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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, March 17, 2013

So You Want to Use Song Lyrics in Your Novel? 5 Steps to Getting Rights to Lyrics

This week the bookosphere saw something of a teapot-storm when a formerly indie author—now signed with a Big 5 publisher—got an odd notice from Amazon. It said her readers had been asked to delete their old versions of her book and get the new Big 5 version—at the author’s expense.

It sounded like some nasty author-bullying to me—until somebody on a writing forum said the first version might have used pop song lyrics without getting proper permission.

That could definitely get a publisher's panties in a bunch. Using lyrics from a song written in the past century or so can be a very expensive proposition, so most publishers won’t accept a book that quotes lyrics.

Note: I read later on the Passive Voice that there had simply been a misunderstanding and customers who bought the original book had been sent a nice "never-mind" note.

But why would it be such a big deal if the original indie book contained a few song lyrics? Isn’t there some kind of rule that you can use a couple of lines from something without worrying about copyright?

Yup. It’s called "fair use."

Thing is: fair use doesn’t apply to songs. That’s because songs can have very few lines to use—fairly or otherwise.

So be careful you don’t make a typo and have your character step on the gas gas gas, or you might have Keith and Mick’s lawyers on your doorstep asking for their cash cash cash for using a line from “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

What you CAN use without permission is a song’s title. Titles can’t be copyrighted.

That means you can say “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” but you can’t say “Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a [US term for petrol times three]", or you’re going to have to pay.

You can also use lyrics of songs that are in the public domain. Jane Friedman says you can be pretty sure something written before 1923 is OK. But some things written after that are OK, too, if the copyright wasn’t renewed. So it’s worth a check. Here are the basic rules for US copyright. A number of sites like Public Domain Review celebrate "Public Domain Day" on Jan 1 each year and give a list of new works that have come into the public domain.

But if you quote the Rolling Stones, (even if you think some of them might look as if they were born before 1923) you’re going to have to pay them.

Here’s Blake Morrison in the Guardian talking about the price of using song lyrics in his novel South of the River.

'I'd restricted myself to just a line or two from a handful of songs and vaguely hoped that was OK or that no one would notice. My editor, reasonably enough, was more cautious, and at the last minute someone from the publishing house helpfully secured the permissions on my behalf.

'I still have the invoices. For one line of "Jumpin' Jack Flash": £500. For one line of Oasis's "Wonderwall": £535. For one line of "When I'm Sixty-four": £735. For two lines of "I Shot the Sheriff" (words and music by Bob Marley, though in my head it was the Eric Clapton version): £1,000. Plus several more, of which only George Michael's "Fastlove" came in under £200. Plus VAT. Total cost: £4,401.75. A typical advance for a literary novel by a first-time author would barely meet the cost.'

Many thanks to Lexi Revellian for giving a heads-up about the Guardian article on her blog.

I totally relate to the urge to use song lyrics. My first stories relied on them heavily. My generation was all about its music, and I felt Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, and Carole King could express what my characters were feeling much better than I could.

Not that I was wrong on that. My teenaged stories were pretty bad. Luckily, I didn’t try to publish any of them. If I had, I’d have run into some big trouble.

I’m working now on a novel about Boomers set in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and I’ve solved the music problem by writing my own lyrics. I had a whole lot of fun writing a David Crosby-style folk-rock love song, “Happy Endings are Only for Fairy Tales” and a Donna Summer-style disco song, “City Girls” and a druggy hair-rock anthem, “Bored as Hell.”

I can’t tell you how much it pleased me when my editor told me I’d have to get permission to use them.

But what if you’re telling a story that absolutely requires the use of real lyrics? Say a book set at Woodstock?

Michael Murphy faced that when he wrote Goodbye Emily, his Boomer Lit novel about three sixty-something Boomers returning to Woodstock to revisit their experiences at the iconic rock concert. (Isn't that the perfect cover for a return-to-Woodstock story?)

He says he found some lyrics aren’t as expensive as the ones Blake Morrison mentioned, and it isn't that hard to get permission. Lyricists are our fellow writers and they deserve to get paid too. (And don’t forget you need permission to use recorded music in your book trailer—even if the music is in the public domain—because musicians deserve to be paid as well.)

You just have to know how to do it.

So here’s how:

Five Steps to Obtain Song Lyric Rightsby Michael Murphy

Music was important to the story of my recently released return-to -Woodstock novel, Goodbye Emily. I would not have been able to express what I wanted to in the novel without using certain song lyrics. Lyrics can enhance a novel, but as an author you need to determine whether you’re willing to pay a price to reprint another person’s work

I’d obtained permission twice before in my earlier novels, Try and Catch the Wind and Ramblin’ Man, so I knew how to get started. If you’ve not made your way through this process, obtaining lyric reprint rights might sound like a daunting task. It doesn’t have to be. Here are five steps that should simplify the process.

Step 1. Confirm your song title. The rights to song lyrics are usually owned by the song’s publisher. To identify and locate the publisher you’ll need the actual title, the writer, and the recording artist.

Step 2. Locate the publisher. If you’re not certain of the publisher, there are two general sources where the information can be obtained ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

If ASCAP doesn’t have the rights, BMI, Broadcast Music Inc, should.

ASCAP and BMI have searchable databases where you can obtain the name of the publisher by entering the title and artist.

Step 3.  Contact the publisher. Most publishers have websites including information on how to contact them when you’re seeking permission to use the song lyric. This is usually through direct email or an online form.

Step 4. Provide additional information. Once the publisher replies, they will ask several questions such as how many books will be printed or sold, the name of the novel, author, publisher and where the territory where the book will be sold. You may even be asked to provide copies of pages where the lyric will appear.

Step 5. Decide if you can afford it. Once the publisher considers the information, they will quote you a price. If the amount is within your budget and you pay the amount, they will send a letter/document confirming they are granting you permission to use the song lyric. I found the cost to use song lyrics in Goodbye Emily to be reasonable.

If you’re planning to use music for a book trailer, or your website, you must obtain what’s called synchronization rights which may be owned by the publisher or a different publisher. A separate but similar process is followed to obtain synchronization rights. The cost is often on an annual basis.

I hope these five steps have been helpful. Using song lyrics in a novel is an author’s artistic decision, but the process is not as complicated or expensive as many authors believe.

Goodbye Emily is Michael Murphy's eighth novel. A full time author and part time urban chicken rancher, Michael lives in Arizona with his wife of forty years, two cats, four dogs and five chickens who produce a steady supply of cholesterol. Read more about his novels and Woodstock at his website. (And his endorsements from both Wavy Gravy and Country Joe McDonald.)

What about you, scriveners? Have you used lyrics in your fiction or memoir? Did you know you had to get permission to quote even a few words? Have you ever written fake lyrics the way I did? 


I’m adding here a comment we got from historical novelist Sarah Sundin  that answers some of the questions we’ve been getting in the comments. The price of the permission varies by how much you’re expected to make from the book. If your book sells more than expected, you’ll be hit with one of those bills like the one Blake Morrison quotes.

If you hit the jackpot the way Sarah did, you have to renegotiate, which is why many traditional publishers have a total ban on using lyrics (unless you write them yourself.)

Here’s Sarah: ”I used copyrighted song lyrics in my first two WWII novels. While I found the permission process relatively easy and not terribly expensive ($75-$100), I encountered problems later.

First of all, my permission agreement specified a certain number of copies. When I found out my novel had gone into a second printing (yay!) and had exceeded that amount, I had to re-contact the publishers (and some had changed), obtain new permissions, and pay new fees. One of the song publishers wrote me a snippy email saying I had to obtain permission from THEM before my book publisher printed more copies. As if they'd told me beforehand!

Second, I almost lost out on some excellent opportunities. When my publisher went into negotiations for large-print, book club, and foreign language editions, the publishers balked when they saw the lyrics. At that point, they would take over responsibility, have to obtain more permissions, and pay the fees. We pacified them by removing the lyrics and editing around them.

Moral: I will NEVER use copyrighted lyrics in a novel again.”

Thanks so much, Sarah, for the additional information!

UPDATE #2 (March 2015)

If you REALLY need those lyrics, attorney Helen Sedwick has some great information on Joel Friedlander's blog telling how to find the song's publisher. There's even a template for a letter to write to ask the publisher for permission to use lyrics. How to Use Lyrics Without Paying a Fortune for a Lawyer.

UPDATE #3 (October 2015)

Author David Hewson has a chilling report on his experience trying to get lyrics for his book. In his Medium piece Never Quote a Rock Lyric in your Book Unless You're Rich, he says three words from the Rolling Stones would have cost him over 1000 pounds. Read the whole post it's enlightening.

His advice: "If you really must have epigraphs in your book here’s a tip: unless you really don’t care about the money pick dead people out of copyright. Makes life a lot easier.

Or actually… just ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this at all?’ Will the book be improved by their omission? Is there really someone out there who’s going to read it and think, ‘You know if only this guy had stuck in a couple of lines from the Peter Gabriel era Genesis this thing would have been so much better?’

Second tip: the answer’s no. 


1) Inspirational anthology accepting submissions: A "Chicken Soup for the Soul" author is looking for heartwarming inspirational nonfiction pieces. Do You Have a Story on Staying Sane in the Chaotic 24/7 World? If you have a great story and would like to be considered for the anthology, 30 Days to Sanity, Send submissions to: 30 Days to Sanity at Box 31453, Santa Fe, NM 87594-1453. Or e-mail stories to stephanie@30daystosanity.com The maximum word count is 1200 words. For each story selected for the program a permission fee of $100 will be offered for one-time rights. There are no limits on the number of submissions. Deadline is May 1, 2013.

2) POISONED PEN DISCOVER MYSTERY CONTEST Enter your mystery manuscript of 60,000-90,000 words in an effort to win a $1,000 prize, the Discover Mystery title, and a publishing contract from Poisoned Pen Press. Open to all authors writing original works in English for adult readers who reside in the United States and Canada. $20 entry fee. Well worth it. Poisoned Pen is a widely respected small press. Deadline March 30, 2013.

3) Cash prizes for flash fiction. The San Luis Obispo NIGHTWRITERS are holding their annual 500-word story contest. Anybody from anywhere in the world is welcome to enter. Prizes are $200, $150 and $75. This is a fantastic organization that boasts a number of bestselling authors among their members, including Jay Asher, Jeff Carlson, and moi. (Well, some sell better than others :-) ) Deadline is March 31st.

4) Ploughshares Emerging Writers Contest. The prestigious literary journal Ploughshares runs a number of contests during the year. Winning or placing looks really good in a query. Plus there's a cash prize of $1000 in each category. This one is limited to writers who have not yet published. They're looking for poems and literary stories of up to 6000 words. Deadline is April 2.

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Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Think I'll just play it safe and not use any lyrics at all!

March 17, 2013 at 9:50 AM  
Blogger David Jón Fuller said...

This is such a helpful post! I ran into all these issues and fumbled around the hard way when seeking rights quote from lyrics in my WIP some years ago -- I found the variety of rights holders and agencies I had to go through bewildering, and when I eventually got to the people in a position to grant permissions for the various song lyrics, they had the questions you mentioned above -- print run, publication, and so forth. COnsidering my work had not been accepted for publication yet, I had no answer for these questions! (I was trying to nail down permissions before submitting the work.)
I decided, as painful as it was, to strip out all the quoted lyrics and replace the references in my own words, not relying on the lyrics but on what the songs meant to the characters in the story or to the atmosphere I was trying to create. It still hurt to not have the quotes (to me), but I had to admit the story was now stronger.
I may still try to get a song lyric or two into the MS, but it's going to have to really boost the scene/story before I do it.

March 17, 2013 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger Anne Gallagher said...

Thanks for the info, Michael. This is great stuff. Makes a daunting task seemingly less so. Best of luck with Good-bye Emily. Sounds like a great book and I'm adding it to my TBR pile. Us baby-boomers have to stick together.

And kudo's to you Anne for making up your own lyrics. You'll have to make an audio version of the book just so we can hear you sing. lol

I have referenced a character once listening to the juke box "bopping her head like an Egyptian". Other than that, I just use artist's names and their song titles.
I think it's eaier for me that way.

March 17, 2013 at 10:27 AM  
Blogger fOIS In The City said...

Three of my books are set in the sixties and the temptation to use lyrics was hard to resist. But resist I have. I use song or book titles or refer to artists.

This is very helpful should the time come that I decide to change focus and want lyrics instead. Thanks Anne, to you and your guest Michael Murphy. And a Happy Saint Pat's to you both :)

March 17, 2013 at 11:25 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Comment from Mark Williams, who is blocked by Blogger today :-( He has some important caveats--

Very useful post, Anne.

I suspect the difference in charges for Blake Morrison and Michael Murphy reflect the anticipated reach / sales of the authors. Savvy rights-holders will realise an indie author might be deterred by exorbitant costs, whereas an established professional like Morrison, or a major publisher, will have resources to spare.

And of course using an entire song, for a trailer, or within an enhanced ebook, will cost a whole lot more whoever is doing it.
It would be advisable to pay careful attention to the wording of an agreement. Does it only cover the number of sales you predicted? Can the rights holder come asking for more when your book makes the NYT Best-Seller list? Are the rights time-limited? Or limited to a particular format? Or to a particular country?

Writing your own lyrics is not only a great idea, but could be further enhanced with music for the audio book. And it’s always possible they might be picked up down the road by an artist or studio who feel they have commercial appeal as a bona fide recording in their own right. It could be the start of a new and lucrative career as a song-writer.

March 17, 2013 at 11:47 AM  
Blogger Michael Murphy said...

It only seems complicated. Hope the five steps make it easy to decide whether the cost is worth it.

March 17, 2013 at 11:51 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alex--That's what I've always done in the past, but it's nice to hear a "yes you can" instead of the constant "don't go there."

David--It has always seemed like an impenetrable maze to me and I know what you mean about the pain of stripping the lyrics. Mark makes some important points in his comment above. If you hit the NYT bestseller list, you might have to pay more. But that's kind of a good problem to have, right?

Anne--I've got Goodbye Emily on my TBR list, too. I met Michael in a Boomer Lit group on Goodreads. They also have FB page. https://www.facebook.com/BoomerLit?fref=ts

Fois--As I said, music is of such major importance to our generation, it sure is hard to give up those lyrics. Happy St. Patrick's Day to you too. I figured it was only fitting to host somebody named Murphy.

Mark--Thanks so much for the clarification. I couldn't figure out why the lyrics Blake chose were so much more than the ones Michael used. Now I get it.

LOL having an audio version of the book. I might have to find somebody to write the music for me.

March 17, 2013 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger Sandy Nachlinger said...

GREAT post! I've bookmarked it for future reference.

March 17, 2013 at 12:14 PM  
OpenID lalammar.net said...

Great post! Good for future reference!

March 17, 2013 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger Connie Barrett said...

Very enlightening post. I am writing a dystopian novel in which the temptation to hearken to the past with lyrics is strong. I had already, though, adopted your solution of writing my own songs, which is great fun and a wonderful cure for writer's block.

March 17, 2013 at 1:11 PM  
Blogger Emily Cross said...

I originally entitled my current WIP after a MUSE song. I loved the juxtaposition of "Dark Shines" and it tied in nicely with my plot. But I suppose I realise now that should it get published it would make a google search v difficult! So now back to the drawing board.

Excellent article - thank you for your advice :)

March 17, 2013 at 1:40 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sandy and Layla--Thanks much

Connie--sometimes a lyric can conjure up a time and place better than anything. It's so hard not to use them. But I'm glad you've found you can make up your own, too. Isn't it fun?

Emily--I was just thinking about you! I remember how you pointed out it's not "St. Patty's Day" But "St. Paddy's Day." Patty is a girl's name . Paddy is the nickname for the Gaelic form of Patrick, which of course I can't remember right now. I was planning to check out your blog today for some good Irish lore. On my way there right now.

March 17, 2013 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger Emily Cross said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog Anne.

Paddy comes from Irish name for Patrick "Padraig" while Patty is short for Patricia :)

Paddynotpatty.com is the website which goes into more detail lol.

March 17, 2013 at 2:05 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Just curious—the quotes from the Guardian article make it sound like the author paid a one-time flat fee. Is that correct? That is, as opposed to having to pay the song owner any continuing royalties. Or does this vary, depending on your individual agreement?

March 17, 2013 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger Kim (YA Asylum) said...

This is an extremely helpful post, so thank you so much! I've been wondering a lot about this subject. I figured that it was like this -- that you couldn't use song lyrics without permission and paying the song writers since they're writers, after all, and that's their job. I wasn't sure, though, so this is great timing.

March 17, 2013 at 2:51 PM  
OpenID paulfahey said...

Very good post. I think most of us don't always know about the use of song lyrics but it's very helpful to have these guidelines. With my publisher it's a no-no so I work around it by referencing the title to the times or the mood of a character.

March 17, 2013 at 3:06 PM  
Blogger Deborah Jay said...

Could be very useful, thanks.
I've used a song title, and then had my characters paraphrase some of the lyrics. I hope that's going to get around it - no direct quote of any of the original words though its clear which song it is.
If anyone can tell me if that's safe, I'd be grateful :)

March 17, 2013 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger Rosi said...

I love that you wrote your own lyrics. Great way to solve the problem. Thanks for this very useful post. I will be linking it on my blog.

March 17, 2013 at 4:28 PM  
Blogger BECKY said...

Wow, what an amazing and full of fabulous information blog! Thanks so much, Anne!

March 17, 2013 at 4:29 PM  
Blogger Leanne Dyck said...

Wow, thank you for this article. Just to clarify, do you have to buy rights if you use a few words from a song?

March 17, 2013 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Susan Tuttle said...

I do what you did, Anne. Whenever I need lyrics for my stories I write my own. And I write my own music for them, too (even though I don't play an instrument, which is a story in itself!), so there won't be any problem with music for my book trailers. Helps to have a son who can translate my chicken scratches into actual music.

I suppose I could get upset at the prices charged for existing music, but heck -- it just makes me be more creative, right? And now I've got about 14 really cool songs, in case I ever want to do a CD of them. Multitasking in the writing business. It's a wonderful thing...

March 17, 2013 at 5:41 PM  
Blogger Sandy Nathan said...

Very informative article, Anne. I've written song lyrics to use in my writing, too. Country western in one case. VERY, VERY fun. Plus as the author, you can make the song say whateveer you want. Manufacturing some types of fake quotes are more daunting, though. A character in one WIP is a literature professor and poet supposedly in line for a Pulitzer. Writing poetry that seems plausible Pulitzer material in any way is VERY hard.

March 17, 2013 at 5:52 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Elizabeth--Yes, as I understand it, there's a flat fee. It's based on how big an audience you're expected to have. Like a 99-seat theatre vs. a big hall. I don't think they can come back and ask for more if you hit the bestseller list, but I may be wrong there. Maybe Michael will drop in and let us know.

Kim--Glad we could help. I think an awful lot of new writers are confronted with this problem.

Paul--I think most trad publishers--especially the smaller ones--just don't want the hassle. I'm sure that's why the author mentioned on the Passive Voice ran into the problems.

Deborah--as I understand it, using the title and paraphrasing the lyric is OK.

Rosi--Thanks a bunch for the link.

Becky--I think all writers run into this problem, so I was so glad when Michael pitched this to me.

Leanne--Yes, even a few words need permission. If the work isn't in the public domain.

Susan--Hey, maybe we should collaborate on a CD--"heavy metal songs from Boomer authors." Sounds like you had some fun!

Sandy--You have to be on our album too. I think we're onto something here... But Pulitzer prize winning poetry--I haven't tried that yet. Although I think I might for my next...I might turn to you for some help.

March 17, 2013 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger Anne OConnell said...

Awesome post Anne! So much valuable information. I just published my first novel and my main character does a lot of singing in the car (just like me) but I think I have only referred to song titles, like Born to be Wild and I Love Rock 'n Roll... gotta go check now!

March 17, 2013 at 8:39 PM  
Blogger Fiona Ingram said...

Thank you for such a useful article. I am considering a YA novel where the main character's name is the title of a Beatles' song: Eleanor Rigby. If I use that name and mention how annoyed she is because people always comment, do I still have to pay copyright? Or does it only count when you actually quote lines from the lyrics? Any advice very welcome.

March 18, 2013 at 12:29 AM  
Blogger Charley Robson said...

Fantastic post, Anne! Massive kudos for writing your own lyrics too - I think that's the approach I'd take, though I reckon my skill wouldn't be terribly high on the list. P'raps I'd best make avoiding lyrics a priority xD

March 18, 2013 at 1:39 AM  
Blogger Claude Nougat said...

Anne and Michael, thanks for the info! Being a lazy bum, I mean a lazy boomer, I think I shall pass up and make sure I put no song lyrics in my books! I'm lucky my boomer novel, A Hook in the Sky, has little to do with music and everything to do with painting (so I put my own paintings in it, LOL!)

And congrats Anne for inventing your song lyrics to the point that your editor fell for them and wanted to ask for permission. That's a real compliment! Maybe you should consider putting them into music and come out with Anne R. First Song Album?

March 18, 2013 at 2:56 AM  
Blogger Marcus Trower said...

Great blog, and it's good to get the perspective of someone, in this case Michael Murphy, who's actually gone through the process of obtaining permission and can talk about the practicalities.
As an editor, I've had to warn writers about the copyright issues inherent in the use of song lyrics in their novels on a fair few occasions and have invoked that Blake Morrison article a few times. Though I of course accept that lyrics are protected by copyright and authors have to obtain permission before using them, I do struggle with the idea that quoting song lyrics in a novel, and thereby publicizing the songs they form a part of and the musicians who wrote them, should be seen as anything other than great advertising for those songs and musicians, which is something musicians might want to encourage. Am I missing something here? Maybe I am, but it's not as if the songs themselves are being played without permission. Not that bands like the Rolling Stones need the publicity, obviously, but some smaller ones might welcome it.

I wonder what the position is when musicians sing chunks of written works in their music.

Great idea about making up your own song lyrics, by the way. I'd never thought of that.

As you say, authors can evoke a mood by using song titles, without quoting actual lyrics. Someone who does that very well is Ian Rankin, the well-known Scottish crime writer.

March 18, 2013 at 4:34 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

I used song lyrics from old English/Irish ballads that were published in a five volume set. I did get permission to use them even though they were in the public domain for my book, PLEASE TO SEE THE KING. For my current YA contemporary novel, HOW TO BE ALMOST FAMOUS IN TEN DAYS I used my own song lyrics and song titles only.
Thanks for the steps. I'm bookmarking it too!

March 18, 2013 at 5:12 AM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

In one of my novels (unpublished) I use lyrics but not the exact lyrics. I mix a few words with my words in a way that it is obvious to anyone who knows the song that I am referring to that song. I have no idea if I could get away with that. If I ever decide to pull it out of my "drawer" I guess I'll have to reevaluate. Thanks for the useful information.

March 18, 2013 at 8:43 AM  
Blogger Chana Keefer said...

Thank you so much for this article. My soon-to-be-released novel has tons of original lyrics and titles but there are a couple songs I REALLY want to use lines from--namely, "When I'm 64" & Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle." Now that I've read this, I'm thinking I'll switch to just song titles.

Wonderful and informative article!


March 18, 2013 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

This is a great site! I'm following you, now (and subscribing!) I came to your blog via Rosi Hollinbeck's blog. Thanks for the good information here!

March 18, 2013 at 9:06 AM  
Blogger Roger Bruner said...

I've written over 200 Christian songs over the years--nothing that's ever been published, but many of them are thought-provoking. Because of the very problem of getting permission to use song lyrics, I use my blog, AsIComeSinging.wordpress.com, to provide lyrics for use free to anyone who cares to use them. On the Listen tab of my website, I even provide free PDF lead sheets for some of them. So if your work needs a Christian song, please feel free to check these resources. All I ask in return is proper credit.

March 18, 2013 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Anne—It sounds as if you’re OK, as long as you’re using the actual titles. Some songs have a different title from the “hook.” Like Dylan’s song people think is called “Everybody Must get Stoned” is actually titled “Rainy Day Woman #12 & #35” (I hope I don’t get in trouble for that. The lyrics are all over the Interwebz, so I don’t think they monitor blogs the way they do books.)

Fiona—Since the name is the title, I don’t think you’re in trouble. Sounds like a fun book. I've just read that "Eleanor" and "Margaret" are coming back in vogue.

I’ve always wondered if the restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday’s ever paid the Rolling Stones for the use of their character name. Don’t know the answer, I’m afraid. But now that it is a restaurant chain name, it would be hard for the Stones to charge an author for naming a character that.

Charley—You’d be amazed what comes to you when you get the music going in your head. Writing lyrics is great fun.

Claude—People are suggesting a CD in the comments. LOL. Maybe all of us here who are writing our own lyrics can get together and do a recording!

Marcus—You bring up a great point. As Neil Young says “Piracy is how music gets around these days” –so why should print media be excluded. I’d LOVE it somebody quoted me in a book—as long as they spelled my name right. And I’d like it even more if some band wanted to sing them and promote my book. So why wouldn’t a lyricist like to be promoted that way too? Ian Rankin uses titles to great effect. That’s why I’m emphasizing that titles can’t be copyrighted so you’re free to use them.

Kathleen—It sounds as if you got good advice before you published. Certain versions of traditional folk songs can be copyrighted, so it’s good to check.

Christine—You could be on a slippery slope, so if you can change those passages, it might be a good idea. If you say—“You know that song where Dylan says everybody should get high?” it’s fine. But if you say “You know how Bob Dylan says ‘everybody must get stoned’—you could be facing a hefty bill.

Chana—Isn’t it fun to do some song writing? But I’d definitely only use titles of the Beatles and Jim Croce songs. They’re two of the most quoted songs in our culture, so most people will know the lyrics anyway.

Elizabeth—Welcome. Thanks to both you and Rosi!

March 18, 2013 at 9:38 AM  
Blogger Sarah Sundin said...

Excellent article! I used copyrighted song lyrics in my first two WWII novels. While I found the permission process relatively easy and not terribly expensive ($75-$100), I encountered problems later.

First of all, my permission agreement specified a certain number of copies. When I found out my novel had gone into a second printing (yay!) and had exceeded that amount, I had to re-contact the publishers (and some had changed), obtain new permissions, and pay new fees. One of the song publishers wrote me a snippy email saying I had to obtain permission from THEM before my book publisher printed more copies. As if they'd told me beforehand!

Second, I almost lost out on some excellent opportunities. When my publisher went into negotiations for large-print, book club, and foreign language editions, the publishers balked when they saw the lyrics. At that point, they would take over responisibility, have to obtain more permissions, and pay the fees. We pacified them by removing the lyrics and editing around them.

Moral: I will NEVER use copyrighted lyrics in a novel again.

March 18, 2013 at 9:52 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Roger and Sarah-Thank you both for really valuable comments.

Roger--Thanks for the offer of your lyrics under "Creative Commons" rules. I do think that's a forward-looking way to approach things. Creative Commons is used a lot on the Web these days. You can quote anything as long as you give attribution. Quotes from this blog are also available for use under the "Creative Commons" rule.

Sarah--You'll see I thought your comment was important enough to put it in the main body of the post. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Congrats on your great sales!

March 18, 2013 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Tasha Turner said...

What a fantastic and important post. Not that long ago we saw an issue with copyright and photos. Now song lyrics. It's really important as an author to understand what work of someone else's you can use and that you frequently need to get permission. Sometimes it can be surprising how easy getting the permission is. Other times you may have to do rewrites/major changes.

March 18, 2013 at 1:19 PM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...

Good post.

Fortunately, for one of my published short stories, all I used was the titles to three songs (one modern, two 17th century) plus description to the two 17th century songs and no lyrics.

I do have a slush novel that features the MC singing snippets to the song "Take Me Home, Country Roads", and if/when I decide to do something with it, I'll eliminate the lyrics and keep the title.

March 18, 2013 at 3:36 PM  
Blogger Sarah Sundin said...

Anne - I'm honored that my comment got "promoted" to the main post :) Thanks for spreading the truth about an important subject.

March 18, 2013 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Cathryn Leigh said...

Gald to know this now and not later. he he. Thanks for the informative post.

Writing songs is hard, but since most of my books are in other worlds, I do have to write the songs. Though I have a protagonist from ours, I'll have to contain her, since she's continually trying to figure out whats going on by putting it into terms she can relate to.

Still, I have managed to write two songs - one for a book in process, another for an idea that may become a book someday. :}

March 19, 2013 at 6:53 AM  
Blogger Deborah J said...

Thank you for this excellent post. I've warned my editing clients and critique group writers for years not to implement lyrics in their work. Now, when they ask why not, I can direct them to this piece.

March 19, 2013 at 8:48 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Tasha--In these days when we can find anything free on the Interwebz, it's kind of shocking to some people to find out song lyrics are stuck in a pre-digital era. But as you say, sometimes the permission is pretty easy to get.

GB--17th century songs would definitely be safe. I quoted some old Robin Hood ballads in "Sherwood Ltd," and I'm pretty sure no ancient bard is going to send his lawyer from the Other Side to collect royalties. But John Denver--nope. I'm sure his heirs want serious money for those lyrics.

Sarah--Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

Cathryn--Sooner rather than later is good. Much easier to write your own than get permission.

Deborah--Thanks. And thanks for the Tweet. I've been telling people this for a while too, but Blake Morrison's numbers speak louder than any words, don't they?

March 19, 2013 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger Eileen Obser said...

Anne -
What an informative and timely post this is for me. I'm just going through the list of songs I use in my soon to be published memoir, set in the late 1950s, and am dreading the hassle of getting permissions.

March 19, 2013 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger Eileen Obser said...

My book is called "Only You" -- as sung by the Platters. I had such trouble trying to use lyrics without paying a great deal of money that I dropped all the lyrics and paraphrased in one scene, through the mouth of a drunk party-goer. I have permission, in writing, to use the title.
All my chapters have song titles and, question: in "You Belong to Me" I have my character, in one dramatic scene, hearing the song in the distance, "Youuuuu belong to meeeeee." Okay to use the title like this, do you think? I do that in another place, as well.
Thanks to you, Anne, and to all the writers commenting. Good luck with our lyrics, real or invented!

March 19, 2013 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger JeriWB said...

I had considered using lyrics from a Doors song in one of my short stories, but decided it really wasn't worth the time or the effort. However, it's great to see posts like this that shed light on the issue.

March 19, 2013 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Eileen--Title are always OK, because you can't copyright them, so whether the character is singing or slurring or whatever and it's just the title, it should be fine. Anything else is probably going to cost you.

Jeri--The Doors catalog is owned by one of the big companies, as I remember, and they're fierce about collecting their royalties. Too bad. Morrison's lyrics are especially good for evoking an era. Better to paraphrase or make up your own.

March 20, 2013 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Here's a comment from Bob Sojka that Blogger wouldn't let through. No idea why. Thanks for emailing it to me, Bob!

"Great post about song lyrics and I will share it with writer friends. You note that paraphrasing is OK and even "slurring" titles to mimic the sound of the melody. What about having a character (like a drunk or whatever) singing a parody of the lyrics. This might capture the rhythm, rhyming scheme and thematic aspect of the lyric lines, and maybe have a "few" of the words interspersed here and there, but with meanings intentionally twisted to produce the sarcasm or whatever the character is doing. Is that included in the blanket OK statement about paraphrasing? Does it bring up other possible legal issues aside from the simple fair
use aspect?"

My answer to Bob is this--"Parody has a separate set of rules. You're allowed to parody something without getting permission. So writing a funny version of "You Light Up My Life" as "You %&*! Up My Life" would be fine. Just keep it broad enough that nobody will think you're doing anything but making fun of the original.

As I understand it. I'm not pretending to be a lawyer.

March 21, 2013 at 11:19 AM  
Blogger Jane George said...

Thank you!

I thought I'd researched this, but the previous info I had was incorrect.

Of course, one could take my sister's view that anything that can get stuck in one's head should be free of copyright and that in fact we should be able to sue for damages. There would be nothing left of the Carpenters' estate.

March 21, 2013 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jane--LOL. I agree. I think Disney should have to pay damages any time anybody plays "It's a Small World" --the worst earworm of all time. The Carpenters catalogue provides a whole lot of contenders, too...

March 21, 2013 at 2:51 PM  
Blogger Charles Fudgemuffin said...

I had this dilemma when writing How To Save The World: Part 2A - Be Careful What You Wish For*, but in the end I decided to delete the lyrics as I didn't want any legal problems.

I made a joke of it by having my characters laughing at the deleted scene and commenting that the music company had missed out on an excellent promotional opportunity for their song by not moving with the times and updating their policies to take account of the limited budgets of self-published authors.

Anyway, copyright issues with song lyrics is a subject that needs more publicity so I've retweeted a link to this post.

* The first book in the How To Save The World trilogy is free until Sunday, 24th March 2013 from amazon. Search 'Fudgemuffin' in the amazon search engine.

March 23, 2013 at 2:28 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Charles--That's awfully clever--breaking the "fourth wall" and letting the reader in on what's happening with the lyrics. (And I agree with them--it's soooo last century.) Thanks for the RT, and I'm going to check out your book--you sound like a funny guy.

March 23, 2013 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger ashiq hussain said...

What a fantastic and important post. Not that long ago we saw an issue with copyright and photos. Now song lyrics. It's really important as an author to understand what work of someone else's you can use and that you frequently need to get permission. Sometimes it can be surprising how easy getting the permission is. Other times you may have to do rewrites/major changes. http://www.lyrics99.com

March 25, 2013 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger Lynne M-S said...

What a relief that song Titles are permissible - I have a short story written as a challenge to include within the narrative as many song titles as possible.
Now, I know I can go ahead and include it in my collection. Thanks for the useful information

March 30, 2013 at 9:13 PM  
Blogger carrie a cunningham said...

Very good information, but discouraging. I am writing an d have one of Journey's songs very important to the theme of the whole book. I guess I will be needing to be inspired to write my own lyrics. I imagine that the fee to use the song would be more than I would ever be offered as a first time writer..If I get that lucky..

July 5, 2013 at 11:54 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

ashiq--Yes. What we need to do is remember our fellow artists need to get paid too, so it's always best to ask their permission.

Lynne--A story using as many song titles as possible! That sounds like a fun challenge. Good that it's legal, isn' it?

Carrie--When I was working as an editor, I'd say at least 2/3 of my client's books had lyrics in them. It's very common in new writers. I always told them to cut lyrics completely, but as Michael says here, you can use a few if you pay for them. But a whole Journey song would probably be way too expensive. Besides, writing lyrics can be a lot of fun!

July 6, 2013 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger Bernie said...

Hi - really helpful article thank you - Is it ok to name a song title? e.g 'Elton John's two low for Zero begins to play, he sways to the music...'

Does this need permission?

hope you have time to repy
Thank you

July 23, 2013 at 5:24 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Bernie--Song titles are fine. As I said above: "What you CAN use without permission is a song’s title. Titles can’t be copyrighted."

That's true of any kind of title. If you want to call your story "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" that's fine. You can even call it "Moby Dick" or "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", but readers might get annoyed. :-)

July 23, 2013 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger Bernie said...

Thank you
much appreciated - enjoying your blog just found you

July 24, 2013 at 4:17 AM  
Blogger Alice said...

This info is great but what if the lyrics are centuries old?
Looks like permission isn't needed. My question is: If a group of people are singing, what punctuation is used for the lyrics?

August 12, 2013 at 10:16 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alice--As I say above, quoting Jane Friedman--anything written before 1923 is in the public domain, which means it's OK to use. "Public domain" means the copyright has expired and you can use the material freely and don't need anybody's permission.

If you want to show the whole song in your text, punctuate it like a poem. If you want to show someone singing one line, punctuate it like a conversation.

August 13, 2013 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger Bryce said...

"Thing is: fair use doesn’t apply to songs. That’s because songs can have very few lines to use—fairly or otherwise."

While I agree with the conclusion (don't use lyrics without buying the rights to them), you're dispensing legal advice that I suspect is not correct. My non-lawyer understanding: fair use does apply to copyrighted lyrics. You can certainly quote them in the context of critiquing the song, or for materials for a poetry class.

What makes "fair use" a tough sell in the context of a novel is that fair use provides the strongest defense when the reproduction of the lyrics is used to educate, or to talk about the song itself. When you're using it in a novel, the quote is just decorative.

That doesn't necessarily mean that a fair use argument cannot be made. It's a four part test. But by the time you're making the argument, you're already someplace you didn't want to be: in court. What you're really buying when you buy the rights is the certainty that you won't get sued.

If someone can cite some case law where the song's owner sued and won in court, I'd be interested in a link. I've gone looking for such examples, but my google-fu failed me. Most cases never get to litigation; they get resolved by the author either changing the book or buying the rights.

August 13, 2013 at 5:42 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Bryce--You're absolutely right that I'm not a lawyer. I do know authors who have been presented with bills by lyricists, and I know that when the authors hired lawyers, they were advised to pay.

I also know many small business owners who have been sued by ASCAP for simply playing the radio in their workrooms without paying royalties to the conglomerates who own the music (usually not the artists.)

But If you want to go up against the music-industrial complex and the legal teams of the Rolling Stones, ASCAP, and/or the Jackson family, please do. It should make great theater and you just might make a name for yourself!

August 13, 2013 at 6:40 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for this conversation. My issue is using song lyrics in a play script--are the rules the same as for novels? A script may be performed in a workshop form several times and submitted to theatres before it is ever technically "published." My understanding is that it's up to the performing theatre to secure the permissions if the song or music is part of the actual performance. But does the playwright also have a responsibility too? Thanks!

October 6, 2013 at 11:48 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Unknown--The law for theatrical productions is a bit different. Workshops can use copyrighted material with no problem. But when you charge money, you're in a different position. You always have to secure permission to perform music when you charge admission. I think the law would be the same for lyrics as it is for the score. As a former theater director, I can say most boards won't take on a play with iffy permission problems, so I'd strongly suggest you only use lyrics you've written yourself. It can be fun to write lyrics in the style of famous songwriters. I'll bet you'll have fun with it.

October 6, 2013 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger Vonjazz said...

This is one of the biggest mysteries in the world of writers and artists. It seems that the music world - saved by Apple - and pirated almost out of existence due to their own greed, by teenagers, is looking for revenge? I was charged $100 for quoting three lines of a 60's song and then limited to 1000 copies. Imagine. When I suggested that this was a form of free advertising and perhaps they should be paying me, there was stunned silence.

It is only because they have highly paid lawyers who threaten to tie one up in court for months, or years that they get away with this extortion. Imagine my quoting four lines of Churchill or Warren Buffett, giving him full credit and then being asked to pay him? It's is ridiculous. Only the music industry gets away with this: it is no wonder people hate them.

When I ask why this is so, I am given a few reasons, one of which is that the song was "written to be performed". I don't quite get it, but talking about performance, do you know that a restaurant can pay around $30 a month and use a constant stream of music to attract customers, but my quoting three lines of a song demands three times that payment, without any reasonable proof that this one song has done anything to sell my novel.

I think it is about time publishers stood up to the music industry - this is utter nonsense that a writer writing a book about a DJ in the sixties, cannot be given unlimited permission to quote whatever he wants - how on earth does quoting a song in any way detract from the income of a songwriter. If anything it adds to it - writers should be quoting songs and sending the songwriters an invoice - it's as simple as that.

Michael Klerck

November 2, 2013 at 4:33 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

I hear you, Michael. Something's really off here. The estate of Michael Jackson owns a lot of lyrics, including a lot of the Beatles catalogue. Tons of lesser known artists had their lyrics bought up in the same way. These corporate morons may think they're milking the Big 5's deep pockets, but what they're really doing is condemning the artists to become jingle writers for car commercials in perpetuity, and never to be taken seriously as the artists they were. Independent artists who imitate this kind of behavior are digging their own cultural graves.

November 2, 2013 at 10:14 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wow. This is amazing info. Sad and discouraging but so helpful. Thank you for all the posts and comments. I was going to persist even though my editor at FSG said it was a soul sucking process. But after readingthis post, I will write around them.

December 5, 2013 at 4:16 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Unknown--It IS possible, but definitely if you can find a way around it, life will be easier. Glad the post helped!

December 5, 2013 at 4:23 PM  
Blogger Tina Nelson said...

Very informative indeed. Now I was wondering, I am a new writer, and I don't want to use lyrics at all, I just want to set the mood by the saying the title (which now I know is not copyrighted) but then also by who.
Can I do that? Like Runaway Train by ...band...?
I have done some research about this, but your blog is really the only informative page. It's just I don't want to quote lyrics, just setting the mood.
If anyone knows about this, then I would greatly appreciate an answer. Thank you, and I hope y'all have a wonderful day

December 8, 2013 at 2:57 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Tina--Absolutely, you can say "We danced to the Rolling Stones' 'Satisfaction'." or "Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five' played in the background as we dined..." or "She played Justin Beiber's 'Baby' over and over until I wanted to strangle her," or whatever. The artists should be pleased, after all it's a kind of "product placement" for them. :-)

December 8, 2013 at 9:18 AM  
Blogger Tina Nelson said...

Very awesome, I kind of thought I could (I mean it's free promotion for the artist) It was just a lot of my beta readers have told me, that by mentioning the song, it would make the scene. Then someone else told me, hold up, you can't do that. lol But, I am glad I can. Thank you, so much for the fast responds. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season :)

December 9, 2013 at 6:19 AM  
Blogger MJewell said...

Thank you for this really important information! I am working on a book of short stories and each story will be titled with a song title. So, I'm relieved to know that titles are not copyrighted.

Here's my question, though: I don't intend to quote any lyrics from the song, but I do intend to utilize them to build the concept of the story. In other words, the lyrics will be the blueprint, if you will, used to tell the story. For example, if I used "Jailhouse Rock" as the title of one of the stories, that story would be about a guy who ends up in jail and recruits a bunch of his fellow inmates to start a band. (No, I'm not really writing THAT story...just an example! LOL!)

What are the the rules for using lyrics (not quoted) as a framework for developing the storyline? Anyone???

January 10, 2014 at 6:24 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Tina--You can mention the title, but not the lyric. They don't usually care about the promo or the publicity, unfortunately, because most songs aren't owned by the songwriter--but by some faceless conglomerate who couldn't care less about whether the song gets played or not, but they have to let you use the title, because a title can't be copyrighted.

MJewell--Titles are fine, and the message of the song is fine. Just don't use exact words and you're golden. As I said to Tina, the owners of the songs aren't usually the artists who'd care about this stuff--and know what the song is actually about.. They're corporations who only care about squeezing money out of little people any way they can. But surprise! if you don't quote the lyric, they can't touch you. And if the real songwriter is still alive, he'll be happy to know somebody got his message.

January 10, 2014 at 7:01 PM  
Blogger MJewell said...

Excellent! Thank you so much for the assistance - and quick response! I've bookmarked your blog and intend to refer to it frequently. I'm a brand new writer, so I can use all the help I can get! Thanks again!

January 10, 2014 at 7:42 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

MJewell--Welcome! Your story project sounds original and creative. I'm sure it will find an audience.

January 10, 2014 at 8:18 PM  
Blogger MJewell said...

Oh, thank you! "I" think it's creative, but, hey, I'm a little biased! It's awesome to hear that someone with your experience thinks it's viable!

January 10, 2014 at 8:32 PM  
Blogger caruso81 said...

And what about non-fiction? I'm doing a book on the development of rock and roll style, and I quote (and attribute) lyrics here and there in order to analyze a song. Would this be the same as a spoken quote with a requirement for attribution in an endnote and the bibliography?

February 20, 2014 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

caruso--I'm not an expert on nonfiction, so I can't really help here. I think you'd need to talk to an intellectual property lawyer. But I'd be very very careful. You don't want to get one of those giant bills from ASCAP after you're published. Good luck! It sounds like an interesting project.

February 20, 2014 at 4:07 PM  
Blogger Anne N said...

Thank you for this very helpful post. I am working on what I hope will eventually be a novel and had one tab open to the Stone's "Sympathy for the Devil" lyrics and another googling if I could use them. I think I might want to poke around here a little more to get some great tips like this before I get myself into trouble.

February 25, 2014 at 1:48 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Anne--I think every new writer thinks of using song lyrics at some point. I sure did. They are so much a part of our lives, since everything has a soundtrack in our era. So you're not alone. Be glad you caught it before you wrote a whole book entirely depending on the phrase "And I laid traps for troubadours who get killed before they reached Bombay." It's okay to quote them on the Interwebz, but not in ebooks. I don't know how long that rule can be enforced, but they still do at the moment. Good luck with your writing!

February 25, 2014 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger Dave Zucker said...

Odd circumstance: what about using lyrics from a band's unreleased works, which are not commercially available? Example: an album leaks but is then scrapped.

February 27, 2014 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Dave--That's a new twist, but the same rules still hold. It's just like books: you hold the copyright on your own work, even if it's never published. As soon as it's on your hard-drive, it's copyrighted. The same goes for music. So you still need to contact the artists. They might pleased to have somebody mention the work that got scrapped by their label, so they might let you quote it for free as long as you give credit. It all depends on the artists (presuming they own their own rights.)

February 27, 2014 at 10:27 AM  
Blogger Dave Zucker said...

Thanks for the confirmation!

February 27, 2014 at 2:12 PM  
Blogger Brian Paone said...

Quick question. I am currently getting my third novel ready for publication. Inside a piece of dialogue, one of my characters said six words. These six words, pointed out to me later, are lyrics to a song BUT I HAD NO IDEA! I wrote them myself, but it coincidentally, matched up with lyrics from a popular song. The line of dialogue is: "I was wrong. This changes everything." That is a critical and emotional piece of lyric in a song by the band Tool.
My question is, what if you don't KNOW it's a piece of lyric, because it's a generic string of words, that just happened to match up with a popular song. Like in my case.

March 15, 2014 at 1:20 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Brian--I don't think you'll have any problem with that, especially if your character doesn't say. "In the immortal words of Tool, "this changes everything". I think those two phrases probably appear in thousands of books written before (and after) the band members were born, so the band can't claim to have invented them. Just they way Justin Bieber can't sue you for saying "baby, baby, baby." Go ahead and publish. Good luck with your launch!

March 15, 2014 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger Steve MC said...

Excellent post on this subject, and way to go on your lyrics.

About the cost of quoting lyrics, Stephen King put a verse of a ‘50s song at the start of each chapter in Christine, and there’s fifty-one chapters. He had to pay for the rights himself, and the total was $15,000.

Also, I got a question about John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines.

On page 66: She folded her legs beneath her, smiled, and sang, “That’s what friends are for.”

Because she “sang,” it an obvious quote of “That’s What Friends Are For” by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager.

I'm guessing he can get away with that one because it's both a common phrase and the title of the song.

But then, on page 128: “You’re like sunshine on a cloudy day, Singleton. When it’s cold outside, you’re the month of May.”

Which is from The Temptations’ “My Girl”:

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day
When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May.

And yet there’s not a permission for it anywhere.

Is it because he changes the words a bit? It seems too close for me, with five words and then four words quoted exactly. So how many words are you allowed?

March 24, 2014 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Steve--$15,000 is more than most people make on a book, so that's a perfect example of what not to do. Thanks!

Sounds ais John Green got away with something. But now you've pointed it out, maybe ASCAP will send him a bill for the Temptations lyrics. I hope not, for his sake. He's a great writer.

There's no sent number of words you're allowed. In fact, you're not allowed any. As I said "Jumpin Jack Flash is a gas" costs thousands. "Jumpin Jack Flash" without "is a gas" costs nothing because it's a title.

March 24, 2014 at 10:00 AM  
Blogger Aurelas said...

Thanks so much for posting this. I am trying to write a short story that involves a jukebox and one 60s song in particular. It is absolutely necessary to have the lyrics in the story (I would explain why, but it would give everything away! haha). Most likely, my story will never be published anywhere as I am a complete unknown, but now I know how to get the rights so I could publish if anyone would take it. And very good to know that song titles are free :D Otherwise this could be the world's most expensive short story.

April 8, 2014 at 7:39 PM  
Blogger Aurelas said...

Oh, also, I need to add this. Someone said that it is only the music industry that does this and mentions that you can quote Churchill for free. Actually, you can't. There was a chap recently who wrote a book about Churchill and had to pay the estate for every word he used. I suspect Churchill is not the only historic figure that this applies to.

April 8, 2014 at 7:43 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Aurelias--If you possibly can, try to paraphrase those lyrics or write some that are similar but not the same. I know the urge. I wrote a play called "She's Not There" that relied heavily on the Zombies lyrics, but I never could produce it because of that. Stories don't make enough money to be worth paying for the lyrics.

April 8, 2014 at 7:54 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Snippets of copyrighted text CAN be used in something called "fair use" which does not apply to lyrics, because sometimes a snippet is all there is. :-) But obviously the author you mention thought Churchill's work was in the public domain, which it is not--at least in some countries. Work can be re-copyrighted by an author's heirs until 70 years after his death.

April 8, 2014 at 7:57 PM  
Blogger Carrie-Anne said...

This was really useful information. After going through the process of finding who has the copyright, contacting that person, and waiting, I just found out I have permission to quote from two George Harrison songs in the book I'm releasing in June, provided there are under 5,000 print copies. It's $100 for each song, which seems pretty reasonable to me. I'm a little more nervous about getting permission for the only other non-public domain quote I used, since that involves calling Paul Simon's small office instead of contacting a big publishing company. I'm not sure his price, if he grants permission, would be as reasonable as that of George's publishing company.

April 11, 2014 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Carrie-Anne--Fabulous. I think that's the key: small indie publishers aren't going to make a lot of money off the lyric, so they're willing to charge on a scale. I don't see any reason why Paul Simon might not see the advantage of giving a break to an indie writer, since he's avoided the corporate thing himself. Not like using his words for a car commercial. No harm in asking. You've chosen two cultural icons, so I see why their lyrics might be important.

April 11, 2014 at 4:06 PM  
Blogger Gene Hilgreen said...

Wow, I just typed a short story that went nowhere. I trek to Woodstock every year. If I'm not mistaken, my picture is from the 40th reunion. But maybe not. I don't use my g-mal account so have no clue. That was the last picture I had of my wife where she was not cancer ridden. She passed on March 30th, but I will make the trek this year and scatter some ashes on the Great Lawn. Already have my 45th reunion T's thanks to Charlie M.-- a mainstay at the monument. Well, you stoked my hunger for one more book about Woodstock, I met Michael and Joann and have their's.


May 24, 2014 at 4:26 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Gene-It sounds as if Michael's book will really hit some chords for you. So sorry to hear of your loss. A really, really tough time. Scattering her ashes at Woodstock sounds very fitting. I hope Michael's book helps you process your grief. Some people can write when they are grieving and some can't. I lost my mom in December, and I couldn't write a word of fiction for five months. Your stories will start going somewhere when your brain isn't so busy grieving. My heart goes out to you.

May 24, 2014 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger Linda Rice said...

Wow! I am SO glad I found this blog!! I just finished writing my first book, a time travel romance, had a dozen or so people read it for an opinion, and was getting ready to put it out on Amazon when I read your information. I used a TON of song lyrics because they are so pivotal to the story, but I paraphrased or re-wrote most of them. I will definitely remove the rest of the real lyrics, but just as Deborah Jay and Christine Ahern asked in March, I am wondering how much paraphrasing or parodying you can get away with. For example, I changed the Beatle's "Please, please me, oh yeah, like I please you" to "Squeeze, squeeze me, oh my, like I squeeze you." Is that too close? I had such fun changing the lyrics, and I used no original titles, but now I am worried. I have another one of my characters remarking, "Oh look! Here comes the sun!" I guess that's a song title, so I should be all right? The lyrics to many of the songs are what inspired my book. Removing lyrics totally would diminish it. Now I'm in a quandary.

June 5, 2014 at 5:00 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--Song titles are 100% safe. You can't copyright a song title. And parodies are just fine. You've got a funny one right there. It sounds as if you don't have a problem as long as you don't directly quote the actual LYRIC. Titles are fine and parodies are fine.

June 5, 2014 at 6:32 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

This was so helpful. I had no idea about songs and their titles. This post was extremely informative, and I thank you for providing it.

June 24, 2014 at 5:05 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Cathy--Almost all of us have a "soundtrack" to our books (and our lives) so it's natural to want to put them on the page. But it's not as easy as it seems. :-)

June 24, 2014 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Nimra Yasmeen said...

i agreed with Thing is: fair use does not apply to songs itself. That is because songs can have very few lines to use-fairly.
Nice Work Admin keep carry on.
with best whishes: Nimra Yasmeen

July 5, 2014 at 7:02 AM  
OpenID sirlewisofclarke said...

Hi Anne,

Thank you for posting this, it was extremely helpful being someone who admittedly has no idea what they are doing on the publishing side of things, you have been a massive help.

I have a (relatively) quick question to ask you though, I'm planning to self publish my first book very soon and i didn't even think of this until yesterday. Unfortunately in one part of my book one of the characters asks for a girls name and she says MJ. And he replies "Oh, like Michael Jackson." And turns to her friend and sings, "BEAT IT!" failing miserably at trying to be funny. Although like you said it's only the title so i should be OK, i am still very worried because (a) I say the singer's name as well and (b) Michael Jackson isn't exactly an obscure reference. I don't really want to change that part because things pick up from that first interaction but i also don't fancy paying mega money either. Anyway i'm blabbing; Do you think i can get away with that or am i likely to have to pay royalties to use that?

Sorry, it wasn't a quick question in the end......

July 8, 2014 at 9:01 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

sirwis--You have absolutely no problem there. The title is fine and so is any reference to public figures. You can have your character meet celebrities and even put words in the celebrities' mouths, (as long as the words aren't song lyrics.) It's just the lyrics themselves that are a problem. And you'd be wise not to show the celebrity in a bad light. But just mentioning his name--no problem at all. It adds authenticity to your story. Best of luck with your launch!

July 8, 2014 at 9:35 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nimra--Exactly. If a song has only four words repeated over and over, then it's hard to have a small enough chunk for "fair use".

July 8, 2014 at 9:37 AM  
OpenID sirlewisofclarke said...

Thanks so much for the help. I was pretty worried that i may have to change the whole storyline just to avoid being out of pocket.

Yeah i assumed that any slander on a real person would not be the best idea I've ever had...

Thanks again, you've saved me a lot of time and stress.

July 9, 2014 at 6:32 AM  
Blogger bigmouth said...

"Thing is: fair use doesn’t apply to songs. That’s because songs can have very few lines to use—fairly or otherwise."

This is a total myth -- and a good reminder why non-lawyers should think twice before commenting on the law. I challenge you to find any actual copyright treatise or legal precedent that says this. You can't because they don't exist.

August 3, 2014 at 8:17 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

bigmouth--It's true I'm not a lawyer. But I know many people who have hired lawyers because they've been charged a lot of money for using even a snippet of copyrighted lyrics. And those people had to pay. Maybe every single one of them hired incompetent lawyers, but I think that's unlikely.

I think you'd do best to contact ASCAP or BMI and talk to one of their lawyers. I'm sure they'll be happy to show you chapter and verse of the laws that apply to unauthorized use of copyrighted lyrics, since they implement these laws all the time. And let me tell you, these guys are fierce, and accept no excuses. You do not want to mess with them.

August 3, 2014 at 8:59 AM  
Blogger bigmouth said...

Anne, I seriously doubt that because such laws don't exist, despite what the music licensing industry would have you believe. You are absolutely right these guys are fierce and will sue at the drop of a hat. They know most writers and publishers will settle, rather than risk losing in court. That is how they've intimidated people into thinking song lyrics can never be covered by fair use.

But that claim is demonstrably false, as evidenced by this report on fair use from the Senate Judiciary Committee, available on the U.S. Copyright Office website:

“This is best illustrated by the use of excerpts from the lyrics of a copyrighted song in the course of a literary production. The courts have been reluctant to impose liability in such a case. The incidental nature of such use, and its inability to compete with the copyrighted work have produced a finding of fair use.”


I agree 100% that writers should approach song lyrics with caution because the music licensing industry is notoriously litigious. Anyone actually making a film or publishing a book should absolutely get permission -- or speak with an attorney. But never ever confuse someone's willingness to sue with the law. And please don't make their efforts easier by spreading falsehoods like "fair use doesn’t apply to songs."

August 3, 2014 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger bigmouth said...

PS: Apologies for the confrontational tone of my replies. I care about these issues deeply and have studied them closely, so it's really disheartening to see someone repeating the recording industry's myths about fair use and song lyrics.

August 3, 2014 at 11:06 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Whether it is the letter of the law or not, it is the de facto (and strictly enforced) rule and anybody who challenges it would need hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispute the point in court, so I continue to advise writers not to use any part of a copyrighted song without permission.

But I wish you all the best in fighting the corporate lawyers if indeed the law they are enforcing so lucratively doesn't exist. That kind of thing is very difficult in an era when corporations are people and we aren't. But if you were to win, it would be a boon to all writers!

August 3, 2014 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger A Michaele said...

Hey Anne! What if I were to use a song title as well as the song line "I love you" Would a generic line like this be worthy of a lawsuit?

Also, what if I used only two lines of an untitled song...."Love song" would that be something I could be penalized for?

September 22, 2014 at 10:19 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

A Michaele--No worries there.

Nobody can copyright common phrases like "I love you", "love song," or "Baby, baby, baby" or they wouldn't be in half the pop songs ever written.

Nobody cares unless you use a unique recognizable phrase like "Jumpin Jack Flash is a gas, gas, gas," People don't say that in conversation like "I love you" . You can even say "She thinks she can buy a stairway to heaven", because that phrase pre-dated the Who song. Phrases already in common use can't be "owned" just because somebody puts them in a song.

September 22, 2014 at 10:44 AM  
OpenID birrell425 said...

All of the above! I am immensely affected by recollections of the "songs when I was growing up" and I knew I could be in trouble about quoting lyrics. This Blog above has probably saved me wasting a lot of time in blind alleys, or worse - disputes and litigation.

September 26, 2014 at 9:58 AM  
OpenID birrell425 said...

Thanks for the foregoing clarifications. I am also distressed, of course! I "think" fifties' music when I write about my younger days. And sixties and seventies etc. But at least I can work off the titles and let the intelligent readers hum the music in their minds. We haven't got that under wraps yet!

September 26, 2014 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

And scary bills arriving in your mailbox!

But you're fine if you just use titles. People who were there will probably hum along simply prompted by the title, as you said, and younger people won't get the reference anyway.

September 26, 2014 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Nick Jones said...

My understanding was that I could include hyper-links to song lyrics in my e-book. If so, can I create a page on my OWN website and include lyrics? For example. Yesterday by The Beatles? There are literally thousands of lyric and guitar tab sites that contain these lyrics so it must be okay, right? For clarity, I mean create a single page on my site that contains the full lyrics with a © to the band.

November 17, 2014 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Nick--Those are good questions, and frankly I don't have the answers. Generally, you are supposed to pay to use copyrighted work on a blog.

Bloggers I know who have used copyrighted images have been charged for them, so I would think lyrics would be treated the same way.

But as you say, you can find the lyrics to almost any song ever written by Googling it. And I've never heard of anybody getting charged or fined. But that doesn't mean it's actually legal. The copyright symbol and link to the band would certainly show you didn't intend to violate copyright, but to be absolutely sure, you'd have to run it by an Intellectual Property lawyer.

November 17, 2014 at 9:47 AM  
Blogger jj manila said...

i wrote a whole music inspired from a certain book. can i be sued if i quote a portion of the book in the title? can i even use the title of the book as the title of the music?



January 3, 2015 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

jj--I can't tell here if you're a songwriter or a book author. They would be very different scenarios. If you wrote music inspired by a book, you'll probably have no problem. If you write a book inspired by a song, there can be a problem.

I don't think an author will ask for money if you write music based on a book--especially if you credit the author. (Book authors will take publicity anywhere we can get it.) But it would be polite to let the author know your song is inspired by his/her work.

But the other way around can present a problem: That is if you wrote a book that's inspired by a song. You can use the title of the song as the title of your book--no problem, because titles can't be copyrighted.

But if you use lyrics (the words of the song) as your book title or in the body of the work, you should ask permission. As Michael says, you can often get permission for not much money. You'll only have a problem if the book becomes a bestseller, and then they may ask for a bigger cut. But that's kind of a cool problem to have :-)

January 3, 2015 at 8:05 PM  
Blogger jj manila said...

hi Anne,
thanks for the reply.
yes, i am a composer.
i have been meaning to make the title of the CD as the title do the book but im afraid that its not allowed. besides the fact that im not a published composer i think no one will noticed it. but the book is famous.
thanks again. happy new year.

January 3, 2015 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

jj--Nobody can copyright a title. You can call your musical work "War and Peace" or "Fifty Shades of Gray" or "Horton Hears a Who" and nobody can come after you. Jim Morrison's song "Been Down so Long it Looks Like Up to Me" was based on the title of a book by an author named Richard Farina. It sold a lot of books for Mr. Farina. Best of luck!

January 3, 2015 at 8:47 PM  
Blogger TheGomlick said...

Wow. Anne, I hope you're still paying attention to the blog. I've been been looking for a straight answer for a very long time. Some of this has been answered above, but bear with me while I hash it out. I'm very cautious with legal issues, and the concern is holding me back.

So, I'm about to publish a novella that's written like a memoir. Being a modern retrospective, it wasoriginally littered with copyrighted lyrics. Like the folks above, I pulled them out and ended up creating my own song where the lyrics were necessary.

However, I still feature a lot of real music. It's more than just name-dropping. For example, the narrator listens to a specific Bob Dylan song, which I name in no uncertain terms, and he goes on to describe what Dylan's voice sounds like and what he thinks the lyrics mean,even if he doesn't use any of the lyrics themselves. Later, he listens to a Pink Floyd album, and he discusses, almost song by song, with the album sounds like. "The guitar came in here, played in this style, and sounded like this. Then the keyboard came in sounding like that. It made me feel like this." And again, he describes what the lyrics seems to mean (or what they allegedly do mean) without quoting them. It's almost like he's reviewing music. But isn't that like describing the Mona Lisa without publishing a picture of her? Is it just fact and opinion I'm stating?

Things seem to get murky when song titles are the same as a chorus refrain. In that case, the title IS a copyrighted lyric. Is there anything to be said about that?

Then there are few places where I mess with the titles. The Floyd song Shine on You Crazy Diamond" is introduced and described, and later the phrase "Shine on,"
comes out of a character's mouth several times. It's implied that they're referencing the song.

I could remove this stuff, but it adds color to the narrator's experiences. Have I gone too far, or am I safe because A) You can't really "play" copyrighted recording through text, and B) I never do quote any lyrics.

Sorry for the long post. I've been looking for guidance for a long time. I almost want to speak to a lawyer.

March 1, 2015 at 12:01 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

The Gomlick-- I'm not a lawyer, so I can't guarantee there would be no problems with what you're doing,,,but I don't see where they would come from. I think you're just fine.

Titles can't be copyrighted, even if they are also part of the lyric. And it's no more a copyright infringement to talk about a song than it is to talk about a meal. There's a big difference between talking about the texture of a Mcnugget and calling your restaurant 'McDonald's"

And "Shine on" is a phrase used in 100s of contexts--"Shine on Harvest Moon" comes to mind. So Pink Floyd can't take credit. If a character takes it as a reference to Pink Floyd, that's part of his character, not a copyright infringement.

Mostly these laws are supposed to protect musicians from having their music outright stolen. Studio lawyers have found ways to use them to push the envelope and squeeze publishers, but hitting people who simply reference popular music would not be worth their time, even if they could twist the law in their favor, which I think is unlikely.

Best of luck with your book.

March 1, 2015 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger TheGomlick said...

Thanks for a quick reply. :) You're providing a lot of important guidance to indie writers.

March 1, 2015 at 10:39 AM  
Blogger Diana Baxter Novels said...

Hi! Such a great blog. I wrote a 60's thriller. Can I use the names of the bands only? The Doors or Bryds. Can I say "She turned up to volume enjoying the latest hit by the Bryd's." Same as, he turned up the volume on the 8 track player enjoying the Doors. Thank you!

March 24, 2015 at 7:54 AM  
Blogger jollymom said...

A thousand pardons for reposting - I'll happily delete any duplicates, but somehow, every time I post, my comment evaporates! I'll try once more: I am writing a novel that features the Woodstock ('69) concert; one song performed at the concert plays a significant role. Based on your comments, I think I'm OK to actually name my book after the title of the song. Do you think I need any special permission to use the name "Woodstock" as I talk about the concert? Also... as I write, I often listen to recordings of specific songs to help set the mood. I would really like to include a playlist or to mention songs (maybe at the beginning of each chapter or in a note) to encourage readers to "listen along" - does that sound doable?

October 5, 2015 at 3:20 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jolly--No duplicates :-) I moderate comments on older posts, which is why you couldn't see your comment.

Historic events can't be copyrighted, so you've got no problem with mentioning Woodstock (or Burning Man or South by Southwest or the Teapot Dome Scandal. Ha!) It's all good. Yes, you can use a song title as your book title. Lots of people do. I think Mary Higgins Clark has made a career of it.

And a playlist is a fantastic idea. There's even a company that will make a playlist to go with your book, although the name escapes me. (I'm a member of the Woodstock Generation, too.) Sounds like you've got a fun project!

October 5, 2015 at 4:12 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Diana--Sorry. I'm about six months late on this. Your comment got pasted under another comment so I didn't get a notice.

You absolutely can use band's names. Listening to either the Doors or the Byrds is awesome--in fiction and real life!

October 5, 2015 at 4:14 PM  
Blogger jollymom said...

Thanks so much for all of the information in this blog. I'll try to pay it forward and I suspect many of the other posters feel the same - people who want to quote lyrics are awesome. :-)

October 5, 2015 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jolly--Do spread the word, so new writers don't run into trouble later on. Generally the lyrics police don't bother to hit up authors with a handful of sales, but if you do hit the bestseller list, you don't want to lose everything to a big corporation like ASCAP or BMI because you used a few lyrics.

October 6, 2015 at 9:52 AM  
Blogger jollymom said...

I realized I have a related comment, and I apologize if I am too far off-topic, but what about brand names? To set the scene, I'd like to mention that my character slurped down a bowl of ___ or grabbed a quick snack in the form of a __ (insert long-lost cereal brand or candy bar). Anything I should worry about there - aside from igniting a case of the munchies that's not on my diet?

October 8, 2015 at 5:51 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jolly--Brand names are just fine. They are kind of required in chick lit. :-) Just make sure you capitalize them. Oreos, not oreos.. Now I'm hungry....

October 8, 2015 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Gayle Dickie said...

Writing a song is indeed, a thrill. Opening up your mind to receive musical inspiration from a power greater than you, whatever you may call it (Spirit, the Universe, God, Nature, etc.) can be a sublime experience. However, as with any craft, it takes practice. As simple as writing a song may sound, it’s like learning to dance or riding a bike and it may not come easily at first.


October 10, 2015 at 8:55 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Gayle/Jason--This post is aimed at novelists, but it's great to have a songwriter weigh in. We're all in the business of creating art--which we like to get paid for. :-)

October 11, 2015 at 10:06 AM  

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