Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Query question: permission? we don't need no stinkin permissions!

My question is pretty simple, but I'm also wondering if you could give me some behind-the-scenes info on this as well. I want to include lyrics to a song (written by someone else) in with my manuscript. At what point should I mention this to the agent? What do agents do to secure permissions, and (if stipulated) what's the typical payout for the original author of the song/poem/whatev's? I know the latter is a bit ranging, but I'll settle for an anecdote.

oh boy.
For starters, it's not your agent's job to clear permissions for song lyrics. It's yours. And song lyrics, depending on the song, can be expensive. And the other possibility is you won't get permission at all.

Quoting lyrics is a rat's nest of contradictory information. There's the common internet rule "quote two lines and you're fine" but if the song is only ten lines, you're not fine.

And the liability for permission, or use of any material that's not yours, is on you, not the agent or the publisher. Use it without permission, get caught, and the publisher doesn't have to defend the lawsuit, you do.

When clients of mine want to quote song lyrics, I advise them to keep it to one line, and use it as an epigraph.

When I advise them of the problems that come with getting permissions, they often times find they can do without those quotes very easily.

The good news is OLD songs, pre-1920, are in the public domain.

To answer your question: you don't need to tell anyone you're quoting song lyrics until you have a contract for publication. However, it's a very good idea to let your agent know before she starts the contract negotiatons. She may be able to work some magic here.

At this point you'll need to secure permission to quote the lyrics.  You'll have to pay for it too. (It's hard to secure permission before sale because the rights holder often wants to know the print run, format, and territories covered in the deal)

This is the general clause that covers that:

The Author shall, at the Author's expense, deliver valid written permission from the proprietor (ie the rights holder) for the use of any copyrighted material in the Work (such permission to extend to all rights granted herein, including electronic publication) and all necessary illustrations, maps, charts, and photographs for the Work, on or before the delivery date set forth in subparagraph 2(a). Author is responsible for paying all permissions costs on or before the delivery date set forth in subparagraph 2(a). The Publisher is not responsible for publication delays resulting from Author's negligence in obtaining and paying for permissions, or in presenting valid written permission to the Publisher.


Donnaeve said...

What??? No one here yet? Whoop!

french sojourn said...

And I just took out the chorus of a song from my MS. Crabs!

But it begs the question, how stuck am I with having one of Rudyard Kipling's poems from 1892. You mentioned the 1920 limit for music...does the same apply for literary work. Obviously it would be referenced. I use one verse for every other chapter, as a tool that indicates the time period of the 1890's. (Only for the first alternating seven ( 1890's) chapters until the story converges to present day.

Never easy is it?

Joan Kane Nichols said...

I have a nice story about permissions. My first book (many years ago), a novel for children, opened with a stanza from a Tom Lehrer song on the first page. In my innocence I knew nothing of permissions. My publisher, a small press, wanted to change the book's title to a phrase from that song. She also told me I needed to get permission. So I found the music company that represented him. They gave me his address. I sent him a letter (I said it was many years ago) quoting the stanza I wanted to use and the book's new title. Would he give me permission and how much?

Not only did he write back saying I could have it for free, but gently corrected the mistakes I'd made in quoting the lyrics.

What a sweet guy! It gives me a warm feeling whenever I remember this.

Jerry said...

french sojourn, yes, the same applies to literary work—the copyright term is the same for everything (in the United States). The actual year is 1922 and earlier in the United States. Other countries (in case your nick indicates tu es en France) may, and do, vary.

Kitty said...

Damn! Now all I want to do is to quote lyrics in my writing!

Hey, remember Janet's contest of using book titles to construct a poem (Sept. 2011)? At the risk of being sent to Carkoon, how about a contest quoting lyrics using just one line per song?

I know, I know...I'm packing! I'm packing! Geesh, can't a gal have an idea without being sent to Carkoon?

Donnaeve said...

I have made this very mistake in my second book. I have an ENTIRE song in there, a hymn, and should it ever go on submission, I plan to take it out and just say, "They sang X," because I'd read the same thing Ms. Janet mentions and realized this would be a problem.

Music, IMO, can do a lot of heavy lifting for a writer. Aside from nailing down a sense of time, it conveys emotions, memories, and can forge a deeper connection to the story.

I've felt strongly enough about music tied to a story to go out and buy soundtracks. I know when I'm watching certain shows, and a song is played, the mood of the scene is transformed, pulling me in, even if it's simply the show's theme song. TRUE DETECTIVE did that for me with The Handsome Family, FAR FROM ANY ROAD.

And then there's the sad news of James Horner this morning, who worked on TITANIC, FIELD OF DREAMS, APOLLO 13, and more. TITANIC was one of the best selling albums of all time, over 30M copies.

I think this is why there's such a strong desire to use music in our stories. I do it all the time, except now, I only reference a title, or take a line or two and bring that into the story somehow.

Anonymous said...

French Sojourn-

Agreed with Jerry,

Everything beyond a certain point (based on country) is considered public domain and can be quoted at will. Mumford and Sons rip off Shakespeare all the time, and quite openly too. They actually have said in an interview "Well, who's gonna get mad and sue us for ripping off something THAT old?"

Kitty - bring more water on your way. Lots of it.

As to Sunday's WIR(because this meerkat was sucked into a Carkoonian vortex for the last three days), I'm honored to be quoted in the WIR and it was fantastic. And I'm sorry my story derailed the comment board into peddlers and alcohol.

I'm good at gently steering things towards oblivion and then not taking the blame... but alas others with keener eyes have outed me.

Susan Bonifant said...

Writer-crime aside, I wonder what others think about the use of lyrics just as a scene boost. Enriching? Distracting?

I wanted so badly to use lyrics from the Rolling Stones "Waiting for a Friend." But when I put them on the page in context with the scene, it just looked like I was directing the reader: Okay, see these lyrics? THAT'S how my character feels RIGHT NOW.

Kitty said...

Donna, I know what you mean. Music can set the mood, and it can alter it as well. Like in the series BREAKING BAD. The most memorable scene for me in the whole series featured "Crystal Blue Persuasion," the 1969 psychedelic drug-era song with Biblical origins. As Walt and Todd are efficiently cooking up big batches of blue death in the shiny new lab, and amassing mountains of money in the process, Tommy James and the Shondells are singing this gentle, upbeat song about "peace and good and brotherhood." Cooking meth is a job. They suit up and work a full day then go home and relax, only to repeat the process the next day. The feel-good melody renders an almost dream-like quality to the evil process, rather like watching WWII Nazis preparing the gas to exterminate the Jews to the accompaniment of "The Blue Danube." Normalizing the unthinkable.

Brian, will do. I've got an unopened bottle of Merlot, too. (I don't drink.)

Anonymous said...

Oh man... here comes a potentially derailing thought -

So how do brands relate to this?

Can I say "Felix Buttonweezer sipped his Miller Lite in the dim haze of the bar..."

or will Mr Miller sink my battleship?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I ran into this with my non-fiction book although most of my quotes were from other books rather than music. I tried to unpack academic language so it was more easily accessible so there were paragraphs of quotes at a time.

When I finished writing the book, upon a friend's suggestion, I "queried" the publishing agent from whose company I used several quotes. They took me on and let me know that I needed to seek permission, pay the requested fees, and they would reimburse me.

It was extra work to find the person and address to send the letter or email (this was still in the partial dark ages). But, maybe because of my area of writing (Christian exegesis and inspiration) most if not all of the permissions were given and most required a fee and the exact wording for the bibliography section of my book. I may have rewritten to consolidate some of my quotes from fewer books? I honestly can't remember anymore.

As you can tell from my process I was a total Hansel and Gretel case. I didn't know I should have written a proposal first before writing the book. I didn't know how much work it would be to seek permission for quotes. I wrote from the passion and energy I received via a study journey. A passion I wanted to share. But, instead of a wicked witch at the end of the breadcrumb trail, there was a small press waiting to guide me through the process of getting my book published.

Well, there. Enough blethering on my part. Time to sip my tea and enjoy everyone else's comments.

Patty Blount said...

In a holiday romance I wrote last year, I obtained permission to use ONE LINE from the song Do You hear What I Hear. It cost me $200 for that single line and it took hours of work to find out who I had to request that permission from... (it's not the song writer, it's the music company who owns the rights.) In another project, I wanted to use the Mission Impossible theme (the TV show, not the movie.) I was told NO. Not for sale at all.

I always advise writer pals to avoid songs.

Marc P said...

I used some little known lyrics from a little known english song once - major pain in the ass. Used Jonny Cash lyrics and he was an absolute diamond about it. His are in the book - thanks again Mr Cash - gentleman genius! Rest in Peace walking the line!

Donnaeve said...

Kitty, exactly. I had that same level of anticipation with Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. And of course, I realize now I'm associating all the music to actual shows on TV, and I wonder how they did/do it? I guess they square all the legal stuff, and then the writer/s of the song, get a % cut.

But also, like Susan points out, in some ways, using a song to convey the emotion in a story, seems a little like a cheat. I mean, I think it's okay to toss out a bit of a song here and there, but not too much. I'm supposed to do my job and WRITE the appropriate words to show readers a character's mood.

Ian Hiatt said...

It's also worth noting that permission means permission from the copyright holder themselves in writing, not necessarily the artist. In my first manuscript, I wanted to use song lyrics and was able to (through a great deal of outreach...) secure written permission from the bands/singers themselves. They were really supportive, in fact.

But they are not always the legal owner of those lyrics. In both cases, neither could guarantee that I had official permission to use the lyrics in a published novel. I ended up taking them out, and as you've said, the book didn't suffer. My chance to fanboy over my favorite artists did, sure, but it's always better to be a good writer first and fanboy second.

Colin Smith said...

I'm a little leery of lyrics and poems quoted at the beginning of chapters. Call me unsophisticated, but I sometimes wonder if the author is just showing his literary chops, or giving air to a poem he likes, or some other motive. I'm not suggesting it's never a good thing to do, but it does sometimes come across to me like the author's commentary on the story: "This is what inspired this chapter" kind of thing, which I don't know has a place in the story. In an interview, or an "Author's Note" perhaps, but while I'm actually reading the story? Let me enjoy the novel, then tell me later it was based on The Tempest or Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

There are my thoughts on that, just to stir the Tuesday morning pot! :)

Brian: Clearly I'm not an authoritative voice on the subject, but my understanding is that unless you're using the brand name in such a way as the company might sue for damages (e.g., referring to Budweiser as rat's urine) you should be good. And even then, you might be able to get away with disparaging comments about the brand if they are on the lips of a character--i.e., presented as that character's opinion. But I'll let the legal folks weigh in on this. :)

DeadSpiderEye said...


I have seen at least one instance of something like that, Len Deigton had to remove a reference to Brock, an erstwhile fireworks manufacturer but it might be dependent on context, a character was disparaging about the fireworks industry.

Anonymous said...


That is not always the case...

originally.... and this should STILL be the case now but it isn't always... a record company would sign a band or artist to a record deal... which means they own the record... or more specifically, that specific version of that specific song.

Ian said it. (I should have read further) The copyright holder holds the permissions, which if the band = the songwriter and the songwriter = savvy/smart, it should be the artist/songwriter who owns the rights.

This is obviously not always the case.

Personally I own the rights to all of my records despite working with a variety of management and booking agencies. Many friends of mine who are in well-off and well known bands also own all rights as the singer/songwriter.

But labels nowadays (especially around the States) are happy to "register" the song with the U.S. Copyright office for you... which can make THEM the copyright holders... This leads to lots and lots of problems in the future for the songwriter when the label no longer represents them and still would prefer to keep their songs. I've heard horror stories where friends have had to beg permission from the label to perform songs they wrote... what a mess.

Moral of the story - yes, don't assume it's the band who holds the copywrite. But hope they do, for their sake...

And Colin - thank you! That makes sense to me. I'll hold off on finishing my latest work in progress - "Felix drinks a Miller Lite" - until this is settled. :)

Colin Smith said...

Donna: Yes--my thoughts exactly! Why employ Rudyard Kipling or Leonard Cohen to do what *I'm* supposed to be doing?

Alia said...

I'm going to risk the Wrath of the Shark and say I disagree about always paying for permission before you have an offer of publication.

I clear permissions (for books, not music - and in the UK so perhaps things differ more than I think) and I always advise writers to get in touch with me about clearing permission AFTER they have secured an offer of publication. I wouldn't charge someone to use quotes from a book in a piece of writing they were never going to sell.

That said, I do keep a list of all the contacts I get and keep an eye out for the published book. If it goes to print without a letter from me saying the quotes are okay...well that's not a good situation.

Janet Reid said...

Alia, you and I actually agree. I said to wait until an offer has been secured. In most cases you have to since the rights holder wants to know about print run an territories.

Unknown said...

Does anyone else's eyes glaze over as soon as they read the word 'clause'?

Kitty, in my youth I belonged to a van club (why am I cringing? It was fun. I was young. We travelled around the States and Canada and ... well...did stuff), and my boyfriend's blue Chevy was called Crystal Blue Persuasion. Should have been a tip off, now that I think about it.

I used two lines from a Gordon Lightfoot song in the first draft of my book because it mentioned con men but took them out when I realized I wrote the scene around the lyrics instead of the lyrics adding to the story. But there is nothing like a song to bring back memories, and put a reader smack dab in the moment.

Joan, great story, and Marc, you've got to love it when people you respect actually deserve your respect. Love Mr. Cash.

And, because I was also in a vortex last weekend, it was encouraging to read in the WIR that I almost made it to sub-title. Lets me hope my writing isn't all that suckable.

S.D.King said...

In my WIP I use brand names like Sharpie, Milky Way bars, and reference "The Price is Right."

Am I on shaky ground?

Dena Pawling said...

One of my CPs recommended I include a song in a church scene in my ms. I googled “hymns in the public domain” [because we all know Google is the final arbiter of that kind of stuff], and chose one from the 1800s that fit the story at that point in time. In the ms it takes four lines, but on the sheet music it's two lines.

Then I made a note to myself on my “things to ask my agent about” page.

Alia said...

Reading comprehension. It's important kids! I thought it was weird that I disagreed with you Janet. This is what I get for trying to cut down my caffeine consumption.

...toddles off to look at potential accommodation in Carkoon (and investigate the contents of the coffee pot).

Kitty said...

Amanda wrote: my boyfriend's blue Chevy was called Crystal Blue Persuasion

HA HA HA !!! To quote George B. Shaw, "Youth is wasted on the young."

Anonymous said...

Allison Baggio dealt with this with her excellent (and totally underrated) GIRL IN SHADES. She didn't just need Corey Hart's permission. She needed to get permission of the rights holders from way back in the day & it was very, very difficult. In the end though, she got the permissions & the book was awesome...

Matt Adams said...

My MS has a Jimmy Buffett lyric in it twice -- I tried to write around it, but it's important to the story in both places it's used. Both times I use it, I just use the first two lines, so I've always thought I was safe. But to be safe I tried to secure permission for it. It took a half-dozen phone calls, but when I reached a person, they wanted a lot more detail than I could provide without a contract for publication.

I have another section where a lot of his song titles are used (two of my MCs are drunkenly talking about creating a religion based on his music), but I stayed away from using any specific lyrics. I've always read that titles can't be copyrighted -- so I know I'm safe if I have a character having smoke get in their eyes -- but I wonder if it's okay to list a series of song titles, even if you're giving full attribution to the songwriter. I guess it's a bridge I'll cross when (if) I get there.

french sojourn said...

Amanda, small world, after reading the question and answer I took out a Gordon Lightfoot chorus.

Colin, I always search for your comments. They are like a cross section of a snail, always addressing the overall point yet containing a myriad of tangential details and observations. I have started alternating chapters of a Kipling poem not because it does my work for me, but because it tones the scene, and the "olde tyme vernacular" would be buffoonish were it written by me. I do whole heatedly agree that it could sound like some diatribal (nod to poof) stiff upper lipped windbag, but in the context that I've used it, it's for the reader to shift into the setting aboard a steamship in the 1890's.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

http://www.rightsofwriters.com/ blog has lots of information regarding this topic.

@Brian, I read there that Bob Marley wrote many of his songs as work for hire. After his death, his family lost the case to obtain the rights. I can't imagine how much it cost them.

My MC has an infantile obsession with Superman. Holy smoke.

Does stating the title of a song mean you need to ask for permission?

One of Carl Hiaasen characters in, (I think, Sick Puppy) misquotes lyrics. It's one of the charcters markers. Hiaasen changes words just enough that the reader knows the songs.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

character's (I forgot the ' ) been painting since 8am, my eyes are crossed.

Anonymous said...

I'm working on the Civil War story now and in the first chapter are some lines from Lorena, a popular Civil War song. The hero hears someone singing the song and despairs he and Lorena will ever wed.

I thought about writing my own lines, but the song perfectly captures the melancholy. So, I did what any good writer would do and researched, in this case copyright laws. Ah, it's written in 1856. I'm safe.

I like Tom Roush's version best for mood music. Plus, I like the pictures.


Totally off topic, I'm glad to hear this guy got a book because he amuses me.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

That was the funny thing about writing this fucked up rock star novel of mine, I of course made up song and album titles (and a band name), but I personally love the "concert cover culture" that a lot of rock stars seem to participate in (Dave Matthews will frequently do "All Along the Watchtower" as an example) and so there's lots of titles mentioned.

I only used a single word from a Clutch song, but will have to write to Dave Grohl about Foo Fighters lyrics. He seems like a pretty cool guy, though (he sang "Under Pressure" after he broke his leg/ankle falling off stage last week or the week before, and the band kept going while he was at the hospital getting a cast, and then HE CAME BACK FROM THE HOSPITAL TO KEEP PERFORMING. Man is a goddamn legend). Unless I just take them out, which is always entirely possible. In fact, I'd go back to the salt mines if I thought my novel would fall apart without a line or two from somebody else's work.

french sojourn said...

Julie; I agree.

If I were to write a detective novel that took place on a whaler, as a for instance, opening the chapter with a chorus of a whaling ballad just sets the table.

The alternative would be to speak in the vernacular of the time...maybe it's just me but I imagine it might come off as a Monty Python skit. But maybe that's just me limiting my writing skills. That's probably why I write Science Fiction...I seem to speak way ahead of myself.


Craig F said...

Will the intent to obtain permission stand up? I sent an e-mail to someone whose product almost becomes an inanimate character in a story.

LynnRodz said...

I, for one, love quotes/lyrics at the beginning of each chapter when it ties in perfectly to what the author is saying. (I read every one of them.) It used to be done quite frequently, but over time I've seen less and less of it in more recent years.

One of my protagonist is an artist/musician so references to French songs and jazz tunes are sprinkled throughout my WIP. I don't use the lyrics, but I mention songs like Misty, Satin Doll, or Je l'Aime à Mourir. In one place I refer to my MC's heart beating in tempo with Ahmad Jamal's Falling In Love With Love. I would've referenced Keith Jarrett, but he hadn't recorded the song yet when this took place.

That said, I would love to use more than two lines of Abba's The Winner Takes It All at the very beginning of my future book, but I'll do as Janet said and wait to cross that bridge when I come to it.

As for brand names, I thought it was better to use a brand name than just saying a cigarette or a drink. He picked up the pack of Gauloises on the table sounds better than he picked up the pack of cigarettes.

Alia, if you're coming to Carkoon, bring extra sun-screen. We're running out and summer's just begun!

Angie, I like that idea of changing words around just enough to still know which song they're referring to, but will that still bring about a lawsuit?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Well I'm screwed. My second book had a line from a different song as a sub-heading for each chapter and the entire lyrics from another but I think that one might have been old enough to a squeak by.
Hey Donna, congrats on being number one. Do it 6 times in a row and you'll hold the record.

Anonymous said...


"I'm a little leery of lyrics and poems quoted at the beginning of chapters. Call me unsophisticated, but I sometimes wonder if the author is just showing his literary chops, or giving air to a poem he likes, or some other motive."

Not in my case. Lorena, the co-MC's mother won't give her permission to marry until after the war (Civil War) or even formally announce the engagement. The mother lives in Baltimore and Lorena lives in Virginia.

Col. Callahan is in a depressed mood anyway about the situation and then someone sings Lorena with it's story of love asunder. It sets up some dark foreshadowing with four short lines more effectively than I could have with any amount of writing.

That being said, some years ago I took a class with Barbara Rogan and we were at a place in my fantasy where I had a song I'd written for it. She said she skipped all of Tolkien's songs and felt other readers might do the same with other songs in books.

I deleted the songs except for lines from them here and there to trigger whatever I'm working on.

In one, the 15-year-old mc sings:

"Molly dearest, just say yes,
Kiss me quick and lift your dress."

That sets off the battle I need. I can usually accomplish what I need with a few lines, but I confess, sometimes I'd like the luxury of tarrying a while instead of worrying about word count and rushing to the next scene.

Colin Smith said...

Hank: Wow--thanks! I'm honored. :) Not sure about my comments being compared to a dissected mollusk, but hey--that's different! :)

When it comes to quoting poems and songs for chapter sub-heads, I think we need to apply the same rule we do when editing: why is this here? What purpose does it serve? Does it set the scene in a way that's meaningful to the story, or am I just trying to shortcut the real work of writing? We talk about every noun, verb, adjective, and even adverb earning its place in our prose. That goes for quotations, too, I think.

LynnRodz: Keith Jarrett! I featured him on a Music Monday blog post a while ago. The Koln Concert is amaaaazing. One of the most talented pianists/musicians I've ever heard. I don't see his name bandied around much, so when you gave him a shout out, I had to say something. :)

Adib Khorram said...

My research has also indicated that song titles are not under copyright, though in a few special circumstances they can be trademarked.

One of my rough drafts uses song titles for each chapter heading—the main character is obsessed with Pink Floyd, so each chapter is named after one of their songs.

I imagine that kind of use will end up being cut sooner or later (kill your babies/darlings!) but it helped me with the writing and I certainly won't shy away from mentioning the titles of whatever Pink Floyd songs the narrator listens to in the course of the story.

Lizzie said...

What about a poem published in 1922, such as The Wasteland? If you're quoting two lines or less, it's not necessary to get permission?

Colin Smith said...

Julie: Like I said, if it works with the story, and it actually functions in a way that's meaningful to the plot, then I have no problem. But when I first see a quotation at the beginning of a chapter, I always wonder how it's relevant, and then even more annoyed if at the end of the chapter, it still wasn't relevant--at least as far as I, the reader, could discern. Maybe I'm too picky. I probably am. :)

LynnRodz said...

Colin, Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert is simply one of the best! And his The Carnegie Hall Concert is nothing to sneeze at either. I love, love, love, My Song, Time On My Hands...*swoon.*

Adib, you can't go wrong with Pink Floyd: Dark Side Of The Moon, Meddle, The Wall...*sigh.*

Okay I'll stop and go do some writing.

Donnaeve said...

This is neither here nor there, necessarily, BUT, my hubby listens to Pink Floyd THE WALL while he's invoicing. Now, he's started plugging his Bose headset into his hard drive to listen that way (so as to not interrupt me writing) and I MISS it. I'm contemplating hiding his headset.

french sojourn said...


All in all, we're all just invoices in the wall.

Dena Pawling said...

In high school I was on the swim team. For my last year I worked out to The Wall. Even today, £¥%# years later, I still hear that song when I swim and smell chlorine when I hear that song.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

@Kitty, I remember that writing contest. We had to send a photo of the books stacked up. Mine had Dora the Aventurer and a very old Le Fleurs du Mal.

@Amanda, haha glazed. What is it about the fine print? Maybe that's why QOTKU works with FPL, she can read between the lines.

@Pink Floyd fans, I'd rather cut my wrists than listen to another rerun of The Wall.

@Julie the wedding dress is too hilarious. I remember when he sold it on ebay.

french sojourn said...

Colin....damn I meant a snail shell...the concentric radius. I left out a word again without proofing. I really have to get better at proofing. No wonder it sounded odd. Merde"

I'm not a robot, I'm not a proofer either.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Man, I love Pink Floyd...

On the topic of music while writing (As opposed to music IN one's writing), I have a "writing" playlist I started in 2007 for my first NaNoWriMo, which has had some additions and subtractions since then, but is almost guaranteed to grease the wheels if I feel like, well, I've hit a Wall ;)

Anonymous said...

2N's, I'll never let anyone break the record... it's yours forever. I was captain early-pants (or was it no pants?) before, remember? I can win that game. ;)

As a personal preference, I feel lyrics don't quite contain the same oomph without the accompanying music, at least not as much as they should. After music was written to the "rains of castamere" I would get that song stuck in my head when reading it in a Martin book, but it was a small payoff that honestly just made me want to watch the tv show again. :)

But I am most definitely going to be the exception to the rule in most music-related catagories. I have strong opinions that often times differ from an average joe.

Like Julie Weathers so elegantly pointed out - lyrics can be a good way to say profoundly in a few words what we try to sum up in too many.

Karen McCoy said...

Kudos to Sir Colin for getting to the why. As long as it relates to a character's goal (or shift in goal) I say go for it. And, as Janet said, logistics can be figured out later on.

ReCAPTCHA finally got me on salad. I need a diet after the burrito and cake regimen it put me on.

Scott Sloan said...

From the "For What it's Worth…" Department:

Craig – As I understand it, if you've done everything possible (a phrase already on shaky legal ground) to contact the people who hold the rights, and you've kept meticulous records showing that fact, and they've not responded, then you may go ahead with your plans to quote the works in question.
The fact is that at anytime after publication, if the owner discovers your work quoting their work, you're still liable for fees and permissions; as if the owner had answered you in the first place.
The only thing your meticulous records do, at that point, is help you avoid legal penalties.
If you're going to have to pay, whether they answer your inquiries or not, you might as well get the permission up front.
With all the caveats mentioned by others.
Before your work becomes a blockbuster.
And they want to come along for the ride…

Several people talked of quoting sources originating before 1922.
But the original work could be public domain, yet the actual copy of the work still be protected.
A 1980 edition of "Right Said" Freddy Buttonweezer's (Felix's not-so-great-great-great-meh? grandfather) Revolutionary War song cycle, entitled "Me and My Banjo and My Trick Knee in Alabama" would be protected, because it was that edition you borrowed from.
If you've actually got a first edition of the original material… well… sell that sucker, and retire.
In my experience, publishers have been known to change things around enough to secure a further period of protection, if the money is good.
So, Kipling's Jungle Books are public domain.
The latest Norton Anthology of that public material is protected.

But I agree with Colin. If the story calls for a song, then write it yourself.

As to poetry in a story; for me, a lot of it depends on the poetry.
Tolkien uses tons of poetry in his stuff, but (again, for me) I'm not sure how much it advances the story.
Part of the problem is I'm not a poet myself, and so the advanced stuff (which by all accounts Tolkien's poetry was) is lost on me.
I tend to skip over it, if it takes me away from the story.

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Colin Smith said...

Hank: Oh, I see! Still, "Colin's comments are like a dissected mollusk" sounds so much more artsy. I'll have to use that for cover blurb one day. :)

Brian: The song should be a marriage of words and music, not just a pretty tune with some words added that just happen to fit the meter (or vice versa). Would "Another Brick in the Wall" work sung in a major key with a beautiful, romantic melody? And the words alone, simple as they are--6 lines repeated--don't carry as much punch without the distinctive guitar riff and bass line. And the solo at the end, which is my favorite part of the song. So, in short, I agree with you.

As for the movie, "The Wall"--one of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen. It's been nearly 30 years since I first saw it, I've not seen it again since, and it's not on any list of movies I must re-watch any time soon. I'm no wimp when it comes to horror. Vampires, zombies, dismemberment... whatever. But someone shaving off their eyebrows? That scene still creeps me out. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey, I used to write songs, melody and lyrics. You want my permission, you got it. I have a gold record...I painted it myself, hahaha. To bad I can't remember what I wrote. It's an age thing.

Anonymous said...

I did have a couple lines from a couple songs in a novel of mine, but when I found out how touchy it all was legally, I changed it - for the better, actually - to a poem published in 1907, whose author died in 1953. His works are now in the public domain.

Hank: I'm not a copyright lawyer, so I would do some research, if I were you. But I believe that copyright (in the US and in Canada) exists up to 50 years after the author's death. Except in certain cases where the copyright is renewed in some ways, as in a new book or production. Disney is very proprietary about Winnie-the-Pooh, even though it was originally published before 1930. Disney bought it in 1966, trademarked it and its characters, and have been very careful in not letting it into public domain. Trademarks last longer than copyright, in many (all?) cases.

So, basically, it's best to figure it out for each piece you use. Make sure no one else owns the copyright now. Then you can see when the copyright ended. Also? Different countries have different copyright laws, so copyright may need to be negotiated for some countries and not for others. This is probably one reason why Janet specifies 'territories covered' as one item that needs to be known before asking permission.

Kitty: regarding using song lines for a contest... while it might be okay, there is still a possibility someone might see one song line and complain about copyright. Book titles can't be copyrighted. Neither can song titles, though, so using song titles rather than lines might be okay.

Brian: Shakespeare has never been copyrighted (except for certain published versions) because he lived and died long before copyright became law. There's a lot of conjecture over whether he stole some of his works, or if others stole from him. As someone said, though, make sure you're quoting the original, and not a more recent version in an anthology that may be copyrighted by Penguin, for example.

As for brand names: You're usually okay, I believe, unless the owner of the brand name takes exception. There's little chance they'll take exception, though, unless you're talking about how terrible their product is.

Brand name story: Originally, the movie ET was supposed to have characters using M&Ms to lure the little alien out of hiding. The producers thought it would be a good idea to run it past the Mars company (owners of M&Ms), just to see if they would be interested - might even help to publicise the movie. They didn't have to, but they did. Mars did NOT want M&Ms to be used. So Reese's Pieces were used instead (Reese's said, SURE!)

Regarding quotes at the beginning of chapters:

I remember reading a novel - think it was Robert Asprin's first MythAdventures novel, Another Fine Myth, but I could be wrong - that used actual quotes for the beginning of chapters. The author then said that that was such a nightmare of permissions searching that he wouldn't do that anymore. Instead, for other novels in the series, he started using parody quotes, that may have been used by (and attributed to) characters or writers but which were obviously humorous takes on these things.

Lizzie: It's always best to research that particular work. It was published in 1922, but when did the author die? Copyright is kind of an either/or sort of thing that regards publication, author's death, trademarking, re-use by others (you don't want to quote a recent version of a song that was written 100 years ago, because the wording in the recent version is probably copyrighted by the recent writer) and even trademarking (see Disney, above).

Regarding The Wall: When I was in high school, we went on a band trip that meant 8 hours in a school bus each way. The kids at the back of the bus played The Wall all the way there and all the way back. It's a good song, I guess, but for me it will never hold my attention as anything but a memory of long hours in a school bus.

Unknown said...

It's too bad the copyright laws (or their interpretation) are like this. Music is so powerfully evocative. One would think a song quote is like product placement in a movie. The songwriter should pay us!

I've written music into my story like a main character. Started out with extensive quotes, did some research, got scared. To get rid of the quotes I really had to think hard about what mood in the music I was actually trying to evoke, then write that into words so the readers can actually feel the tune without the music part. I ended up writing an entirely new song for each quote, then quoting excerpts from those. Wow, that was a lot of work, but in the end totally worth it.

That said, I still don't know if I've nailed it. My cp's have never specifically commented on the songs themselves. One more thing now to worry about!

Anonymous said...

Here's a guide to copyright in Canada (from the Government of Canada website):

Canadian Intellectual Property Office "A Guide to Copyright"

For the US:

Here's the FAQ from the US Copyright Office:

Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright

Here's a list of the documents that make up US Copyright Law:

Copyright Law of the United States

Best practice: Contact a copyright lawyer if you have questions.

Anonymous said...

Someone's trying to sell me a church in NY state to live in. I love the church and would live in one in a heartbeat, but trying to weasel my way back south. NY is the wrong direction. The backyard is a little crowded with the cemetery and all, but I'd never be alone and what better place for inspiration?

Anonymous said...

Another thing to consider, Julie -- quiet neigbors.. except in the case of zombie apocalypse. In that case, you'd be the first to go, unless you've got a black courser to ride out of town. ;)

BJ - you always give us the best links!

Kate Larkindale said...

How about using a few words from a line of a song as the title of your book? Is this a breach of copyright and do you need permission for it?

A writer's spirit said...

Great post, Janet. Thanks so much for taking the extra time and effort to put this information out on the web in this form. Most helpful, as always.

In a recent novel I wrote about the feelings a few songs invoked in my character, referencing the feelings and themes that came up for me as I listened to those songs. I didn't read anything about referencing feelings or themes in the clause you quoted. I'm hoping that what I've done is okay and beyond the scope of the general clause stated above. I did in that hope that generalities and vagueness were a safe bet. Was I wrong?

Anonymous said...

Captain Meerkat,

Everyone should have a zombie plan.

"Brians...I want brians...brians..." Dyslexic zombies untie.

Hat tip to Red vs Blue zombie plan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBRRxXNzkVw

Mine includes Gage the Wonder Dog digging an escape tunnel. I'm working on the hand signal now.


Anonymous said...

Happy to help, Brian. :)

Dena Pawling said...

My firm uses an attorney service which employs a process server who looks and acts like a zombie. It's interesting having him testify at trials. So far tho, no one has run from any courtrooms screaming.....

Colin Smith said...

Brian: I guess when the Dyslexic Zombie Apocalypse hits, you're screwed. Sorry, mate! :)

Anonymous said...

Haha. Hat tip to RvB indeed Julie! I still have a shirt that says

"Pie > Cake" and has a picture of a pie. Nobody gets the reference. But I wear it on pie day (March 12th).

And yep, Colin is right. I am super screwed for the Dyslexic Zombie Apocalypse... it's just not going to be pretty.

I did, however, take a survey about how long I would last in the Alaskan wilderness. I lasted right up until this question -

"You run into a Polar Bear in the woods. Would you -

A) Curl into the fetal position
B) Run for your life
C) Roar back
D) Kick the bear in the groin"

I picked D. It was the wrong choice.

Anonymous said...

Well, Captain, at least you made it to Alaska. The zombies shouldn't get you for a while. The polar bears might get you, but if they are in the woods to begin with we're all kind of screwed.

DLM said...

Marc P - Johnny Cash is a hymn in himself. RIP indeed, and with the thanks of millions.

And here we have YET another occasion when Diane is slightly off to one side of everyone else's issues and questions, glad I write histfic so far back in the past this is not only a non-issue, but even finding music from 1500 yeas ago would be more difficult than worrying about its rights.

That said, I can think of one single instance in my forty-plus years of literacy in which a song made the slightest difference to me in any fiction - and that was a very old hymn (not Johnny Cash ...) which wasn't just at the top of a chapter, but which was itself a character in the novel, an instigating force, a blessing and a balm and a question and a poem. It was so perfect it means almost as much to me as "It is Well With My Soul" which we sang at my grandmother's funeral.

Geoff Ryman used excerpts from many sources in "Was" but I don't believe lyrics were among his headers. This was highly effective in a novel very much steeped in the actual history of Kansas (and L. A.), and had a lot to do with what was going on. But the first time I read it, I think I glazed-eyed those bits and the novel read just fine without it. Re-reading this past month, I thought they added a lot - but, again, not poems nor lyrics.

Everything else, every quote and epigram and header for anything I've ever read, I could have lived without and never felt a difference.

But Donald Harington, in "Enduring" - he did it right. And may he too RIP.

("Lysdexia? What's lysdexia?")

Kitty said...

bjmuntain pointed out that my idea of a contest using a lyrics might be a problem.

Okay... So how about a contest using song titles?

Unknown said...

Ha, I remember quite well the song at the beginning of the Hobbit:

Blunt the knives bend the forks...

Can't post any more of that least the JRR Tolkien estate busts Janet and demands royalties in court. Maybe Dena could represent her?

Donnaeve said...

Hank, you cheese ball you.

All I've had in my head all day is, ""If you don't eat yer meat, you can't have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat yer meat?"

And other stellar lines.

Donnaeve said...

2N's - record breaking won't be happening here via moi. We're headed to MS Thursday, so, the only record I plan on breaking is how fast we can get there. :)

Gingermollymarilyn said...

I agree with Donnaeve, lyrics add a deeper dimension to the feeling of the scene; brings the reader in even more. More personalized. In my novel, I've quoted song lyrics three or four times, but no more than one line in each case. Like MattAdams, I'll worry about it if I need to, when I come to that bridge. I've spent enough of my life already worrying about things that I needn't have.

Song lyrics are big-time pop-culture, and a part of EVERYONE's lives. Very powerful in evoking emotion, and that's my goal.

THE WALL memories - "Young Lust" some sexy song!

Lance said...

Great post and very useful. I recommend leaving the songs out of the book. Then, when you're doing the screen play, you can put them back in and have the producer or someone secure the permissions. Write your own poetry or songs. In Elvish.

AJ Blythe said...

What a fun lot of comments today =)

Personally, I never ever read the quotes at the start of a chapter. If the book is good I just want to read the book, and the quotes get in the way. I've never been sure of their purpose, but if it's to set the mood or something similar I want the writing to do that, not the quote at the start of the chapter.

I don't mind if there is a quote to start the book though (yeah, crazy I know, but you don't want to know how my mind works!).

AJ Blythe said...

Went from Janet's blog to another I read reagularly, which today has an interview with Lee Child.

Slight relevance to today's topic - he doesn't listen to any music when he writes because he needs to generate [his] own rhythms, and music disrupts that. And certainly anything with lyrics would be difficult to ignore

Anonymous said...

Totally off topic, but . . .

Sam Hawke has announced via twitter that he has signed with an agent!

Hope he doesn't mind me telling everyone over here, but apparently he's too shy to say it himself. Or it's the middle of the night over there. One of those. Good news is scarce on the ground these days and this seems like a cause for celebration.

*dusts off rusty non-existent Aussie accent* "Good on ya, mate!"

Lilly Faye said...

Kitty, not only do I remember that contest from September 2011, my human won it! Janet sent her a couple of books (Evan Mandery's First Contact, and an "Uncorrected Bound Manuscript" of Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder), both of which are excellent. However, the crown jewel in the prize package was a personal note from Janet, handwritten on a FinePrint bookmark! It's one of my most prized possessions. (Don't tell Mom I have it.) --Lilly Faye Poodle

Colin Smith said...

Congrats, Sam!! :D

The problem with a song title contest is there are so many songs, you could write anything and claim it's a song title. Now, I would trust the regulars here with more integrity than that, but still... The great thing with the book title contest was you could stack the books and take a picture. Not only did that serve to verify you weren't inventing books, but it added to the fun.

Christina Seine said...

Trying to get through this long list of comments. Man, I am going to have to start getting up very early in the morning to get here before the crowds, since we're four hours behind most of the civilized world.

This is fascinating info for me, because initially my WIP (set in 1964) utilized lyrics from a couple Beatles songs. I decided the whole copyright thing just wasn't worth the trouble after reading a much earlier blog post of the QOTKU's, and got rid of the lyrics, which changed the story in a way that I actually like a lot better. Go figure.

Also, a fire update; thank God, the fire is all but out, and evacuees have been allowed back into their homes. The losses are pretty bad, but the community is really coming together.

There is another (well, several) fires on the Kenai Peninsula a few hundred miles away, however, and I just heard that one of the firefighters down there was attacked by a bear. http://www.adn.com/article/20150623/firefighter-battling-kenai-peninsula-blaze-attacked-bear Some days, ya just can't win, but if you're lucky you at least get a mighty cool story to tell your grandkids.

Anonymous said...

Bah, sorry Christina. I hope you get fires under control soon.

Sam, you know how excited I am for you. Good job.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I hate that I missed most of the comments because of work. Dys-zombies make my schedule.

NotJana said...

Using songs to set the mood of a scene is great - if everyone reading the book actually knows the song. I'm utterly useless when it comes to music (artist/song titles or lyrics) and most references to songs, pop-culture or not, have me think 'whatever'. They certainly don't set the mood you want. Sure, I know the names of musicians/groups, current and past, but that doesn't mean I'd recognise their songs, no matter how current or how many million copies have been sold. (I do enjoy music, just have a small playlist that I listen to over and over again.)

If you are relying on songs to setting the scene, then, well, it's not going to work for me. Make sure it works without any knowledge of the songs you're refering to and you are covered!

As for lyrics/poetry longer than a line or four - they bore me. So I skim over them or skip them completely. Keep it short and snappy and it can add to the story. Keep to much and it takes away from it. There are exceptions, of course. But they are rarely quotes from someone else but poetry/song lyrics written by the character to convey their feelings. And even then it should be as short as possible... or maybe I just have a twitter-length attention span.

DLM said...


"(T)he literary equivalent of providing a long Hemingway quote at the beginning of your novel, which ultimately only serves to underscore that you are not Hemingway."

Had to share, it was a bit too perfect for this post ...

NotJana's point is well taken, too. If I don't know a song, it's lost on me, and it's not likely at all to inspire me to bother finding the song. I'll just gloss over it. And if you're depending on a soundtrack for a novel, something is wrong.

If I *don't* know a song and feel like the author is using it trying to seem cool, I'm going to get a bit alienated because I'll feel not only didn't I pass their little coolness "test" but I'll be irked they felt the need to flourish their (insert pop-cultural hipness here) cred. A writer does NOT want to alienate readers, so this would be a backfire. Also, think about whether you want your novel to reach beyond your immediate culture, or this year/this generation. Is it likely your reference point will survive beyond this year's market? Is it the sort of thing that would require footnotes for future or foreign readers, explaining what you're talking about? Does it, in short, actually help?

If someone really wants to use a song, they should examine why - and what it really adds, if anything - and whether it's likely to be comprehensible beyond a certain time, a certain place.

THIS thread is illustrating just how many people simply skip this sort of thing. If we represent a reasonable facsimile of a reading audience, let that tell you something as you contemplate including any words other than your own.

More often than not, I for one am skipping the stanzas. I've never ended up missing out on a novel's charms for lack of a didactic soundtrack transcribed in words. If the character and plot are there, (NON)musical interludes are unnecessary to tell me how to feel or how meep and deaningful a character or scene is.

Use a lyric if it's crucial.

But it's really unlikely that it is.

JEN Garrett said...

This is an interesting post. I have a related question -

I gave a pre-published author one of my poems to use in her book. No compensation, no strings attached. The poem has never been published and I don't plan on using it anywhere else. The way I see it, it was a gift of intellectual property, and I don't expect anything in return. The author says she will acknowledge me as the poet, but even if she doesn't I'm not going to press the issue - it was a gift, pure and simple.

But my question is, do I need to put this in writing for the author of the book?

JEN Garrett said...

I just thought of an example novel that uses songs effectively: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

The novel is told in verse from the POV of the author. Many of her poems invoke songs from the era, as the author indirectly quotes them. If you don't know the song, it doesn't detract from her poem. But if you do, it enriches and adds a musical (and cultural) background tone to scenes Ms. Woodson describes. Very well done, and each word has a reason for being there. I think that's the key.

Unknown said...

Wow, this certainly generated quite the discussion. And here I forgot my fancy pipe!

Adele said...

I have been told that sometimes even pre-1923 works are still under copyright. There are a few famous writers who gave their works to institutions, and the institutions (usually universities) now hold the copyright. Since institutions rarely die and the law restricts the end of copyright until 50 years after the death of the copyright holder, that copyright will never end.

My problem is that I can never quite remember who these authors are. I think J.M. Barrie is one, maybe Lewis Carroll? Who else? How would you find out?