Quoting Song Lyrics (Legal issues)

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Coragem, Feb 29, 2012.

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    Coragem

    Coragem Believer in flawed heroes

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    Hi Guys:

    In the 12th Chapter of my novel I quote four lines from the song "Superman Lover" (Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, 1976). This has raised some questions for me, so maybe you could help me consider the options?

    (1) My research has suggested that it's very important to get permission before quoting lyrics, and that doing so often comes at quite a high price. Also, it tends to be up to the author as much or more than it's up to the publisher. I have made some contacts in view of "buying" permission, but I don't plan on paying if it's too expensive.

    (2) Another option would be to write my own lyrics on the same theme. However, I am worrying as to whether even this would present legal issues. If I wrote my own lyrics I would like to keep language relevant to superman ("faster than a speeding bullet", and the word "superman", for example). Would anyone actually own the rights to the word/name "superman" or the accompanying linguistic reference points (like the "speeding bullet" thing)?

    Suggestions appreciated.

    Coragem.
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    Ursa major

    Ursa major Bearly Believable Staff Member

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    I'd be interested in knowing how many words one can borrow - without having to pay, that is - from the original (in total or in a consecutive sequence of borrowed words), where one is, in affect, using the rhythm and the reader's recollection of the tune. I'm not talking of a parody of the song, or even of a whole verse/chorus; the intention is that a character knows the tune and words, and is mostly putting a few, mostly new, words to it to make a point to another character (and, of course, the reader).

    And what about just the rhythm, to suggest to the reader the song? Or punning versions of two or three words not used specifically as a song, but later (much later) invoked, by the aforementioned rhythm, to help the reader see the pun (if they haven't already)?


    Or are songs so sacrosanct that it's best to steer clear of them entirely (or, if one must hint at them, to take out a loan from a bank)?
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    The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    I think you'd be OK with using the rhythm and rhyme scheme, Ursa, but I'd steer clear of any words which might be song-specific, as it were. Quoting song lyrics is fraught with danger, as you can't even use snippets as you can with eg poems.

    Coragem, my advice would be to write your own lyrics. The word superman doesn't belong to anyone, but Superman (ie as a name) probably does. Whether any of the accompanying descriptors have been trademarked or whatever, I don't know -- you'd need to check. I'd suggest you avoid them and use your own.
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    Stephen Palmer

    Stephen Palmer author of novels

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    You have to get permission.

    I got permission to "use" real people when I wrote Hallucinating - has to be done!
  5.  
    Coragem

    Coragem Believer in flawed heroes

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  6.  
    TheDustyZebra

    TheDustyZebra Ninja agent Staff Member

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    Aww geez, and I was just in the middle of rewriting a section of my book to include a snippet of a song as a major plot mover. Guess I'll leave it alone! Tom Petty would probably take all my (as yet nonexistent) profits.

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