Monday, April 16, 2012

The legality of Lyricalness in writing



Tomorrow, Tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow. You're always a day away!
-Tomorrow from the musical Annie

Impossible things are happening every day. It's possible!
-Impossible from Rodgesr and Hammerstein's Cinderella

Both of these lyrics appear in published works. One of these authors had to get permission and pay for the use of their lyrics and the other did not. Can you guess which paid?

If you guessed the author who used the lyrics from Annie, you are right!

Author Laurie Larsen talks about getting permission and using the lyrics for her YA novel The Chronicles of Casey V in an interview over at Savvy Authors. Since I actually know Laurie she sent a link out to all of us in her RWA group to this interview. As soon as I read it I kind of did a *headdesk* and mumbled 'Oh crap.'

You may have read my books or you may have not, but if you have you will realize that Alex Bianchi has a thing for Shakespeare and musicals. That is when the *headdesk* started. Could I get sued for using lines from Romeo and Juliet? What about Alex singing Cinderella in book 2?

The answer:  It's all about what is public domain and what is not. Quickly I pulled up my internet explorer and started googling, trying to figure out if I needed to contact whoever owned the rights to Shakespeare's works and Rodgers and Hammerstein. I looked up everything I could when I noticed something interesting. Both the works of Shakespeare and Rodgers and Hammerstein are public domain. This means that their intelectual property rights have either expired, been forfeited, or are innaplicable. Which basically means that you can use all the Shakespeare that you want in your writing to your heart's desire! (Okay, maybe not word for word, but you get my point).

There is also work that was created before public domain or copyrights existed that are automatically public domain (i.e. The Bible). If you want to quote the bible in your work then go for it! No need to worry about being sued by the Bible's writers. (If you don't understand that part then we need to have a talk...)

But WAIT, you are thinking, "That's all fine and dandy, but what about Alex's obsession with Dustin Hoffman?"

Ah, yes, Alex does like The Graduate. Am I going to get sued for referencing that? No. I did research on this one as well. As long as I don't act like this is my own work and reference the movie then I'm not claiming to own it, nor would I ever take that joy away from Dustin Hoffman. And...well...I never use the entire quote or I paraphrase it. "Are you trying to seduce me, Miss Bianchi?" And most of these are filed under the "fair use" act.

Do you use movie quotes or lyrics in your writing? Have you ever looked to see if they were public domain? Do you wonder why Alex is singing from musicals in book 2?

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Magan is a self-proclaimed geek-to-glam poster child who channels her inner geek by writing science fiction for teens, even though she slept with a night light until she was in middle school for fear of alien attacks. She now lives with her husband, daughter, and dog in central Illinois where she still sleeps with a night light...just in case.  Her debut novel HOW TO DATE AN ALIEN is available now through Amazon and Barnes and Noble in Ebook and Paperback. If you have nothing better to do you can follow her online through her website, blogFacebook, and Twitter.

26 comments:

  1. Oh that's why I stay away from name dropping or song dropping in my books. Luckily, I can. Not only that but sometimes it dates a book too. And if that's not something you want to happen then it's best not to put it in.

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    1. I definitely agree. I don't know how many times I've complained in parts of books where they use contemp bands or movies. My main character in the My Alien Romance series just tends to have a thing for musicals and Dustin Hoffman. Yes, weird for a teenage girl, but I was the only sixteen year old rolling up in my 1987 Ford Taurus to Joni Mitchell. We all have our weirdness :)

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  2. Good to know! My characters are in the future (generally speaking), so I end up making up band and movie names. Which is good because I'm not so much an expert in Pop Culture!!

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    1. Rodgers and Hammerstein will never go out of style! Even in the future! Now if Kira can just bust out some old musical tunes that would be fabu!

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  3. I am on a blog hop and this is my first time to visit. This is very interesting information for me as I also am a webmaster and have never quite been sure about this issue. Thanks for the clarity~

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    1. Your welcome. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Good information. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. This is super awesome Magan. I've researched this stuff before, then ended up not using the lyrics I'd originally planned on. But it's so great to have this reminder here when/if I want to do it again!

    And yes, I totally want to read about Alex and his wacky references!

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    1. Doesn't that stink when you want to use the lyrics? I guess you can mention song titles all you want, but not lyrics. Oh well I think we come up with our own words better anyways.

      Maybe I need Alex and Ace to bust out some "Do I love you because you're beautiful."

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  6. Wow great post!! It never occurred to me that lyrics are copyrighted. Now I'm thinking of all the books I read with lyrics mentioned and wondering if they thought of this! Glad you did some research, now if I ever need it I know to look up for public domain works! :D

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    1. I remember reading a book in middle school in which they sang "Brown Eyed Girl," and now I keep wondering if they got permission!

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  7. Yikes! I never even thought about this! My approach has always been to credit the original author and assume that I was fine. Thank you for highlighting this! Really thought provoking post!

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    1. After going through years of school and just citing sources on research papers I thought it was the same thing! Turns out you can't just site the source in fiction works unless you get permission. Crazy isn't it?

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  8. Hi Magan! Thanks so much for linking to my article. It's better to be safe than sorry, and the more writers we can get informed on this issue, and the fewer potential lawsuits, the better we all will be. :)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Laurie! I'm so glad that you wrote that blog post so I could have something to reference! It's great info!

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  9. I've tried to avoid this by not quoting lyrics directly. Like in my WIP, I reference that the acoustic artist on stage is covering a Joshua Radin song about love feeling like home. I figure if anyone reading the novel is a Radin fan, they'll probably know what song I'm talking about, but this way I'm neither naming the song nor quoting any of the lyrics. Just another better safe-than sorry technique. And like LM said, unless you're using an older song, having the name or lyrics is just going to date the novel.

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    1. That is a really good way to reference a song! I may have to do that! *spoiler alert* In How to Break up with an Alien, Alex is at a cafe and hears someone singing a Joni Mitchell song. Her friend says, "Yeah my ex needs to listen to this song. He doesn't know what he had until it was gone."

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  10. I usually try and stay away from lyrics, unless for some reason it had to be a part of the story, then I'd look into it. But I haven't had a problem staying away and with story ideas needing them!

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  11. Ugh. I just had to deal with this for two Beach Boys songs in my latest book. I tracked down who I had to contact, but in the end I just rewrote the passages to exclude the quotes. It's a bummer because I think using the lyrics enhances a book by creating another form of bond with the reader. When we see those lyrics on the page, we hear them in our heads and have an emotional connection to the song. But it wasn't worth the hassle or the expense, especially when I was on a deadline.

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  12. Actually, even when quoting from the Bible one has to be careful. Some translations, such as NIV, are under copyright by the publisher who originally started to publish that version. King James you can quote to your heart's content, but you have to get permission to use quotes from the NIV version. Weird, huh?

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  13. Great post. I used to work in publishing and copyright laws were a total pain. We at least had an entire legal department to guide us, but now that I'm writing my own book it's a bit daunting. For now I'm just trying to avoid anything that could require rights, especially since I've seen the bills some right-holders will issues for the use of one line.

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  14. Great post! I have a question. If I quote a few lyrics to a song, having my MC state how he loves the song by Blah Blah singer, and italicize the lyrics..is that legal??

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    1. When in doubt leave it out. Any lyrics, unless its "Happy Birthday" arent public domain. Song titles are fine, but Id say just leave out the lyrics. Does that help?

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    2. Yes. Thanks. I rewrote the section to be safe. I made reference to the song, but didn't actually say the name, but I did leave the artists names.

      What about something like this? I refer to it in my story, but I don't quote it (see below) But at the end of the book, I want to include it in it full form for the reader. Is this alright?--Here is the "tale."

      An Old Cherokee Tale of Two Wolves

      One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
      The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’
      The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’
      The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’

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    3. I think I've seen this one used in a news article before. Not sure what that means for rights-use in a novel, though.

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