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Use of lyrics

StarFleet Carl

Question for the more experienced guys here.

I'm working on a story that I am only intending to publish here - so not on Amazon or any of the places where it could be sold. I'm not that good of an author that I think my writing is worth money.

As my chapter lead-ins, and because it's appropriate to the story, I'm putting a single verse from a song as the header for each chapter. The site where I found the lyrics has the disclaimer at the bottom that the lyrics are property and copyright of their owners and are used for educational and personal use only. Since I'm NOT doing this for commercial use, does that still cause a problem?

In the for what it's worth department, it's a now 40 year old rock ballad.

Crumbly Writer

@StarFleet Carl

The age of the song doesn't matter, because current copyright protects lyrics and other forms of writing for much longer, though it might slip under the older, less restrictive copyright restrictions, so I'd check with the copyrights office's website just to double check.

However, I do this frequently, attaching epigraphs, the name for quotes in literature, whether they're from other authors, song lyrics or other sources. The key is the length of the passage. If it's under a certain amount, then you're free to share it. If it's over, less than a stanza's worth, then you're expected to either pay, or get authorization to use it. That's the reason there are now twenty zillion websites hawking 'quote picture', featuring famous quotes from all kinds of people attached to pretty pictures having little to do with the actual message.

So yeah, you're clear either way.

Capt. Zapp

@StarFleet Carl

There have been several discussions about the use of song lyrics in stories.

In this thread (Song Lyrics), EB stated

1. If the song isn't in the public domain, which this song isn't, you can't legally include more than 10% of the song without running into copyright issues, unless you get the written permission of the current copyright holder.


Hope that helps.

Switch Blayde

@StarFleet Carl

It doesn't matter if it's for sale or not. You can't use song lyrics. However, you'd be safe on SOL. The chances of them finding you (and if they do, suing you) is almost non-existent.

I'm not sure about the 10% rule. I heard a maximum of some number of lines was okay (I don't remember the number, but it was small). I wanted to use 6 lines from "Endless Love" in my YA novel. I tracked down the copyright owner (a lot of work and dumb luck) who never responded so I took the lyrics out.

Replies:   Michael Loucks
Michael Loucks

@Switch Blayde

I tracked down the copyright owner (a lot of work and dumb luck) who never responded so I took the lyrics out.


And therein lies a major problem - it should be simple for anyone to find the rights owners for any registered work. After all, if we're granting them a government license to control something, then everyone ought to know who has that control.

(I limit it to registered works because otherwise we'd need to track every single work in existence)

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Michael Loucks


And therein lies a major problem - it should be simple for anyone to find the rights owners for any registered work.


It was a nightmare. I started with Google. Found something on Lionel Richie's wife and the song. Somehow I got hold of a lawyer or legal assistant who helped me. She had access to a database the industry uses to determine the copyright owner. And with songs, there are two copyright owners. One owns the right to perform the song. Another one owns the lyric copyright. In this case it was Alfred Publishing.

ETA: It's been a while, but I think Google told me the ASCAP repository was the way to find the copyright owner. So I put in the song name "Endless Love" and the performer "Lionel Richie." This was the result:

https://www.ascap.com/repertory#ace/search/title/endless%20love/performer/lionel%20richie

It lists 3 publishers (none of which is Alfred Publishing, btw) so I used the first one since it was Lionel Richie's wife. It wasn't her or her company and it wasn't any of the other two listed. As I said, I lucked out by finding someone who was actually able to help me.

StarFleet Carl

@Crumbly Writer

From the age thing, it is definitely after 1923, so it's NOT in the public domain.

It's also a case of, since it's a apocalyptic novel set in the John Ringo Black Tide Rising universe, the title of the story is also the title of the song - Dust in the Wind. That's intended also as a play on words, since the story is based in a location I've become familiar with over the last few years - Oklahoma.

And if there's one thing consistent about Oklahoma - other than on very rare occasions, there's always wind (the locals say that's because Texas blows and Kansas sucks), and if we haven't had rain for very long, there's lots of dust. (I was driving east of town recently where they're doing road construction - so much red dust was kicked up you actually couldn't see at all on the interstate, worse than a thick fog.)

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

The age of the song doesn't matter, because current copyright protects lyrics and other forms of writing for much longer, though it might slip under the older


The age of the song matters quite a bit. The change from 20 years, renewable once for a second 20 years in the US 1906 copyright act to life + 50 in the 1976 copyright act was NOT applied retroactively. Of course the 1990's (don't remember the exact year) extension was retroactive to anything with a still active copyright.

So anything pre-1956 is definitely public domain.

Anything from 1956 to 1970 may still have an active copyright if the copyright was renewed (something that required explicit action by the owner) or may be public domain if the original 20 year term expired without renewal.

Anything from 1970 to 1976 may have still been under the original 20 year term when the 1990's extension was passed and would therefore have been covered by the extension.

Ernest Bywater

OK, I've been away for a week, so I'm coming in late.

In a song there can be numerous copyrights - the one who wrote the word, the one who wrote the music, and the performer.

In the normal course of events you need to find the lyricists to get permission to use the words. The singer or band who performed it aren't relevant to an author and that's a totally different copyright that's usually held by the recording company.

Another aspect is the you need to look at the country the song is first copyrighted in, because that's the copyright you have to comply with. Many US performed songs were written by UK lyricists in the UK and are under UK copyright, not the US copyright.

Replies:   helmut_meukel
helmut_meukel

@Ernest Bywater

Another aspect is the you need to look at the country the song is first copyrighted in, because that's the copyright you have to comply with. Many US performed songs were written by UK lyricists in the UK and are under UK copyright, not the US copyright.


Project Gutenberg ran into this by making available books – in German – by German authors (eg Mann) where there's no US copyright any longer. A German publisher sued and the German court ruled Gutenberg has to deny access to those books for Germans. So now they deny access to all books for Germans.

The Project Gutenberg server has denied your access. Possible explanations:

Visiting from a German Internet address? As of February 27 2018, addresses in Germany are blocked. For more information, see https://cand.pglaf.org/germany/index.html


Nice, isn't it?

HM.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Michael Loucks

And therein lies a major problem - it should be simple for anyone to find the rights owners for any registered work. After all, if we're granting them a government license to control something, then everyone ought to know who has that control.

Chances are, based on experiences with authors here on SOL and elsewhere, if no one responds to such an inquiry, it's likely because the author is indisposed (i.e. no longer able to decide such issues for themselves) or deceased, and the family didn't think their legacy important enough to bother with.

In short, in you put forth the effort to contact the rights holder, and can prove so if questioned, then you're entitled to use the material, provided you state somewhere in the document that you were unable to reach the copyright holder, and are willing to remove it if asked. That's the extent of the legal requirements (providing you don't go over the legal limit, otherwise the courts may decide you decided to take advantage of the situation).

This discussion comes up a LOT when dealing with font, image and other issues, and has stood the test of time. The key is, you can't simply assume you have the legal right, but you've tried to acquire the legal rights to the best of your ability (i.e. you couldn't just 'not find' them, but there was no way for you to contact them.

This typically happens when a bunch of people want to use a publicly accessible font, multiple people have tried contacting the legal owner, on repeated occasions, the font has been publicly available for some time, and no one has ever registered a complaint about its use. Even given all of that, everyone recommends adding the legal disclaimer as well.

Crumbly Writer

@StarFleet Carl

From the age thing, it is definitely after 1923, so it's NOT in the public domain.

It's also a case of, since it's a apocalyptic novel set in the John Ringo Black Tide Rising universe, the title of the story is also the title of the song - Dust in the Wind. That's intended also as a play on words, since the story is based in a location I've become familiar with over the last few years - Oklahoma.

Therein lies another problem, not with your copyright, but with a register title. It's possible that the title "Dust in the Wind" is a protected title. However, in your case, you're not using it for the name of a similar product (another song with a similar melody), so you should be clear to use it. After all, you can't legally register a common phrase (like the words "a" or "the") just so you can sue anyone who ever writes anything at all!

Crumbly Writer

@helmut_meukel

Nice, isn't it?

Hee-hee, consider it payback for originally allowing and heavily promoting Mein Kopf (or "Mein Kompf" in English, don't ask me to explain the difference in spelling German words in English).

robberhands

@Crumbly Writer

In short, in you put forth the effort to contact the rights holder, and can prove so if questioned, then you're entitled to use the material, provided you state somewhere in the document that you were unable to reach the copyright holder, and are willing to remove it if asked. That's the extent of the legal requirements (providing you don't go over the legal limit, otherwise the courts may decide you decided to take advantage of the situation).

Please, could you cite a legal source which supports your claim?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@robberhands

Please, could you cite a legal source which supports your claim?

Once again, we're back to the proverbial "If you can't prove your statement beyond a reasonable doubt (i.e. something beyond what will hold up in court) you have no right contributing to this forum.

I've reporting how most authors, designers and creative people respond to the problem. And since I don't happen to have a legal library at my disposal, not being a lawyer myself, I can't quote chapter and verse (which varies by country, state and county anyway).

But that's beyond the point. What matters isn't that you're blameless, but that you made the effort and the copyright holder was at fault for not responding to the initial request. The fact you're asking for anyone with information about the claim to step forward is generally seen by the courts as a 'good faith' effort and not an attempt to claim someone else's text as your own.

So, once again, either offer your own legal opinion, or go to hell, as I won't back down just because you don't like me personally! < insert eggplant emoji here>

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands

@Crumbly Writer

I take that as a no.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

In short, in you put forth the effort to contact the rights holder, and can prove so if questioned, then you're entitled to use the material, provided you state somewhere in the document that you were unable to reach the copyright holder, and are willing to remove it if asked.


I don't believe that's true.

robberhands

@Switch Blayde

I don't believe that's true.

It certainly isn't true in regards to German copyright law and I also highly doubt it's true for US copyright law. That's why I asked for a legal source.

Ross at Play

@robberhands

It certainly isn't true in regards to German copyright law and I also highly doubt it's true for US copyright law.

Isn't it Canadian copyright law that's relevant here?

Replies:   robberhands
robberhands
Updated:

@Ross at Play

Isn't it Canadian copyright law that's relevant here?

No. Generally, the copyright laws of the country in which the duplication took place is applicable. Albeit the specifics can be very complicated and are by no means undisputed.

Switch Blayde

@robberhands

That's why I asked for a legal source.


Here's a source, but not a legal one. http://dearrichblog.blogspot.com/2011/09/cant-find-copyright-owner-what-do-you.html

If one has tried and failed to locate the copyright holder of an image or if they no longer are in business or are unknown to the author (myself), is it sufficient to use a disclaimer such as "All reasonable attempts have been made to contact the copyright holders of all images," and perhaps "You are invited to contact ____ if your image was used without identification or acknowledgment." We recently watched an excellent Vidal Sassoon documentary and at the end was a similar statement – something to the effect of "For those photographers whose images we used without permission, we tried to find you and couldn't and thank you for your wonderful contributions."


Orphan works. What you're dealing with is an "orphan work" --- one that is still protected under copyright but whose owner is missing in action and there's nobody to contact for permission. (There was an attempt to legislate rights for orphan works a few years ago but sadly that failed.) A disclaimer like this won't relieve you of a claim for infringement but it could go a long way towards limiting your damages if (1) somebody appears out of the woodwork to chase you, and (2) you can demonstrate you made a reasonable good faith to search for the owner. A typical good faith search would include an Internet search and a search of the Copyright Office records.

robberhands
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

Thanks. I read it as a disclaimer attempt and somehow doubt it would hold up in court. However, like CW, I'm not a US copyright lawyer. All I'm certain is, it wouldn't hold up in a German court. Under German law, copyright infrigements are irrespective of default. You either hold the copyright or have permission from the holder, or you don't. The rights owner is under no obligation to reply to requests regarding his copyright.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

In short, in you put forth the effort to contact the rights holder, and can prove so if questioned, then you're entitled to use the material, provided you state somewhere in the document that you were unable to reach the copyright holder, and are willing to remove it if asked.

I don't believe that's true.

Actually, in the cases I'm referencing, it's more proof that there no one to come after you, rather than absolute protection from copyright protection. Still, I contend that, if a copyright holder registers a protest, that a judge is more likely to go easy on you if you TRIED to locate the legal rights holder, especially if you ask, in your work, for the rights holder to come forward.

However, in every case, I still wouldn't go over the 10%/one-or-two stanza rule, in any case.

As far as that's concerned, even though you're entitled to use a couple lines from a literary work, I like to go out of my way to authenticate the work in question (many are incorrectly attributed) and to reference the actual work, so that rather than detracting from the original, I help to highlight the authors/artists work.

How that holds up in court is another matter.

Crumbly Writer

@robberhands

It certainly isn't true in regards to German copyright law and I also highly doubt it's true for US copyright law. That's why I asked for a legal source.

Yeah, despite sounding like many of your other specious arguments, you do have a valid claim there, but that's my 'back-up argument'. In most cases, I won't use a work if I can't guarantee that I'm in the clear, but ... I've found a couple of 'perfect' fonts for a project, which others have been searching for the original designer for years.

Replies:   robberhands
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

That's why I asked for a legal source.

Here's a source, but not a legal one.

Thank you, Switch. I wasn't arguing copyright law, but an 'orphan work' exemption. It's not legal protection, but it's a decent safeguard to keep in mind.

Obviously, the best solution is to simply NOT use someone else's work.

By the way, I've had editors copy authors to validate that the quotes I've used were the actual words they used (common attributes are often misquoted, or they purposely modify the quotes to make them sound better), and I've never had one ask that we do not use the quote.

For longer quotes, the hassle over trying to locate the author in question is enough of a deterrent to prevent one from even attempting to use it!

Crumbly Writer

@robberhands

Under German law, copyright infrigements are irrespective of default. You either hold the copyright or have permission from the holder, or you don't. The rights owner is under no obligation to reply to requests regarding his copyright.

If I'm not mistaken, in most instances, a copyright judge will ask you to pay your share of your earnings for the use, unless they deem willful misconduct, in which case they'll throw in penalties above any financial gains. That's what protects someone from freely distributing published works for free, but in many cases (certainly not all) a judge is likely to deem a serious attempt to contact the original works owner as a 'non-malicious copyright violation'.

Again, an 'orphan works' defense is not a legal defense, but it might go a long way to protect you.

And, once again, sorry for dumping on you back there. While I wasn't stating my legal point of view correctly, your objection simply sounded what we've fought about repeatedly in the past, so I went with my 'gut reaction' rather than treating your objection seriously. (Brings to mind a tale of 'complaining about wolves').

robberhands

@Crumbly Writer

Yeah, despite sounding like many of your other specious arguments, you do have a valid claim there,

In disregard of your own valuable opinion, you just spouted the same accusations as always.

Dominions Son

@StarFleet Carl

From the age thing, it is definitely after 1923, so it's NOT in the public domain.


As far as US copyrights go, anything pre-1956 is public domain.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

OK people, let's calm down. On the copyright issue where you can't contact the copyright owner the legal situation is it's still under copyright laws and they apply in their entirety. However, a disclaimer as mentioned by CW and Switch will go a long way to mitigate the damage if taken to court if you have good records of how hard you tried to contact the copyright holder. In most countries the courts won't be happy with copyright owner if they don't start with a Cease and Desist letter, so you have to react immediately you receive one.

In short the legal requirement is to get the copyright holder's approval - no ifs, no buts.

As for duration refer to

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_law_of_the_United_States#Works_created_before_1978

quote

All copyrightable works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain; works created before 1978 but not published until recently may be protected until 2047.[39] For works that received their copyright before 1978, a renewal had to be filed in the work's 28th year with the Copyright Office for its term of protection to be extended. The need for renewal was eliminated by the Copyright Renewal Act of 1992, but works that had already entered the public domain by non-renewal did not regain copyright protection. Therefore, works published before 1964 that were not renewed are in the public domain.

edit to add - if copyrighted in another country as well, then that country's laws applies as well.

richardshagrin

Can you copy parodies?

For example, "For it's hi hi he in the good old ARC, and the donuts go rolling along." Which my wife used to sing to the Artillery song, "And the caissons go rolling along." She had a 10 year career in the American Red Cross, the ARC. I don't know if there was a copyright to the parody, it was one of several dozen songs in the mimeographed ARC songbook.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@richardshagrin

Can you copy parodies?


The person who first notes the new lyrics can copyright the lyrics with a notation as to the music needed. However, many of these military parody songs are listed in records etc. as being by Anonymous and a lot of them are sung to music which is already in the public domain.

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