Lyrics in Novels

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Guardian
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Lyrics in Novels

Post by Guardian » June 10th, 2011, 12:40 pm

Is it possible to use few lines from lyrics in novels? i.e.: I'd like to use the lyrics of Gene Austin's Ain't She Sweet as quoted parts in the description.

Here is the example (Unedited draft);
A rusty gramophone played Gene Austin’s Ain’t she sweet and the music escorted every second, every moment.

There she is! There she is! There's what keeps me up at night.

Almost unnoticed, I take a quick glance at her silky hand which is gently waving near her graceful body. No wedding ring in sight. Just as yesterday and the days before that.

Oh, gee whiz! Oh, gee whiz! There's why I can't eat a bite.

She hides her true identity behind this icy cover, but I feel she is a wildcat inside.

Those flaming eyes! That flaming youth! Oh, mister oh, sister, tell me the truth...
So I have two questions;
#1; is it possible to use the lyrics of an old classic?
#2; is it possible to use it on this way?

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polymath
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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by polymath » June 10th, 2011, 1:10 pm

Ah-hah! A copyright question with an unequivocal answer. Using song lyrics for fiction purposes from Gene Austin's "Ain't She Sweet" requires express permission from the copyright owner. One, for-profit purposes don't rise to fair use; two, since song lyrics are so short, a few lines represent a substantial portion of the whole. That's fail on two of the four tests of the Fair Use doctrine. Since the original creative work was published for profit, other for-profit uses by other parties without express permission constitutes rights infringement. That's the third test. Fourth test, economic or other negative impact on the original creative work, I don't believe applies, per se. Regardless, use without express permission fails on three out of four tests.

"Ain't She Sweet" was published in 1927. U.S. intellectual property rights law for copyright registered works published between 1923 and 1963 gives a copyright owner 95 years from date of publication exclusive reproduction rights. 1927 + 95 = 2022. "Ain't She Sweet" will enter the public domain in 2023.

Sorry, Guardian, it's a no-go without permission. And I am a firm believer that it's a best practice to create one's own creations in parts and parcels so they stand entirely on their own merits.

Edited to add: European reproduction publication, re: Hungary, life plus 70 years copyright expiration. Gene Austin passed away in 1977. "Ain't She Sweet" European copyright expiration 2044.
Last edited by polymath on June 10th, 2011, 1:40 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by Margo » June 10th, 2011, 1:18 pm

polymath wrote:And I am a firm believer that it's a best practice to create one's own creations in parts and parcels so they stand entirely on their own merits.
Agree or disagree, it's a HECK of a lot less hassle just to write your own lyrics/poem/chant/etc.
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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by Watcher55 » June 10th, 2011, 1:22 pm

So what's the difference between using song lyrics as epigraphs, and using them in the text?

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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by Guardian » June 10th, 2011, 1:24 pm

Thanks Polymath! I wasn't sure in this copyright stuff, that's why I asked.

Now, I used to write my own poems and lyrics, but now I'm writing a short novel which plays in the late 1920s, early 1930s and I want to give a realistic atmosphere and present that era (i.e.: Cotton Club, Charleston, etc, etc...). This is why I asked this. But I can mention the title of the music, right?

Edit: What about fair use? In that case it's possible to use one or two lines as a quote. At least if I know this right...

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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by maybegenius » June 10th, 2011, 1:30 pm

I don't know that many people do use song lyrics as epigraphs, do they? I can't recall any recent books that do, but I haven't read everything, so I may very well be wrong. I've seen a lot of quotes and poetry as epigraphs, but not song lyrics from copyrighted songs.

Either way, Polymath is correct. No using lyrics or literary excerpts that aren't in the public domain unless you want to pay for their use, and not many publishers are willing to do that. Most authors get around it by just mentioning the song/band their character is listening to ("'Hey Jude' came on the jukebox"), describing the song/music (which I always find a little weird, trying to describe a specific song), or they make up their own.
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polymath
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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by polymath » June 10th, 2011, 1:33 pm

Guardian, titles are not copyrightable under U.S. law. So yes, a title can be named, with appropriate attribution and citation.

Watcher55, no differences between epigraph or body text usage.

Edited to add, Fair Use covers generally cultural commentary regarding an original work, criticism and review, and a very few explicit educational uses of expressly nonprofit natures.
Last edited by polymath on June 10th, 2011, 1:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by Guardian » June 10th, 2011, 1:35 pm

Maybegenius; I can "describe" the music, so that's not a problem. I just wanted to use the lyrics as it would make my job a bit easier and it would fit perfectly to the situation. But if I can't use it; I'm going to name the music, then I describe the scenario with my own words (And those who know this track can imagine the music along with the scene.).

Polymath; Thanks!

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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by Watcher55 » June 10th, 2011, 2:21 pm

OK I'm busted. Author!Author! Epigraphs of copyrighted lyrics have been used as epigraphs but they're put in after the agent makes the sell, and after permission is granted.

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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by Louise Curtis » June 10th, 2011, 6:51 pm

It's startlingly difficult to get song lyric permission, too. On the other hand, you don't have to deal with it until you have a publishing deal, which certainly helps (unless you're self-publishing, in which case it gets even more complex and expensive). Different artists vary tremendously in their responses, so once you get a deal you can always develop backup lyrics if you need something recognisable there.
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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by sierramcconnell » June 10th, 2011, 6:54 pm

Permission to use song lyrics in book?

Intellectual Property and Its Uses - Part Three: Lyric Reprint Permissions

If you really want to use them, go through the proper channels. I have a scene with 1950s music and there are lyrics that need to be used. I can't just write my own, because then how are people going to know what I'm talking about, the music that's playing, and so on? It's a specific piece and it's integral to two characters.
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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by MysticFiddler » June 10th, 2011, 7:31 pm

You might get away with something like "He read 'The Shining' between bites of eggplant parmesan," but when you have interwoven your creative text with someone else's creative text, it would probably fail the "Fair Use" doctrine, which is to protect original and creative material. If you can pass the test that your own creative element would work just as well without the song lyrics, then you may not be violating it (but then why use it?). But if it's integral and you are depending upon the strength of another's creativity to bolster your passage, you're probably in violation.

Just because something is commercial does not mean it automatically fails the first point; the overall usage must be weighed against the other points as well. For example, you might be able to legitimately use a reference you found in a text book (which in itself is commercial and may be quoting other sources). Purpose and intent play in. If you were citing a few lines from "Ain't She Sweet" in an educational tome about rhythm in prose, it might be all right.

Also, it is up to court interpretation as to how much of a work is "substantial." In the case of "Ain't She Sweet," there are 214 words. The percentage defining "substantial" is not set in stone. If you violate the "heart" of the creative work, it could be viewed as infringement.

When in doubt, ask the copyright holder for permission. When in a lot of doubt, ask an attorney.

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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by polymath » June 10th, 2011, 8:28 pm

Verbatim citing from textbook sources, whose overall purpose ostensibly is sharing ideas, which are not copyrightable, has a thin, bright dividing line under the Fair Use doctrine. The word strings themselves are the intellectual property of the textbook writer, how they're expressed. For-profit prose use of verbatim quotes could run afoul of rights infringement laws. Nothing wrong with paraphrasing though, as long as appropriately attributed and faithfully represented.

However, I suppose alternate history might play a little fast and loose with faithful representation and might--might pass muster if for parody and/or social and/or cultural commentary purposes. //Alfred E. Neuman invented the atomic bomb. Will Rogers founded National Lampoon. Frank Zappa painted "Whistler's Mother." John Kennedy composed the lyrics for "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," score by Merle Haggard.//
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Re: Lyrics in Novels

Post by medussa74 » June 10th, 2011, 11:33 pm

maybegenius wrote:I don't know that many people do use song lyrics as epigraphs, do they?
I could swear that Stephen King does. I think he did that in the Stand. But then again, he's Stephen King...obtaining permission probably not THAT much of a challenge for him.

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