1. MrWisp
    Offline

    MrWisp Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2013
    Messages:
    51
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    New Jersey

    Use of Songs/Lyrics

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MrWisp, May 9, 2013.

    So I'm in a bit of a pickle. A long time ago, I began writing a story that I really only half-expected to finish. Now, over 100,000 words later, I'm rapidly nearing the end and would love to soon submit it to some publishers. Here's the problem. Back in my "just get the words down on paper" stage, I used the lyrics of a copyrighted song throughout a few chapters. I understand that this is a huge no-no, but now I'm faced with the prospect of going back and changing the song.

    I can't eliminate the music altogether, as it contributes to a major plot point; however, it does not by any means need to be THAT song. So as far as I can tell, my two options are: a) invent an original song/lyrics or b) simply use the name of a song that people would know well enough to hear as they read (eliminating the need to quote lyrics).

    Since the importance of the music mainly involves the melody, and since I am no songwriter, I'd rather go with the second option. What do you all think? If a song is popular/pervasive enough, is it feasible to just use the title and let the readers imagine the lyrics/melody in their own minds? (As a frame of reference, I'm not using a "pop" song. We're talking an old song that has been covered many, many times throughout the decades.)

    Hope this question makes sense. Thanks!
     
  2. Jacco
    Offline

    Jacco Member

    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2013
    Messages:
    25
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Littleton, Colorado, United States
    I think it depends on how you use it in context. Even song names are copyrighted and you would probably have to permission to use them. If it were me, I would just vaguely describe the melody and leave it at that. No need for names or lyrics. If you are insistent on keeping it in, then make a note of it and let your editor decide. If they find it important, the publisher should take care of securing the rights. But that's a bit of a headache and you'd prbably be better served to just make your own song up.
     
  3. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    NOT true. Titles are not copyrightable.

    MrWisp, you should be consulting with a literary attorney, not a bunch of strangers on a forum.
     
  4. Xatron
    Offline

    Xatron Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2013
    Messages:
    576
    Likes Received:
    6
    Cogito is right, we can't know all the circumstances surrounding the use of copyrighted material in your novel unless we read it and even then we are not literary attorneys. You should consult one as the cost will be much lower than a potential law suit.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,923
    Likes Received:
    5,459
    What about a song that's out of copyright? That might be older than you had in mind, but there are a whole lot of old songs in the world. I would, however, recommend that you find an out-of-copyright printed source for that song, so that you don't inadvertently use a modern, still-copyrighted, variation on the lyrics.
     
  6. Yoshiko
    Offline

    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2009
    Messages:
    758
    Likes Received:
    27
    Re: Hello Friend

    If you do want to use lyrics from a real song then there is also the option of trying to get permission to use it. I'm not sure how well it would go with fiction, but when I've sought permission for other purposes I've found that independent artists are generally quite enthusiastic about sharing their work as long as they're credited properly. :)
     
  7. Xatron
    Offline

    Xatron Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2013
    Messages:
    576
    Likes Received:
    6
    It is very hard to fing such songs. In the US the copyright lasts 95 years from publication or 70 years after artist's death or 120 years from creation, so any song you can find fitting the rules would be 100 years old.
     
  8. MrWisp
    Offline

    MrWisp Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2013
    Messages:
    51
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    New Jersey
    Cogito, et al: the crux of my question is not really about the legality of using song titles. Rather, I was wondering, as readers and writers, whether, if a song is popular enough, it could suffice to use the name of the song alone and still be effective. For instance, if you read that a character walked sat at a bar and started humming along with "Fly Me to the Moon" or a similar standard, would that suffice? Do you, as readers, naturally hear that song playing over the scene? (Not my actual scenario, but relatively similar)

    Xatron: you're right. Believe me, I've spent countless hours looking through song catalogs for songs that are out of copyright, but the pickings are slim. I'm not opposed to using an older song at all, but the ones that have gone out of copyright often border on archaic and don't fit my intended tone. I figure if I'm going to use a song that no one's ever heard of, I may as well create one of my own. At least I'd know that the lyrics were relevant.
     
  9. NigeTheHat
    Online

    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2008
    Messages:
    757
    Likes Received:
    575
    Location:
    London
    I think it's reasonable to assume that the average reader will know the tune for a standard like 'Fly Me To The Moon', though from your description I'm not convinced it's necessary for them to do so. If it matters because of its effect on the protagonist, tell them the effect on the protagonist. If it matters because the song needs to be well-known, tell them the song is well-known. If you're just trying to create atmosphere and a soundscape, then... don't. There's plenty of other ways to build atmosphere that don't cause you headaches.

    So, yeah: use the title, describe the melody briefly if you like. That should be enough.
     
  10. MrWisp
    Offline

    MrWisp Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2013
    Messages:
    51
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    New Jersey
    Thanks, Nige. Whether it is reasonable to assume that a reader would know a song like that is what I was looking for. The reasoning for using the/a song is far more complex than simply creating atmosphere. It's more about the reaction that it elicits from the main character at different points in the story.
     
  11. Al Stevens
    Offline

    Al Stevens Member

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2013
    Messages:
    15
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Florida
    If a song was published in the US before 1923, its lyrics are in the public domain. Many familiar songs are in the public domain.

    http://www.pdinfo.com/Public-Domain-Music-List.php

    To the OP: Tell us the name of the song you selected and how it fits into your story. Then maybe we can help you find something else you can use without concern.
     
  12. squishytheduck
    Offline

    squishytheduck Senior Member

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2013
    Messages:
    187
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    If lyrics aren't important, why don't you describe the melody of the song you used and either leave out the title or call it something else in your book. It's not like anybody can say, "hey, that description sounds exactly like that specific jazz standard!" and sue.

    Alternatively, just use the name of the song, especially if having a widely recognizable real song makes the story more universally relatable. Refer to Murakami's Norwegian Wood.
     
  13. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    If your story follows the textual theme of the song without quoting lyrics, you should be safe from a copyright perspective, but you could still get in trouble because of leveraging off someone else's intellectual property. It sounds like your story is tying in pretty closely with the song, so I still strongly recommend checking with a literary attorney.
     
  14. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    when in doubt, don't rely on advice from anyone but a literary attorney...
     

Share This Page