Saturday, November 2, 2013

You Used Song Lyrics in Your Self-Published Book?

Some things you never want to hear. That your best friend was swallowed by a Kaiju. That your mom won the lottery, but decided to disown all of you and retire to Fiji with the pool guy. That your little brother is now a world-famous dub-step dj.

Add to that list, "My self-published book contains song lyrics."

Some of you may be asking “You mean I need permission to use song lyrics in my novel?”
(my awesome graphic design skillz)

I was speaking at a conference recently, and during one panel the topic of using brand names and trademarks in fiction was in full swing when somebody asked the above question.

The short answer is: Yes, you need permission. Song lyrics are copyrighted material. You need legal permission from the copyright holder to reprint copyrighted material--even a line or partial line of song lyrics.

The problem was that this individual had self-published their novel… and apparently there were scenes where the protagonist sang in the shower.

OMG. He illegally used real lyrics to a popular song right there in his self-pubbed opus.

He didn’t know it was illegal.

The record label doesn’t even need to win the lawsuit, they just need to sue you with deeper pockets. You’ll capitulate and then move your family down to the homeless shelter where you’ll cry over your garnished wages for eternity.
"Hmm, this scene could use a popular song lyric..."
This alone is a strong case for having an editor. A real editor (hint: not your mom) would have caught this. Just like they would catch you using a brand name, and tell you to genericize it.

Ladies and gentlemen, don’t reprint song lyrics in your novel. Not unless 1) you wrote the darn song and have every legal authority to use it, or 2) you’ve gone through all the legal hoopla to reprint the excerpt by permission of the copyright holder.