Sunday, September 1, 2013

Are You Thinking of Putting Song Lyrics in Your Novel? Think Again.

So back to my usual music theme, I would like to talk a bit about putting song lyrics in your manuscripts. I am a big music buff and often listen to music while I'm writing for inspiration. Also, since I'm a word person, I just naturally gravitate towards songs with lyrics that speak to me. No matter what I write, my characters usually are drawn to music in some way because of this, so it is only natural that my mind wanders to what song lyrics could be really powerful in a scene. This is all well and good when I'm writing along on my manuscript and the only people to see it are me and my secretive critique partners. But what if I put song lyrics in my novel and then it actually goes on to be sold to a publisher? Is it okay to leave them in there or do I have to, like, ask someone if it's cool I have their lyrics in my book?


Now, there are a TON of articles and blog posts already out there on this topic that did a lot more research, have a lot more credibility, and probably structured the logistics behind this a lot better than I could. So what I'm going to do is pluck out the information that meant the most to me and then leave you with the articles I found if you want to dig deeper into the topic.

Here is what I found most important to know on this topic:

  • You DO NOT need to get permission from anyone to use or reference the TITLE of the song. Titles can't have a copyright, so if your character just makes a mention of a song title, you are A-OKAY.
  • You CANNOT claim "fair use" and then use song lyrics in your manuscript without securing permissions from the artist. Since they are so short, using just a few lines of a song is using a significant amount of the piece.
  • If you absolutely MUST use the lyrics in your novel, be prepared to pay anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand - even for a few lines of the song. Also be prepared for the outcome in which the artist denies your request altogether and you have no choice but to take the lyrics out.
  • Having lyrics in your manuscript will not discourage an agent from reading on OR from signing you as a client - but it will (most likely) come up as a topic of concern and you will (most likely) be responsible for paying the price for the permissions if you insist on keeping them.
  • There are quite a few songs that are considered Public Domain and, therefore, free to use without having to acquire permissions. These usually include Christmas songs, hymns, patriotic songs, etc. You can find what is considered public domain here: http://www.pdinfo.com/Public-Domain-Music-List.php
  • Local musicians MAY BE more accommodating than professional recording artists because putting their songs into a book is like free advertising if they are not well known. If you are set on trying to feature lyrics but don't want to hand over wads of cash for popular songs, check out your local music scene to see if any songs fit your theme or message.
  • As a last resort, make up a band and write your OWN lyrics for your story. Push your own creative envelop! Who hasn't, at one point in his or her life, wanted to be a rock star??

As promised, here are some of the articles I found while researching this topic. Check them out for more information:

Why Do You Need to Secure Permissions? - Jane Friedman
So You Want to Use Song Lyrics in Your Novel? 5 Steps to Getting Rights to Lyrics - Anne R. Allen
Intellectual Property and Its Uses - Part 3: Lyric Reprint Permissions - Lori L. Lake
http://billkonigsberg.blogspot.com/2012/10/using-songs-in-novels.html - Bill Konigsberg (personal experience with acquiring copywriting permissions)

Have any of you guys used (or tried to use) song lyrics in your work? Was is a painless process for you or did you have to jump through a lot of hoops to secure the permissions needed? I'd love to know!!

15 comments:

  1. I have a MS about a band, and I wrote the songs they played as well. :) It simplified things.

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    1. It seems that a lot of people recommend this route if you aren't 110% set on having a specific lyric in your book. And making up a band and songs they perform sounds pretty fun to me!

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  2. I actually did that for my manuscript. Made up a band--which, still I cannot believe no one has a band by this name--and wrote a song, too. Or at least the lyrics for one. Composing actual music is well beyond my skill set.

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    1. Lyric writing is a whole different beast, but I still enjoy the different constraints and freedoms that come with it. :)

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  3. I am also inspired by music, if I want to use lyrics what I did in one MS is make a character interest in music and then I write the lyrics, I am no where close to saying I am a song writer but like you said while writing without a potential agent or publisher I feel I can explore various aspects of creativity.

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    1. I think this is the easiest way to go to avoid repercussions later. And writing song lyrics is fun to me. So it's a win-win!

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  4. Thank you for this! I wonder if this applies to using lyrics on your blog? I often title my blog posts with song lyrics, but I always credit the band and often link to a place you can hear the song. Do you know if that's allowed? I hadn't considered it!

    Thank you!

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    Replies
    1. I'm not sure about using them on a blog? If you are giving the artist credit I would think it's okay, but if, for example, you were to publish your blog posts collectively as a book you would probably have to gain permission. But I'm really not an expert, so don't know for sure!

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    2. Thank you! My feeling is that credited on a blog would be okay, but as you said, not okay if I wanted to publish my blog as a book.

      Thanks for this. Appreciate it! :)

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  5. The thing with writing song lyrics is in a few years people may not have heard that song or it won't be popular anymore, which dumbs down the significance of the song or lyric. I'd definitely say don't bother with the kerfuffle of trying to secure permission for other people's lyrics, and just make up your own lyrics if you really need songs to be a part of your book. :)

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    1. Yes, agreed. I've read some examples, though, where people wrote a whole novel based around a concept or idea from a specific popular song, so it was pretty significant to the story. I'd say to stay away from putting so much significance on someone else's work - but to each their own!

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  6. I write poetry, so instead of worrying about copyrighted songs I write new poems.

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  7. I find it odd that it is legal, as far as I know, for a character in my book to say, "Insert favorite Journey Song title here makes me sick to my stomach, really, it makes me vomit every time I hear it."

    But to use a couple lines from the song in a flattering way, stating that the song is the most romantic the character has ever heard and exemplifies their feelings for the love interest is absolutely prohibited.

    I will be contacting two publishers that represent three songs whose lyrics I quote in my upcoming book, which will be POD and an ebook so I have no money to provide them, but if the book ever sells well, I'd be more than happy to give the publishers money. I know the contact names of those who license each song, and right now, for the first edition of the book, I'll be deleting all song lyrics.

    Finding out about this today has been really disturbing and something a lot of authors probably never consider. Thanks for your post.

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  8. Great article. I really don't know what to think about this topic anymore! On the one hand, I understand why artists don't want others to use their lyrics. On the other hand, however, most of these songs are playing in public settings and life experiences constantly take place in those settings.

    Case in point: I'm currently writing a novel about my own experiences (it's based on real events) and it just so happens that some music was a big part of these experiences. I fail to understand why I am not allowed to tell the story as it happened in real life and, in this particular case, I feel these artists now have a monopoly on my own story because I am not allowed to tell it exactly the way it happened without their permission.

    I would also suggest that the writer, in most cases, is doing a huge favor to the artist in question. If I'm writing a book about the '80's, for example, and quoting from these songs, there is a huge potential to bring these songs back into the mainstream (and potentially, increase sales). When I watch a TV show and hear a song I enjoy that I've never heard, I will look it up on YouTube or purchase the song. When reading, if I come across lyrics in a book, I look it up (Under the Dome comes to mind as Stephen King repeated lyrics from this song throughout the book). For me, I feel like the writer is doing the artist a favor-- it's FREE marketing, FREE promotion, FREE exposure (just so long as the song in question is talked about positively). I will never understand why the writer has to pay for use when the artist gets most of the benefit in the end! It really doesn't make any sense especially considering that no one is ever going to purchase a novel because it contains two or three song lyrics in it.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great article. I really don't know what to think about this topic anymore! On the one hand, I understand why artists don't want others to use their lyrics. On the other hand, however, most of these songs are playing in public settings and life experiences constantly take place in those settings.

    Case in point: I'm currently writing a novel about my own experiences (it's based on real events) and it just so happens that some music was a big part of these experiences. I fail to understand why I am not allowed to tell the story as it happened in real life and, in this particular case, I feel these artists now have a monopoly on my own story because I am not allowed to tell it exactly the way it happened without their permission.

    I would also suggest that the writer, in most cases, is doing a huge favor to the artist in question. If I'm writing a book about the '80's, for example, and quoting from these songs, there is a huge potential to bring these songs back into the mainstream (and potentially, increase sales). When I watch a TV show and hear a song I enjoy that I've never heard, I will look it up on YouTube or purchase the song. When reading, if I come across lyrics in a book, I look it up (Under the Dome comes to mind as Stephen King repeated lyrics from this song throughout the book). For me, I feel like the writer is doing the artist a favor-- it's FREE marketing, FREE promotion, FREE exposure (just so long as the song in question is talked about positively). I will never understand why the writer has to pay for use when the artist gets most of the benefit in the end! It really doesn't make any sense especially considering that no one is ever going to purchase a novel because it contains two or three song lyrics in it.

    ReplyDelete