1. Sir Mac Jefferson
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    Sir Mac Jefferson New Member

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    I have some questions about quoting and paraphrasing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sir Mac Jefferson, May 2, 2013.

    Songs and their lyrics often inspire me and give me new ideas, and lately I've been thinking of working the parts of song lyrics that inspired me into the dialog, especially for characters I thought of when listening to the song.

    If I wanted to have a character say a small part of the lyrics of a song, is this legal? I imagine in most cases it'd only be around 4-10 words.

    The characters wouldn't be singing the song; they would just be saying parts of the lyrics as though they thought of it themselves.

    Would it make any difference if I paraphrased or slightly altered the lyrics? As a quick example, the song "Son of Sam" by Shinedown says "they ain't never seen a war like me"; could I have a character say "You've never seen a war like me"?

    Also, could I quote/paraphrase other people's quotes, and act like my characters are thinking of this themselves?
    Some examples:

    Could I paraphrase...: "I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man's being unable to sit still in a room." -Blaise Pascal
    ...to something like this: "I believe that all human evil comes from man being unable to just sit still in a room."

    I imagine this would be pretty fitting if the dead started to rise - could I paraphrase this...: "There are more dead people than living, and their numbers are increasing." -Eugene Ionesco
    ...to something like this: "There are more dead people than living, and they're starting to actively increase their numbers."


    Sorry if this has been asked before. I searched for similar things, but I only found questions where people wanted to quote songs directly and have characters singing the songs; I'm thinking more of just working it into dialog, sometimes subtly.

    If I were doing something like this, I would want to put an index at the end of the book that notes on everything that was quoted/paraphrased and the page it was on (if that makes it any more legal).
     
  2. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    Using an index of violations would actually make it more illegal. If you paraphrase you can always claim it was your own idea and it happens to resemble the words of someone else. If you formally admit you were using someone else's words, then you would have a problem.
    There are many threads on this topic if you look for them, but the main points are the same.
    You can't use any copyrighted material on any occasion without the express and written permission of the owner of the copyright. You can usually use trademarked material so long as the context in which it is used doesn't fall in the specifics as specified by the trademark.

    You can use the examples you used as paraphrasing, and as for the lyrics i believe you can do that in such a small scale unless it goes somewhat like this:
    -You've never seen a war like me.
    -Oh, a Shinedown fan, aren't you?

    The safest bet is to avoid using anything that can get you in trouble later on.
     
  3. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, this is a form of plagiarism. Think of your own original ways to express ideas, don't rely on song lyrics or favourite lines from novels or films. Your qoute from Shinedown, for example, is an unusual way of thinking about a concept, and you have lifted it with very thinly-veiled paraphrasing. It's pure laziness, regardless of any legal considerations. However, if it's just a kind of writing exercise like fan fiction, use the paraphrased quote but come back to it later and try and find something to say about the concept in your own way--and by this, I mean you must think of a way the character gets over the fact that his life is full of problems, not the "war is me" idea. That's been done, and you don't want to steal/borrow that, do you?
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you need to consult a literary attorney for valid advice on this, not writing site members... it'll be much less costly than getting sued for plagiarism and/or copyright infringement...
     
  5. Sir Mac Jefferson
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    Sir Mac Jefferson New Member

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    I would've thought it'd be like you said. I wouldn't think the copyright of a song and its lyrics would simply mean any piece of the lyrics could not be used in literary works, especially since the use of 4-10 or so words from a song's lyrics isn't any detriment to its sales or the money it makes.


    I understand your point, but I disagree.

    I personally think that weaving in things like this isn't 'unoriginal' or 'lazy', as long as you're working them in subtly and as pieces of dialog, writing on the wall, inscriptions on stone tablets, or other small details. If the whole story is based around a concept or two that was derived from a song, and there are characters who repeatedly paraphrase or quote from the song, then I'd totally say it's lacking creativity and is redundant. If it's just a small paraphrase or quote from a song and it isn't directly tied to the concepts of the book or the grand scheme of things, then I'd consider it more of a rather subtle wink to readers/listeners of a certain person/song.

    My point is, it seems rather excessive to label this as 'pure laziness' and something that only belongs in fan fiction simply because it's not 100% original or is derived from something else.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Excessive? That's an opinion. But you'll probably have bigger problems if you go ahead with it, so I won't bother debating it.
     
  7. Sir Mac Jefferson
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    Sir Mac Jefferson New Member

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    I'm sorry, and I'm not trying to be rude, but I don't really understand the point of this reply.

    Yes, I shared an opinion. We were both sharing opinions, as people usually do on forums. 'madhoca' expressed his/her views on the matter, so I responded with mine...is there something wrong with that?
     
  8. JamesB
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    JamesB Member

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    I've wondered about this as well. Here's a scenario:

    What if you have a character in your book cruisin down the road, windows down, and the radio's on blaring Metallica. You describe this scene in the writing and then describe a verse from the song in a quote? I've seen other authors do this...
     
  9. Samuel Paul
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    Samuel Paul Member

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    I've noticed Steven King does this a lot. Several times in the book 'The Stand'. He always gives the band that did the song credit for it. I'm not sure if he has the band's permission or not or if it is even necessary since he did indeed note that the work was not his.
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think Steven King has the editorial backup etc to make getting permission easy, and I'm sure he checked. As for the comment from Jefferson; sorry, I stand by my opinion that it really is laziness to take words written by someone else and adopt them as one's own. Who said there were any shortcuts to writing? You should have more self-respect, and find your own ideas and way of expressing yourself unless you want to remain an amateur hack. I would be very embarrassed if I was found out copying, sorry, "paraphrasing" what another person had written.
     
  11. Sir Mac Jefferson
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    Sir Mac Jefferson New Member

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    I didn't expect you to change your opinion (that's a very rare occurrence in online conversations), and didn't need you to restate it. Furthermore, calling me an 'amateur hack' makes me want to refrain from having any further conversation with you.

    Also, I don't see why you're putting quotes around "paraphrasing". I'm pretty sure I'm using the word by its proper meaning.
     
  12. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    The "you" was meaning people in general, not "you" personally. I'm sorry, I really should have made that clearer. Big mistake for someone who says they are a writer. The second point: the "paraphrasing" you suggest is not actual paraphrasing such as is done in an academic essay when souces are stated. It was copying.
     
  13. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    You will need to get the express permission of the copyright owner in writing to use that kind of stuff in your work. Writers like Steven King who do it have already acquired those permits and as such have no legal issues. Plus if you have potential copyright or trademark red flags in your work, no publisher will publish you and risk a potential legal conflict.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    true!

    see my best advice above...
     

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