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Using a Song

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Nicole Wilson

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I know we've touched on this before, but I can't find exactly what I'm looking for (without the search function). I had an idea for an entire book from a song. The song would feature heavily, and song lyrics would be used throughout, but only in snippets at a time. I don't believe the song is public domain (I couldn't find it on the site Carol posted before), but the version I heard was a cover (not sure if that changes anything).

I found a few articles that say different things but basically to ask the artist if you're not sure. Which artist do I ask? The original or the cover band?

Is this doable? The book kind of relies on the song to progress. Does it change anything if the song I heard was an official cover? @AgentPete, as an agent, do you have any advice?
 

Carol Rose

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Pretty sure if it's not in the public domain, cover version or not, you need permission to use any lyrics. I can't imagine what difference using a cover version would make since the lyrics are usually the same. And even if the band who covered it changed the lyrics and copyrighted the cover with the new ones, they now hold the copyright to those lyrics.

The question of who to get permission from is covered in a few of these links. Sometimes it's not the artist or song writer. A bit of research is required to track down who to ask.

http://www.pdinfo.com/public-domain-music-list.php

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor...stions/can-i-use-song-lyrics-in-my-manuscript

http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/10/lyrics-in-books/

http://www.adweek.com/galleycat/can-you-include-song-lyrics-in-your-book/80482

http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2015/03/how-to-use-lyrics-without-paying-a-fortune-or-a-lawyer/

https://janefriedman.com/the-fair-use-doctrine/

http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2013/05/29/how-to-get-permission-to-use-song-lyrics-in-your-book/
 
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Carol Rose

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Thank you so much, Carol :) I suppose these don't apply if I only reference the song? But don't actually use lyrics?
I've used titles before and paraphrased lyrics, and that was okay because titles aren't copyrighted, and I didn't use the actual lyrics. For example, I've written things like… They walked hand-in-hand, passing storefronts, including one where, from an old-fashioned radio, Patsy Cline sang about being crazy for someone.

The song is well known enough that most people would know which one I'm referencing, but I've only used her name and a paraphrase of the title, so I haven't violated any copyright laws.

However, if I'd written instead… They walked hand-in-hand, passing storefronts, while she sang along with Patsy Cline, whose voice came from a nearby radio. "Crazy, I'm crazy for feeling so lonely."

Big risk there because I used the exact lyrics. At times it can seem like a silly distinction, but better safe than sorry. :)
 

Nicole Wilson

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I've used titles before and paraphrased lyrics, and that was okay because titles aren't copyrighted, and I didn't use the actual lyrics. For example, I've written things like… They walked hand-in-hand, passing storefronts, including one where, from an old-fashioned radio, Patsy Cline sang about being crazy for someone.

The song is well known enough that most people would know which one I'm referencing, but I've only used her name and a paraphrase of the title, so I haven't violated any copyright laws.

However, if I'd said instead… They walked hand-in-hand, passing storefronts, while she sang along with Patsy Cline, whose voice came from a nearby radio. "Crazy, I'm crazy for feeling so lonely."

Big risk there because I used the exact lyrics. At times it can seem like a silly distinction, but better safe than sorry. :)
Yeah, totally agree. That's such a bummer. I'll try to find out who owns the copyright, but it may just be easier for me to make up a song.... :/
 
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J. Rook

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I know we've touched on this before, but I can't find exactly what I'm looking for (without the search function). I had an idea for an entire book from a song. The song would feature heavily, and song lyrics would be used throughout, but only in snippets at a time. I don't believe the song is public domain (I couldn't find it on the site Carol posted before), but the version I heard was a cover (not sure if that changes anything).

I found a few articles that say different things but basically to ask the artist if you're not sure. Which artist do I ask? The original or the cover band?

Is this doable? The book kind of relies on the song to progress. Does it change anything if the song I heard was an official cover? @AgentPete, as an agent, do you have any advice?

This is an intriguing concept. Being a new member, I don't know what song you would propose using, but I do know that copyright is very carefully guarded for music products if they are not in the public domain, and even if they are (so far as performance goes) there could still be publisher's copyright current. If you can't find a record company or artists' agent to contact, go to the original lyricist. However, it could end up simply by your including an acknowledgement of the lyricist and a message of thanks to him/her and to the record company for permission to use the lyrics.

If you are using a particular cover of the song, it could affect your writer's approach. For example, the Aretha Franklin song "Think (Freedom)" which most of us know from her performance in the film "The Blues Brothers" was also recorded by John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd as the B side of a record. It was also covered and recorded by performers such as Katharine McPhee. But I think the original version is the one that most people prefer. Cover versions of songs can be a fascinating topic.

I hope you go ahead with this idea. I would be very interested to see how it unfolds.
 

Nicole Wilson

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This is an intriguing concept. Being a new member, I don't know what song you would propose using, but I do know that copyright is very carefully guarded for music products if they are not in the public domain, and even if they are (so far as performance goes) there could still be publisher's copyright current. If you can't find a record company or artists' agent to contact, go to the original lyricist. However, it could end up simply by your including an acknowledgement of the lyricist and a message of thanks to him/her and to the record company for permission to use the lyrics.

If you are using a particular cover of the song, it could affect your writer's approach. For example, the Aretha Franklin song "Think (Freedom)" which most of us know from her performance in the film "The Blues Brothers" was also recorded by John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd as the B side of a record. It was also covered and recorded by performers such as Katharine McPhee. But I think the original version is the one that most people prefer. Cover versions of songs can be a fascinating topic.

I hope you go ahead with this idea. I would be very interested to see how it unfolds.
From the little I know about the original song (I've actually never heard it), the tune itself--not the lyrics--is very different from the cover. The cover is a hard rock version and it's this specific version I want to use in my book. If I end up contacting the copyright owners, I'll let y'all know how it works out :)
 

Carol Rose

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I think the issue with focusing on the arrangement of the music instead of on the lyrics is that it's not the audio file you're going to use in the book. It's the lyrics, and those are copyrighted.
 

Nicole Wilson

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I think the issue with focusing on the arrangement of the music instead of on the lyrics is that it's not the audio file you're going to use in the book. It's the lyrics, and those are copyrighted.
Right, but I will be referencing that the cover is the version my character listens to, as the style of music is important. I will still ask the original writer of the song, but I may end up contacting the cover band as well. Idk. I have to figure out if I can use the lyrics at all before the style of the song. :)
 

Carol Rose

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Right, but I will be referencing that the cover is the version my character listens to, as the style of music is important. I will still ask the original writer of the song, but I may end up contacting the cover band as well. Idk. I have to figure out if I can use the lyrics at all before the style of the song. :)

The music, as well as the lyrics of a song, are what is copyrighted, so the version of the song doesn't really matter if all you're talking about is using lyrics in print. You only need to find the person or entity who owns the copyright of those lyrics to get permission to use them in print.

You don't need permission to use the title of a song, a certain style of music, or name the band who sang/recorded any version of a song, because those things aren't copyrighted. You're not talking about using the audio file - the music. You're talking about using the lyrics in print, so that's all you need to figure out. Who owns the copyright to the lyrics.

I've never tried to find out, but I would say starting with either of the artists, or their agents if you can track them down, would be a good start.
 

Geoff

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Interesting ... would this also cover song titles too? If, for example, your novel was set in the 1960s could you use a well known song title as your book title, to emphasis the period? i.e. Waterloo Sunset or Bridge over Troubled Waters, etc.
 

Nicole Wilson

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Interesting ... would this also cover song titles too? If, for example, your novel was set in the 1960s could you use a well known song title as your book title, to emphasis the period? i.e. Waterloo Sunset or Bridge over Troubled Waters, etc.
No, song titles aren't copyrighted, so you should be fine. I have a friend that does exactly that: her books are set in the 60s and she uses Bob Dylan songs as her titles.
http://kaykendallauthor.com
 

Nicole Wilson

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After a lot of discussion with my hubster and thinking it over, I probably will end up writing my own song. I've written poetry before and, since I don't have to come up with the musical portion, I've been told it's very similar. I may still send an email to the copyright owner of the song, but I probably will just use my own lyrics and not bother. :)
 

Patricia D

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Thank you all for an educational thread. I am about to go change "Merle Haggard singing 'I turned 21 in prison, facing life without parole.'" to "Merle Haggard's lament about celebrating his 21st birthday in prison." I prefer the first sentence but prefer even more to avoid legal problems.
 
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Jason Byrne

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After a lot of discussion with my hubster and thinking it over, I probably will end up writing my own song. I've written poetry before and, since I don't have to come up with the musical portion, I've been told it's very similar. I may still send an email to the copyright owner of the song, but I probably will just use my own lyrics and not bother. :)
Ooh! You should call him Hubsterrino and see what he does.
 
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