1. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Fair Use Question

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by lostinwebspace, Jul 18, 2014.

    Does having a character say "Good golly, Miss Molly" constitute as fair use?

    Link to the song in case you need it.
     
  2. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    All the usual 'not a lawyer' disclaimers apply, but I find it hard to believe there'll be any problem with having a character say that one line, especially since it's hardly an uncommon phrase. Print a large chunk of the lyrics and you're in rather greyer territory.
     
  3. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    You have to consider that there might be an unmarried woman named Molly out there who can always sue you for using her name in your book... I'm just sayin'...
     
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  4. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Fair use is an exception to copyright. A song title is not copyrighted.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I seem to remember a longish debate about this a little while ago, about the fact that titles are not copyrighted, lyrics are copyrighted and the legitimate fair use of them is practically nonexistent, so what do you do when a title is also a lyric?

    I don't know the answer.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You really should consult a literary attorney in this case because of all the subtleties involved. It's also hard for any of us to say because we don't have any context.

    If possible, you could also use another phrase.
     
  7. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    In stead of panicking, paying attorneys and wasting time on forums, you could just ask the publisher/right-holder yourself - check ASCAP to locate them, find their website, contact them with relevant information, wait for their reply, provide all the additional data they ask for, and eventually they'll name the price. It may be as low as a few $€£¥, it may be as high as a few hundreds of $€£¥: consider if it fits your budget, use it/ditch it.

    DO NOT panic if you are using anything in your manuscript. Manuscripts are your private property. The content of your hard drive is your private property (except in extreme cases I won't mention). Do not worry if your mother or friends or beta-readers read it - somebody once mentioned on these forums that your mother constitutes an audience, and that's enough for a legal action from rights owners - that is utter porqueria...

    That is, if you are actually quoting lyrics: if your character is familiar with Little Richard's work etc. "You know that old song, goes something like 'Good golly Miss...'"
    However, if a character just utters "good golly..." in a new context, without it actually being a quote of the lyrics - that is, if he is a british nanny shocked by little Molly's action - or if he says "Good Gorry Miss Borry" - that is fair use. Quite fair, I think. "Good golly" was once a well used expression, and the number of unmarried Molly's in the world... :)
     
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  8. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    In stead of panicking, paying attorneys and wasting time on forums, you could just ask the publisher/right-holder yourself - check ASCAP to locate them, find their website, contact them with relevant information, wait for their reply, provide all the additional data they ask for, and eventually they'll name the price. It may be as low as a few $€£¥, it may be as high as a few hundreds of $€£¥: consider if it fits your budget, use it/ditch it.

    DO NOT panic if you are using anything in your manuscript. Manuscripts are your private property. The content of your hard drive is your private property (except in extreme cases I won't mention). Do not worry if your mother or friends or beta-readers read it - somebody once mentioned on these forums that your mother constitutes an audience, and that's enough for a legal action from rights owners - that is utter porqueria...

    That is, if you are actually quoting lyrics: if your character is familiar with Little Richard's work etc. "You know that old song, goes something like 'Good golly Miss...'"
    However, if a character just utters "good golly..." in a new context, without it actually being a quote of the lyrics - that is, if he is a british nanny shocked by little Molly's action - or if he says "Good Gorry Miss Borry" - that is fair use. Quite fair, I think. "Good golly" was once a well used expression, and the number of unmarried Molly's in the world... :)

    EDIT: yes, if your book sells millions of copies and you hit the Times bestselling list, you might be asked to pay a few hundred $€£¥ more for using copyright material you already paid for in advance. HOW is that a BAD thing? :)
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2014
  9. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think 'good golly' is a known phrase/expression, Molly is a common name, and even if you were referencing the song title, still it isn't a copyrighted string of words. The only thing you need to worry about is copying long bits of text from others, or ripping off storylines etc. I would use it and move on.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My understanding is that for song lyrics, the "I just used a little" defense doesn't work well. That's partly because songs are so short--for example, if I grab the lyrics of this song and remove all instances of the phrase, I've removed roughly ten percent of the words. Reproducing ten percent of a novel would absolutely be a copyright violation. And those ten percent are the heart of the song; it would be impossible to imagine singing the song without them.

    Then there's the fact that the phrase is both a title and a lyric. I have no idea how that affects the legality.

    Yes, the phrase could theoretically be used in real life, but if the phrase is used in a context that brings the song to mind, that fact doesn't help. Every copyrighted work is made up of commonly used elements. If the author wouldn't be just as happy to say, "Goodness gracious, Molly!", and the reason why has anything to do with the song, then I think that copyright is an issue.

    My conclusion is that I definitely wouldn't risk this without getting a legal opinion.
     
  11. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    To beat a dead horse, the fact that people even worry about this is evidence that copyright law defeats its own purpose.
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak: I can see intellectually, the logic of your explanation, however, I can't help but think that there's a line that we should all draw and utilise common sense. And not fear taking responsibility for our decisions. Obviously, someone will be more comfortable with calling a lawyer about something like this. Not me, though.

    The phrase OP mentioned IS a normal phrase anyone who knows a Molly would utter at some time. Is it because of the Little Richard song? I doubt anyone can prove that conclusively. 'Golly-molly' rhyme is older than that. If you consider a phrase 'comfortably numb' which I heard and saw used many times and is recognisable as a Pink Floyd song, would you run to the lawyer before you wrote 'Comfortably numb from whiskey, Jack sank into the cushions and finally let the pain go.' I would feel it's a waste of my time and hers, besides, I already know, not even being a lawyer, that Pink Floyd can't sue me for using it. Even if I mentioned it in reference to their song, and even if I said 'that seventies band' not even mentioning them, still, it isn't a legal issue.

    I think it's wise to be careful, but common sense should not be abandoned.
     
  13. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    I distinctly remember a senior member of this forum was convinced that I violeted copyright law by publishing a short story entitled "The Unforgiven" in a gihj-school magazine, because, hey, it was a title of a Metallica song! (three songs, actually, and two movies, or maybe a few more of both).

    As you say @jazzabel, common sense is the first thing one should consult in any dillema. But isn't there something more about it? I see people almost terrified by even the vaguest possibility that they might, incidentally, unknowingly, break into someone else's "territory" - plagiarism, copyright infringements, "unoriginality"... I understand the need to secure the uniqueness and complete legality and marketability of your product before entering any market, but being scared of even thinking something wrong... It triggers the "paranoia" alarm...
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2014
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    We can draw all the lines we want, but the line that we draw isn't necessarily going to be respected by copyright holders, judges, agents, and publishers. I'm not an advocate of the insane extensions of copyright in recent decades. I'd like to see laws written guaranteeing fair use and expanding it. But that's not what's happening right now.

    People can sue for anything that they want, so, certainly, Pink Floyd could sue. I agree that they probably couldn't win, though I'm not a lawyer so my agreement means nothing.

    But to go through the process of making them not-win, to point out, in nice neat legal terms, to a judge, how ridiculous the claim is, how the phrase uses two common words in a combination that isn't that unusual, to manage the nuances of claiming that it's not copied from the song while the work does refer to the song...I suspect that that's a lawyer's job. One lawyer and one day in court might well cost more than the profits of a book. People are talking about the expense of a lawyer to find out--that's tiny compared to the expense of a lawyer once someone sues.

    But I should clarify my "wouldn't risk this without a legal opinion"--I mean that I wouldn't embark on a course where I lose anything substantial if I remove the material. Yeah, sure, if it's a funny aside, include it and see if a later publisher says lose it or don't lose it, or if you go with self-publishing, see the lawyer later, when the whole work is polished up and you know if the material is even going to be in the final version. There's no harm in having it in the manuscript. (Well, no legal harm.)

    But I would not go to publication based on my own judgement of the legal issue, and I would not make the work dependent on that material.
     
  15. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak : I think we can assume that our work would go through a legal department and countless editing before a publisher puts it out, so I wasn't talking about that. I am also aware of the whole 'they can sue you and you have to pay upfront legal costs' paradigm you have in the US, no need to explain. In the UK it's different, you can't get sued without reasonable grounds and I can pretty much guarantee you that Pink Floyd wouldn't have a case if someone used the phrase 'comfortably numb'.

    To go around worrying about what someone can sue you for, and not win, is the equivalent of being scared of our own shadow. Maybe that's the reality in America, but I don't think your legal system is that indiscriminate. I never suggested someone should 'wing it' on a legal issue either, I said there was no legal issue with 'golly Molly'.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    "Fair use" only applies for certaintypes of nonficion, such as rev iews and scholarly papers. It does not apply to inclusion in fiction.

    The real question is whether the material is covered under copyright law. You are probably okay in this case, but you should probably clear it with a literary attorney.
     

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