murky waters of the Fair Use doctrine.
You can try www.benedict.com (http://www.benedict.com) to see if you can figure out anything.
I don't think anyone can give you a decision until you tell someone exactly what it is you intend to quote from a song. How much of the song you use is usually the determining factor.
09-08-1999, 03:03 AM
Let your publisher worry about it.
No, really. That's what their job is and why they hire lawyers. Just make sure you alert your editor to the quotes.
09-08-1999, 05:51 AM
Your publisher shuld handle all the rigamorole. They are gonna make the most money from your brain child anyway, so let them deal with the headaches.
Insist, though, on a readable typeface. Some publishers use fonts which are so unreadable that your novel could seriously suffer.
Oh, and check out all the song lyric credits in any Stephen King book. He uses 'em all the time.
09-08-1999, 07:43 AM
1. As far as song lyrics are concerned, there is no such thing as fair use. You'll have to contact ASCAP or BMI and arrange for payment. They will want their fee.
2. Though the publisher might take care of it, they'd prefer you do it yourself, especially for a first novel. (Mention in your cover letter that you have obtained the rights to use the song.) If you have a track record with them, they may be willing to do the work. However, the question of rights could conceivably mean that they pay you for the novel that can't be published because the songwriter refused permission. Better to have all permissions in hand if you need them.
3. Submitting it would technically be infringement, but it's unlikely anyone will call you on it -- unless its published.
The best advice about using songs in novels is to write the lyrics yourself and avoid the hassles and expenses.
09-08-1999, 07:43 AM
Just make sure you don't quote the Beatles. Those guys are militant.
09-08-1999, 07:58 AM
dhanson:Just make sure you don't quote the Beatles. Those guys are militant.
"Those guys" don't have anything to do with it; they don't own the rights to their song catalog.
09-08-1999, 05:19 PM
I'd like to thank everyone who has responded so far. I'm beginning to think I should do as suggested--make up my own songs--though this would be a real shame in some cases.
This is a first novel; it's also a long, complicated story, and I don't shy away from matters which are liable to be controversial. It's already going to have several strikes against it in finding a publisher; maybe this whole deal with musical quotes is one I should avoid.
And...as for the mention of avoiding the Beatles, Chapter 45 is set to "All You Need Is Love." I'd really hate to have to lose it, but maybe I'm not going to have a choice.
AOL Instant Messenger: Hrttannl
09-08-1999, 06:58 PM
The Beatles may not own the rights to the song catalog, but they own the rights to their names, the name of the group, their logos, etc. And they have been fighting every tiny perceived infringement on any aspect of their intellectual rights.
For example, there was a group of artists that put out a Beatles cover album just a while ago (or tried to). They bought the rights to all the songs (or agreed to the royalty contract or whatever they have to do). I believe it was also a charity effort. Anyway, the album jacket had a green apple on one part of it, and the Beatles sued for unfair use of their trademark and forced all the albums to be pulled off the shelf.
The Beatles also sued Apple computer a few years ago. Apple had originally made an agreement with the Beatles to use the name 'Apple' in return for which they wouldn't enter the music business. Anyway, Apple eventually put Midi ports on a machine (I think the Apple IIc), and the Beatles sued because they construed this as 'entering the music business'. Never did hear what became of that.
09-08-1999, 09:17 PM
I wouldn't worry about it -- at least not right now. Write the book the way you want it and submit it. When you're pitching the book, you need to make sure it's the best it can be, not worry about legal details like this.
The exact song you use may make a difference. I used an old slave song in my book, for instance, and there is no one to pay for the use. I did credit the book from which I took the lyrics, of course.
Regardless of the specifics, you don't need to worry about this at this point. And DON'T alert publishers to it when you submit because that will just be one hassle they associate with you at a time when you need them to think the best of you and your work.
Even if it turns out to be necessary to seek permission and/or pay for the use, deal with it later and hope the publisher does most of the work.
-- Greg, Atlanta
(Gregory A. Freeman, author of Lay This Body Down)
09-08-1999, 09:24 PM
It's Only a Northern Song
"non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem"
-- William of Ockham
12-16-2000, 07:24 PM
From what I've seen, you need to ask permission first, then put a notice on the copyright page that says something like "Song lyrics on page such-and-such are from the song blahblahblah by person. (copyright symbol)year by Company."
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