1. CharlieVer
    Offline

    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2009
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Raritan, NJ

    Using Lyric Quotes

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by CharlieVer, Mar 2, 2009.

    Hi,

    I'm an unpublished author. I wrote the first draft of my first novel last year (and recently submitted my first draft to the copyright office) and am working on redrafting. I hope in the near future to share some portions for feedback and discussion.

    For now, I have this question about using outside quotes:

    My novel contains certain references in pop culture. In my story, can I use short quotes from music without copyright infringement?

    For example: One of my characters is reminded of an old Beatles song, and the words play in his head: "Friday night arrives without a suitcase, Sunday morning creeping like a nun, Monday's child has learned to tie his bootlegs, See how they run…"

    The song Lady Madonna, which this is an excerpt from, is of course, material for which someone else owns the copyright. Am I breaking copyright law by including this small excerpt from the song in the mind of my character?

    Thanks,
    Charlie Versfelt
     
  2. Acglaphotis
    Offline

    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2008
    Messages:
    912
    Likes Received:
    3
    I doubt so. You can't copyright exact sequence of words, unless it's the whole song. Even then, take my thoughts as null and find out for real in the copyright website (I had it sometime ago, but I lost it).
     
  3. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Don't quote lyrics withoutr permission in your writing, unless you have a great deal of money and assets and time you wish to dispose of. The music industry is very unforgiving on such matters.

    Acglaphotis, sorry, but you are wrong. An entire piece of writing is what is copyrighted, but lifting even a short piece from an identifiable source is still copyright infringement. There are "fair use" conditions for short passages, but inserting it into your own work-for-publication isw bound to land you in trouble.
     
  4. pacmansays
    Offline

    pacmansays Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2009
    Messages:
    113
    Likes Received:
    0
    I know you're allowed to mention bands and their songs are features of it, but not sure if you can directly lift lyrics
     
  5. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    well, cog is sure... and he's right, as usual... go here for the letter of the law:
    www.copyright.gov

    and it's not necessary to register your copyright on a book ms, charlie, since that will be done by the publisher, if you're lucky enough to ever get one... even the pros, whose work is much more worth stealing than beginners' don't waste their time and money on doing this...
     
  6. Acglaphotis
    Offline

    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2008
    Messages:
    912
    Likes Received:
    3
    No need to apologize. Sorry about the faulty advice. I just remember hearing something to that a while ago (not here, I think)... I'll check out that link maia provided to see what I can find about that, lest I get sued or something.
     
  7. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    where you seem to be confused is that, while one can't copyright just a few lines, and only a complete work can be copyright, an entire song lyric IS copyright protected, thus even quoting a few lines of one without permission is copyright infringement...

    the problem of how much can be quoted with attribution, but without permission is what's a gray area, since the law does not specify how many words or lines 'crosses the line'... so, to be on the safe side, it's best to not use more than song titles in your work, which can be used freely, as long as the lyricist is cited...
     
  8. Ghosts in Latin
    Offline

    Ghosts in Latin Senior Member

    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2009
    Messages:
    129
    Likes Received:
    2
    It would still be copyright infringement if he were to write the band and name of the song?

    I hadn't the slightest of clues. That saves me a bit of time (and, mayhaps money). :)
     
  9. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    How you use a scrap of lyrics is also important. For example, you could post a snippet as part of a review fairly safely, because that falls under what is called "fair use." The same snippet on the cover of your novel, on the other hand, is very likely to get you sued.
     
  10. Vayda
    Offline

    Vayda Senior Member

    Joined:
    Mar 25, 2008
    Messages:
    160
    Likes Received:
    0
    You can always use the lyrics with permission, and I've had good luck in the past with just dropping an email to whoever the contact person is listed on their website and asking permission. Last time I needed to use lyrics i emailed and asked could i use four lines, noting who the artist was and what song, and they said yes right away. So i would say, just ask them!
     
  11. CharlieVer
    Offline

    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2009
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Raritan, NJ
    One example that comes to mind -- and I do not recall whether there was permission -- was a Stephen King novel I recall that had the ending to Hey Jude singing, Now, now, now-now-now-now, Hey Jude... It would have been cool as a pop-culture reference, and actually had a plot use, but it's not necessary so I'll cut it. Seems to hurt realism if you can't reference anything real, such as words in music. Kind of a shame.
     
  12. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Stephen King can afford to pay for the use of the lyrics if need be, and popular enough that he probably could get the permission gratis. After all, any musician will benefit from exposure in a King book more than King will benefit from using them. But most unknown authors stand to gain more from the use of a popular artist's lyrics than vice versa.

    In any case, it is important to get permission in writing that outlines exactly how the lyrics will be used. That constitutes a legal agreement for that one use. You should consult a literary attorney to learn if there is any specific language required in the agreement.
     
  13. tehuti88
    Offline

    tehuti88 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 13, 2008
    Messages:
    642
    Likes Received:
    6
    Location:
    Michigan
    Yes, because you're still not asking for permission to use it.

    I've had people modify my photographs and post them elsewhere online, and asked them to remove them because, even though they attributed the original photo to me, they did not ask my permission to modify it and display it. It's copyright infringement. I'd be just as irritated if somebody did the same with my writing, attribution or not. Asking permission is key.

    You can always just mention that a character was singing some words from that song by So-&-So. No need to mention the lyrics. It's still realistic. Lyrics and song references can quickly date a story anyway. (BTW, I remember reading the front/copyright notes in The Stand and in that book, at least, Stephen King did cite attributions for song lyrics he'd used, presumably after getting permission.)

    Copyright protection isn't a "shame," it's necessary. Otherwise anyone could do anything they want with our work, including using it as their own.
     
  14. CharlieVer
    Offline

    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2009
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Raritan, NJ
    I didn't say copyright protection was a shame. (I hate when my meaning is altered by words out of context.) I said it's a shame that, sometimes, an author has to sacrifice some realism because, as an author who is not yet recognized (it was pointed out that Stephen King has all the money and popularity he needs to get permission for anything) ones writing cannot contain things that our everyday lives contain.

    I think copyright protection is a great thing. But obviously, if my character is singing "Hey Jude" before getting hit over the head by a shovel in a murder mystery about a shovel-murderer, I'm not trying to profit by claiming I wrote "Hey Jude," nor am I selling records in competition with the Beatles and stealing sales from Apple Records.

    Not that I'm saying anybody should be able to write anything either... I'm not saying that either. I'm just saying some things are a shame. But that's life, right?

    If I'm not being clear enough, let me continue..

    I am not making a major political stand in objection to copyright rules. I'm saying, "Awww, shucks, that's a real shame!" There's a big difference between a major political stand on the intricacies of copyright legislation, and an "Aw shucks." My statement was intended as an "Aww, shucks."

    Now, you say I can use the title of the song? Isn't the title also copyrighted? I actually thought a very short excerpt would be, not much different then using only the title.

    As another example of my question, I see books all the time referencing characters from pop culture... Superman or Spider-man, say. You're in the middle of a detective novel, and somebody says, "Who do you think I am, Superman?" I doubt such a small reference requires permission from D.C. Comics, even if the other person says, "I could see you in a red cape," and the first person says, "Yeah, right."

    Is there an exact rule that I can follow? I just don't want to make myself so paranoid that every fast-food place becomes Fuzzy Burger and my detective says, "Who do you think you are, Pookie Man?" because I'm afraid to say the words "McDonalds" or "Superman." At the same time, I don't want to be in violation.
     
  15. CharlieVer
    Offline

    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2009
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Raritan, NJ
    Well, in this particular case, the lyrics themselves triggered a memory, leading my character closer to solving a puzzle. That's why I wanted the reference. In this particular case, it wasn't like the examples I've given, just a random character singing. But that's okay. I cut that part.
     
  16. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    You don't have to sacrifice realism. You simply may have to be a little more clever in how you deliver it to te reader.

    There are always restrictions. Some are even self imposed. Someone who decides to tell a story or preesnt an image in verse is working within restrictions.

    There are many ways to skin a cat. You just need a little imagination. And isn't that what good writing is all about?
     
  17. CharlieVer
    Offline

    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2009
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Raritan, NJ
    I agree. And that's my plan.

    Perhaps better way to put it is... it's a shame that some things are taboo, that I'm not free and unfettered. :) I had written something kind of neat and now, upon consideration, I can't do it any more. ;-(

    (And trust me, referencing my last post, I'll never write about a fast food place called Fuzzy Burger. Yuck!)
     
  18. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    titles can't be copyrighted, so of course you can use just the title of a song without permission, as you can with the titles of books, poems, or anything else...

    you just can't use the lyrics themselves, or excerpts from other works, without getting permission to do so...

    and if you use only the title, you don't have to cite the author...

    go to the source and find out for yourself: www.copyright.gov
     
  19. CharlieVer
    Offline

    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2009
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Raritan, NJ
    I've actually read many of the links in the copyright.gov site (I copyrighted the first draft of my book there, which by the way, I posted the opening in the "Novels" section) but I was unclear about fair use as it emphasized fair uses in works other than fiction.

    The consensus seems to be: Err on the side of caution.

    Here's another related question: Character references.

    It's sort of why I brought up the "Superman" example, though my example is different.

    I have a character whose nickname is "Pugsley," which I state clearly comes from the Addams Family TV show. Is that acceptable?

    What if two of my characters are watching the Addams Family on T.V., and discussing a particular scene, or mention some trivia from the show? Is that acceptable?

    (Spoiler warning, if you ever want to read my book, you might not want the surprises in the following paragraph spoiled... though I may have to change my story anyway if this is unacceptable copyright...
    I later reveal that "Pugsley" got his nickname because he's a descendant of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, the Presidents. The show trivia actually ends up being a clue leading someone to "Pugsley" which turns out to be a code to unlock a secret file. The trivia question itself? "Who was W.Friday's brother?" My character actually remembers from watching the program with his friend "Pugsley" that "Friday" was Wednesday Addams middle name. Is the insertion of this trivia, violation of copyright?)

    Is this acceptable usage, or am I crossing a copyright line?

    Charlie
     
  20. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    You should consult with a literary attorney, not with us.
     
  21. CharlieVer
    Offline

    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2009
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Raritan, NJ
    Lawyers cost money I don't have right now... you know those folks we keep hearing about losing their homes? I'm on the edge of becoming one of those.

    I suppose I'll just keep on truckin' with my book and hope when it comes to the "finding an agent" stage, the agent will be able to answer my questions.

    The worst that will happen is I'll have to do some re-writing before publication.

    Thanks for the help so far, though!

    Charlie
     
  22. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    If you can't afford a lawyer, you can;t afford a lawsuit. Stay clear of anything that's in the grey borders of copyright violation.
     
  23. Arrow
    Offline

    Arrow Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2009
    Messages:
    50
    Likes Received:
    0
    Would it be acceptable to do something like this? Write that a character was making up the lyrics to a song that sounded much like "Hey Jude."

    (going further with this question...)

    He sang:

    hey dude
    don't feel so bad
    takes a dirt bag
    to go and get her

    remember to let her
    into your sin
    and that will
    make it wetter

    (i just made this up as i typed along...lol)
    (i might get sued just for mucking it up so bad) Ha!
     
  24. CharlieVer
    Offline

    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2009
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Raritan, NJ
    Realize: I'm totally new at all of this, not just the writing but every aspect of it. I never actually talked to any other writers before. I read a lot, but I know no writers. (Well, actually, there's a lady in my church who writes children's books, but she doesn't know the answers to my questions.) This forum is actually my first toe-in-the-water of writer contact.

    I'm trying to learn where the gray areas are, which I honestly don't know, and while I don't want infringe on any copyrights, I also don't want my work to suffer for paranoia's sake (like the examples I gave of making up names for fast food places and beverages because I'm afraid to say 'McDonald's' or 'Coke.') Are those on the gray borders? I honestly don't know. There's a scene in my book where a child drinks Pepsi from a Dixie cup, and now I'm getting paranoid about that too.

    It's very confusing to me that there are not steadfast rules, but that's virtually what the copyright.gov site says... that there are not steadfast rules. :confused:

    On the plus side for myself, I'm not even close to publication, so nobody's going to sue me any time soon. I have plenty of time to fix it, or learn that what I've written is okay. I'm hoping I'll have the answers I need before that time, which I see as years away.

    And, frankly, I have to laugh, and no offense to your well-meaning advice but, if I can't afford a lawyer, what are they going to take if they sue me, my blood, my clothes? (I suppose if they take my book, it's a sign that I will be successful one day, so that would be a good thing, right?)

    To me, right now, it's about making my book the best it can be and getting into a more-disciplined habit of writing daily. If I can't get past those hurdles, none of this will matter anyway.

    If I can get the answers to these questions, somehow, some way, I'll know what I need to modify before the day comes (and since I'm in the process of re-writing now, the sooner the better) and, hopefully, some day, my book will be ready for publication. The sooner I learn what I can use and can't, the sooner I'll know what I need to modify and what I can keep in what I've written. If I can't learn sooner, I'll learn soon enough, hopefully.

    There's another side to the not-knowing coin, what if I spend a whole lot of time re-working all this stuff, only to find out that these ARE acceptable uses, and unnecessarily toss out many really fun parts in my book that MAKE my book a better book?

    I suppose I was just hoping someone here would know the answers. You don't seem to be telling me, "What you described is blatant plagiarism and you will certainly be sued if you publish that." Nor are you saying, "It's okay." You're saying, "I don't know, a lawyer might know." Well... should I do major-reworks based on not knowing, when I'm hoping I can find out between now and publishing time?

    It's not even the need to re-work that gets me. It's the not knowing.

    I think my earlier dismay was at the entire issue, it's not that I oppose copyright, I absolutely favor copyright and believe steadfastly in everyone's right to having their work protected, but it feels like the old story that in order to become a juror you can't know anything about anything. In order to be a writer, I'm now (I think for the first time) fearing that I can't refer to anything that exists in my daily life. I know it's an exaggeration, but I almost feel like I can't mention pants because I'll find out the word "pants" is copyrighted somewhere.

    All right, I'll admit, I'm pretty confident about two extremes: I can probably mention "pants", and I'm sure I can't copy someone else's novel word-for-word. (I wouldn't want to do that last one anyway. I'm not thief, and I actually enjoy coming up with stuff myself.) ;)

    But surely, there are other things outside the gray areas, that are definitely okay or definitely not. I get it about the lyrics and have already modified that part of my story (that one was easy) but were my other examples (nicknaming a character "Pugsley" example, or using an Addam's family trivia question about Wednesday Addam's middle name) outside or inside the gray area? I honestly don't know, and I don't have enough knowledge to even have any level of "common sense" about it. (The way the "pants" thing is common sense.) It never occurred to me to even ask the question when I wrote the first draft, I just thought, it sounds like something that would work really well in my story, and ran with it! I honestly don't know if those references are as innocent as saying "pants" or not!

    If you don't know either, and no one here knows either, that's okay too. :) We only know what we know.

    May be I'm making more of this than I have to, but I guess it's worrying me now.

    I'll try to steer clear of "what's gray", but honestly, I'm driving blind here. I'm not a man with a great deal of common sense, I admit. I admit to being like the "nutty professor," intelligent yet clueless. I feel the need to understand the rules, and unfortunately, even after having read as much as I could on the copyright.gov website, the rules aren't too clear. That's why I'm asking the question. I don't know what's gray and what's not gray.

    So all I can do, I guess, is keep on keepin' on and hope I don't get too paranoid and chop apart a perfectly good book or spend unnecessary months re-writing what doesn't need re-writing AND I hope that I don't cross into the gray and cause myself need to major revise (or lawsuit) later.

    When I don't know where the gray is, I run that risk on both sides of my book and, I know what you said about getting creative, but if I have to do major re-writes. Well, I've been working on this book since 2005 and don't want to be working on it until 2050, so if some part works I'd like to keep it IF it's good and IF I can keep it without infringing anything. I think any writer knows it's painful to change and edit things out of writing you like (Stephen King referred to it in 'On Writing' as "killing your children") but it's harder when it's NOT because it's wordy or badly written, but because of a fear where you don't even know for certain if the fear is justified, but it's just because you don't personally know the intricacies of copyright law.

    See, there are risks to keeping it in, but there are also risks to editing it out, including time spent and good stuff sacrificed. It almost seems like, what I'm hearing is, "just to be safe," my book has to be pop-culture-reference free, (or I have to write a lot of letters asking people for permission, which, me being nobody, is far from ensured) and to me, one of the intrinsically fun qualities of my book IS that it HAS pop-culture-references. (PLEASE correct me if you're not saying, that my book has to be pop-culture-reference free.)

    I apologize for the babble, and I'm sincerely grateful that you've taken the time to give me your best answer.. It's late and I should go to bed. I suffer from wordiness syndrome when I'm tired. Thanks for giving me your best advice... :)

    Charlie

    PS. Reading the above post before posting, I realized that "keep on keepin' on" is a song quote. I think it's from the Steve Miller ban. Sheesh, there's another issue... I don't even always KNOW when I'm doing it!!!
     
  25. CharlieVer
    Offline

    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 2, 2009
    Messages:
    0
    Likes Received:
    27
    Location:
    Raritan, NJ
    I may have found help toward answering my many questions...

    I have just ordered for myself the book, "Copyright Permission and Libel Handbook Lloyd J. Jassin." It will be the very next thing on my reading list, once I receive it.

    Sorry if I was being a pain... and thanks for your help!

    Charlie
     

Share This Page