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Author Topic: Whats the law on quoting lyrics?
Lindiglo
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What is the law for quoting lyrics in published materials? Do you just need written permission or do you need to pay royalties? How much can you use? If I were to write a book, and in which a character sings three lines of a song, would I have to pay a thousand billion dollars? I didn't know where to put this thread so I put it in legal affairs.
Lind"Law School Dropout"iglo

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Brad from Georgia
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Very tricky territory, this. "Fair Use" says one can use a small snippet of a work IF one acknowledges the author/copyright owner of that work. However, songs are so short that publishers generally get very nervous if you quote even one line of a song. In fact, when Stephen King wrote Christine, he wanted to preface each chapter with one or two lines from classic rock songs...and there were some that he could not use, because the copyright owner would not grant permission for even one line.

In short, if you're self-publishing, you'd take all the risk of being sued for using even one line without permission. If you're publishing with a commercial house, the publisher would definitely want to make sure you'd cleared the rights on any song quotations. It's better to write and ask. I always get around this by either using public-domain songs or by merely referring indirectly to the lyrics without actually quoting (e.g. "A car drove by with its radio blaring, the Everly Brothers saying bye-bye to love at earache volume.")

Since I don't quote songs, I'm not sure about this, but I think ASCAP offers information about quoting song lyrics (and maybe serves as a clearinghouse for requests to quote)--but since ASCAP represents composers, authors, and publishers of music, they're definitely on the restrictive side of the issue.

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Alexina, strange and unusual
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Vlad's explanation is a good one.

This site seems to have a decent explanation of "fair use."

OTOH, this pdf document says, "Please note that quoting copyrighted poetry or lyrics always requires permission, no matter how short the quotation."

So.... tough call. If you're publishing independently, this could cause you a bit of trouble; but if you're going through a publisher, you should be able to give them the name of the artist whose lyrics your character is singing, and they should be able to hash out the rights for you.

Good luck!

Alexina

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bruce down under
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Whereas, I have an Australian book (an otherwise pretty good "how to" for beginning writers) that says that titles (song, book, etc) are fair game.

More research needed here, Bruce

But I've shamelessly copied those two cited documents for my teaching resources. Don't worry, I'll give credit where it's due.

Bruce Down Under

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First Amongst Daves
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My first post. And yes, IAAIPL (I am an intellectual property lawyer), based in Hong Kong though, so my law may not match your jurisdiction.

The Colonel Bogey case is an English case, good law in British Commonwealth jurisdictions. A snippet of a long-ish song was shown on an old movie news reel, played by a marching band. The court found that the section which copied without permission has an "essential air" of the entire work, and so the defendant was found to have infringed the plaintiff's copyright in the song.

Same thing goes for song lyrics. Copy the words "flying high" from Fat Boy Slim's (or rather, Jim Morrison's) lyrics for Bird of Prey,a nd you'd be ok. Copy the entire lyrics, or even a recognisable riff, and you've got trouble.

Fat Boy Slim incidentally knows a lot about copyright law, as he was made bankrupt in the 80s after being sued by various parties over making multiple unauthorised samples for a song by Beats International called "Dub Be Good To Me".

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Avril
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This is from my professional writing courses. Hope it helps.

Anything written down (somewhere in hard copy, for the sake of this--the internet is a murky land for the laws) is copywrited by the author. In order to use any quote for any written material in a published work, you must have written permission from the author (incidentally, this includes things you wouldn't think it does, like letters people write to you). Generally, you don't have to deal with royalties unless that is the only way to secure permission. Most authors are flattered that you want to quote them, though songwriters are a little less so, and will give permission without much trouble.

What you do is to write a brief letter that includes the exact quote you want to use, in what, and why. Then provide a line for the person to sign on that states they give you permission to do it as you've outlined it. Enclose a SASE for them to return it to you.

Avril

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Brad from Georgia
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One teeny tiny quibble, Avril--work is copyrighted, not copywrited. A copyright is the right to produce copies.

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RealityChuck
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Song lyrics differ from most other works in that they are licensed (via ASCAP). For this reason, you cannot quote any recognizeable snippet of a published song without getting permission. Fair use just doesn't apply.

The amount you pay depends on the artist. Some don't mind the publicity and are happy to grant permission. Others charge money. People who have gone through the process say you have better luck contact the artist directly than by contacting his publisher or agent (whose job is to maximize income).

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Kate
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quote:
Originally posted by Vlad from Georgia:
work is copyrighted, not copywrited. A copyright is the right to produce copies.

Ah, but when you put it in writing it becomes a copywrite. And it's granted at a ceremony known as a copyrite.

Kate "right?" S

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