1. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Lyrics

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Gannon, Oct 21, 2008.

    Some questions about song lyrics should one wish to include some in creative writing.

    1) What copyright applies? If we were to say, "He listened to Little Richard that night. That night, the lyrics spoke to him." And then quoted the lyrics would that suffice as crediting the artist?

    2) Is it always as trite as it seems to have lyrics woven into a written piece? The device seems to work better in film in my head. Can anyone provide a credible usage for my reference? And preferably one outside of a music-dependent storyline.

    3) Should one choose to include lyrics as background or plot device or whatever, how would that be presented in the text? Indent? Itallics? What about punctuation? I assume there would be no quotation marks dependant on the size of the insert. e.g.

    - I found it difficult to grieve, my only sensitivity my choice of attire. As Mick Jagger has sung earlier that night, "No colours anymore, I want them to turn black."

    - Sarah did not understand her father's obsession with vinyl, nor the dinosaurs that adorned their sleeves. What relevance did a 'War Pig' have in 2026 anyway? The Galacton Treaty had forbidden war. She tried and failed to comprehend a time before her father's incarceration. She lowered the arm carefully, as she has been shown many times.

    Generals gathered in their masses
    Just like witches at black masses
    Evil minds that plot destruction
    Sorcerers of death's construction
    In the fields the bodies burning
    As the war machine keeps turning
    Death and hatred to mankind
    Poisoning their brainwashed minds.​


    Thanks.
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...'crediting the artist' has nothing to do with 'what copyright applies'... the copyright that applies is the only one there is, currently... and that would usually be the lyricist's...

    ...in that excerpt, you're not stating that the lyrics were written by that singer... and singers are not always the writers/lyricists of the songs they sing...

    ...and you need the permission of the copyright owner, to quote his/her lyrics... the length of the excerpt needing permission is a bit nebulous, so you'd have to consult a literary attorney for more specific advice...

    ...i wouldn't say it's trite... it's just a device that writers use now and then, when it seems to be called for... i don't know what you're after as far as a 'reference' is concerned... but one writer who is well-known for using lyrics is mary higgins clark...

    ...a brief line would be done just like regular dialog... if you had permission to use a whole section, it would be indented on both margins and done as an 'inserted block'...

    ...that's the right way for a short quote...
    ...and that, for a whole section, as i noted above, although the block would be in the center of the page... but you must use the original lyricist's punctuation and arrangement... and you must have their permission...

    ...hope this helps... for the official info on copyrights and the laws governing using another's work, go here: www.copyright.gov
     
  3. Emerald
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    Emerald Contributing Member

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    I think, in general, everything in a story should contribute to either furthering the plot or developing the characters. Song lyrics represent about 30-60 words that are doing neither by themselves (which is quite a bit for a short story), so I'd be hesitant to stick them in unless they're very important to either a character or a plot point.
    For example, if you had a guy in a bar drinking whiskey and singing a nationalist rebel song, it would be fine, but if it's just a character listening to his favourite song on his ipod, or something, I'd leave it out. Generally, that doesn't mean much to people, and the words would be better spent on more direct ways of building character.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, choices of music do contribute to character development, and teh content od a song may well foreshadow something in the story.

    But copyright law is the real issue here. The music industry takes copyright infringement particularly seriously, so if you use lyrics from a copyrighted song in your story, you really need to get written permission first from the coyright owner. It's not enough in that case to simply identify the title and artist, or even the title and lyricist.

    Fair use can bypass this in certain circumstances, such as short excerpts quoted in a review. But inclusion in a piece of fiction without prior permission is just asking for litigation.
     
  5. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    Old songs like Amazing Grace or Green Sleeves are not under copyright, am I correct? I know a band is allowed to cover a song after a certain amount of years has past. And not that many years, either.
     
  6. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe that after 50 years copyright expires but as Maia suggests the best place to confirm this would be through the link she supplies.

    I think I shall tread carefully with this one all things considered. I trust I can use an artist's name without prior approval providing the material isn't libelous? It would be the material alone that is subject to copyright? Though I may answer my own question when some people copyright their own name. No longer SPAG this thread. Apologies for the off theme.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    I trust I can use an artist's name without prior approval providing the material isn't libelous?

    yes...

    It would be the material alone that is subject to copyright?

    yes...

    Though I may answer my own question when some people copyright their own name.

    a name can't be 'copyrighted' any more than a title can... what you're referring to is a registered 'trademark' which is what protects 'batman' and other such characters... as far as i know, no one can make their own actual name illegal to be used by anyone else without permission, via trademark registration...
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is a bit of an old thread, but I've just discovered it.
    I have one of my characters humming 'Hotel California' (the only lyrics I quote are: 'welcome to the Hotel California...la la la lala' kind of thing).
    Later, she remembers when she was humming the song that morning. I have her thinking: "But, are we 'prisoners of our own device?' And even if we are, we're perfectly free to leave, aren't we?"
    This is off the top of my head, not an exact quote from my writing, just how I remember it.
    SOOOO... would you say this needs permission? I'm worried, as I don't want to leave this bit out!
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if it's just a few words and you mention what song it's from, you don't have to obtain permission... but if you quote several lines, you probably will...
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks--I'll keep it down to the barest minimum, then!
     
  11. AnarchicQ
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    Hmm, interesting thread.

    I actually have a bit of You Are my Sunshine in my novel. That song is under public domain though, right?
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    is it?... have you checked it out at the loc, to see if it's still under copyright?... fyi, it's copyright date is 1940, so it may not yet be in the public domain...
     

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