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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Yet Another Fair Use / Copyright question

   
Author Topic: Yet Another Fair Use / Copyright question
micmcd
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I know we see these every now and then, but I have a copyright question that I don't think we've discussed before (or in a long while).

Are there any strict guidelines as to what constitutes fair use of pop culture and publicly known works? For instance, if you wanted your character to sing the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven, and you printed a few lines of those as dialog, would you be in trouble with Led Zeppelin?

The song I'm quoting a bit of is nowhere near as cool, but it's the same issue. My MC is having his mind assaulted by the echoed words of demons, and the mechanism he latches onto to drown out the demons is to think of an infectious song that he can never get out of his head - in this case, Britney Spears's Baby One More Time. Of course there would be no problem if I just wrote "he started singing the lyrics to Baby One More Time in his head," but that's boring and doesn't really show the intensity of what's happening. My rendition, slightly abridged to abide by the 13-line rule.


What say ye? Legal?


NOTE FROM KATHLEEN:

Sorry to have deleted that, but record companies (who are usually the copyright owners) are particularly vicious about even the smallest quote of lyrics--they allow for ZERO "fair use" (partly because lyrics are too short for it to be possible to come up with a small enough number of words to qualify for "fair use").

[ April 24, 2012, 10:10 AM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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History
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No. Not legal.
Lyrics are copyright protected the same as books, movies, and any creative intellectual property.
You will need contact the owner of the copyright (not necessarily the artist, btw) and request permission. The cost will vary on the artist and how many lines of lyric you wish to use.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Osiris
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Yep, Bob is right. I had quoted CCR's Fortunate Son in one of my stories as a bit of internal dialog, and ended up changing it to avoid the legal issues. You might be able to get away with a snippet, but it looks to me like you've got way too much from the original song there.
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babooher
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Why not make up a snippet of your own song? Stephen King did that in the Stand.
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enigmaticuser
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Really? I'd read somewhere that a certain portion is held judicially to be 'fair use' but the delineation was somewhat vague. That it had to do with how much of the work was being used and whether or not the value of the original work is substantively based on the borrowed content.

I mean if no portion is fair use then everytime someone uses the phrase "over the rainbow" someone should be paid a quarter?

Though if I was using as much as mic, I would at least ask and if they want money just screw up the song, say he can't remember the right words or something . . . though with an intellectual masterpiece like that . . .

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extrinsic
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Song lyrics like poetry in for-profit publication takes a hit on all four corners of the Fair Use Doctrine.

The Fair Use Doctrine tests as per Wikipedia: criticism, commentary, news reporting, teaching, and research purposes notwithstanding;

"1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2.The nature of the copyrighted work;

3.The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

4.The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work."

Song lyrics that get stuck in the head are snappy, catchy, and lyrical from regular four/four beat accentual verse, medial pauses or caseura, sing-song rhymes, short words, and repetition. Writing one's own lyrics for an insipid song that gets stuck in a mental groove like a scratched record pays close attention to those basic principles and obviates using someone else's intellectual property altogether.

[ April 24, 2012, 10:17 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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History
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The phrase "over the rainbow" is not copyright-able, and neither are any titles of songs, books, or movies. However, to have a character listen to or sing the lyrics, "Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high" is.

You could play with it as dialog:

"Where's my little pony?"

"Oh, somewhere over the rainbow," she pointed. "There. Way up high."


And this would be okay.
Use in parody is also permissible.

If you look at the beginning of King's The Stand you'll find lyrics from "Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult (and the music was used in the television miniseries). On the legal page, you'll find the copyright permission Stephen King obtained to use the lyric in the book.

The one rule is, when in doubt, do not use another's creative property without permission. You will also note this on many book publishers' submission guidelines. They will not accept submissions where there is any possibility of copyright violation.

My interest on the subject is based on my own novice desire to use a single line of lyric, a movie quote, a cartoon quote, an old Lovecraft story quote, in an urban fantasy novel I wrote. I liked how it made the story contemporary; however, it is a pain to get permission for their use. Wiser and more seasoned writers advice avoiding this. I may rewrite those that are too difficult out of the story. Lesson learned.

However...I find that in Jim Butcher's Dresden novels, he does include what seem to be blatant copyright violations on occasion (as there is nothing on the legal page stating permission was given). I've queried about this (how he got permission and what is/is not permissible) on his website and forum, but received no reply.

So I am still a bit perplexed on the issue.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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babooher
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My reference to King's work was the song "Baby, Can Your Dig Your Man" by the character Larry Underwood, not the usual lyrics at the beginning of the story.

Just making sure that was clear.

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Robert Nowall
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I believe you can say such-and-such a song is playing, but not actual quotes from the lyrics unless you get written agreement and pay for their use...and, even then, sometimes the copyright holders say no

...and, also, I believe Stephen King is so big in publishing circles that his publishers will accomodate him in lyric use and secure the rights to use them.

(Sidenote on Internet Fan Fiction: song lyrics get used all the time. I used them myself...but, so far, I've never been bothered. Online fanfic is just too big a field to police.)

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Please don't post quotes of song lyrics of any length here on the Hatrack River Writers Workshop forum.

The last thing we want is to get this place shut down because some record company barracuda (er, I mean, lawyer) goes after OSC for copyright violation.

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History
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See? [Wink]

Though, Ms Woodbury, I believe this discussion would be considered permissible use as a scholarly/research-related discussion of the matter of copyright protection.

However, you demonstrate that the uncertainty is enough to kill a writer's story for editors and publishers.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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redux
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This is precisely what is meant by the "chilling effect."

Sometimes it seems that it's a matter of "not getting caught." Didn't Justin Bieber become famous by singing copyrighted cover songs on YouTube?

Please note that I am not advocating copyright infringement. I am just reflecting on the inconsistencies of its enforcement.

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axeminister
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I want to copyright the word *the* and make everyone pay me a penny each time they use it in print.

Axe

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extrinsic
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The question for me and the answer of whether to use someone eles's intellectual property is what writing reputation do I want to have: My own, not someone else's. My creative vision prevails.

The copyright infringement and piracy spectrum from rigid conscientiousness to wild abandon is fraught with too many tears for me to do anything but create my own creations. Borrowing from some many or someone else's thunder changes my creative vision into theirs, and since that's the way things go awry for me, they would own my intellectual property and the proceeds from it. C'est la vie d'escritur.

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MattLeo
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Well, you have to distinguish between the law *de jure* and what is *de facto* safe to do.

Short quotes of a small fraction of a song's lyrics in the course of a novel or short story would probably be fair use *de jure*, because (a) the use is transformative, (b) the amount and subtantiality of the appropriation is minimal and (c) the effect on the work's value to the copyright holder is minimal.

But *de facto* fair use isn't practical protection against a SLAPP suit. Even if you win in court, you lose because of the time and money you've wasted. It's cheaper to pay royalties, or use something in the public domain (e.g. "House of the Rising Sun" instead of "Stairway to Heaven").

In any case there are no hard and fast rules in fair use; the amount of copying that exceeds fair use can differ wildly from one context to another. It's best to avoid situations where you'd have to invoke fair use unless quoting is essential to the nature of what you're doing (e.g., parody).

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I'm in the "avoiding situations" group, especially when it comes to running a forum on someone else's website.

I don't expect record company barracudas/lawyers to appreciate scholarly/research-related discussions when it means they have a chance to take someone to court, and that someone, in this case, would be OSC.

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