There’s nothing wrong with using a line or two from a song in my novel, I thought. Fair use, and all that, right? Wrong. Dead wrong.
The assumption that I could use lyrics in my debut novel Tied without permission (and compensation) almost slipped by. What was I thinking? I’d never dream of using photographs in that way. Why assume lyrics were free and clear? That oversight could have had huge implications. The artist in question could sue for compensation, affecting my book earnings.
There are times when quoting lyrics is permitted. For instance, when reviewing the song in an article, lyrics can be quoted to make a point. However, it’s different matter when using lyrics in a novel, where they are used to help set a scene, emphasize theme or develop character.
Songs are written works set to music. Using lyrics in a novel is exactly the same as using other printed material in a novel. I need permission to do so. And with permission comes licensing fees and depending on the number of copies sold, these fees can increase, and the agreements can get complicated.
If I have my heart set on using lyrics, I need to contact the song publisher and negotiate for rights to use the lyrics. There is no guarantee if usage is permitted or of cost. It sounded like a big can of worms. What I can do is mention the song title and artist’s name. I decided to put my brain to work and rewrote the sections of my novel that referenced lyrics, instead creating a sense of the song instead of actually using the song. It wasn’t that difficult.
For future, I will stay away from using lyrics because it introduces a complication I just don’t want to deal with.
For more information, check out Anne Allen’s blog and guest post by Michael Murphy.
Photo by Melissa Himpe