When I was a kid in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, my parents always had the record player going. My mother loved musical soundtracks, do-wop, and her Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy record (which I stole when I moved out. Love me some JMD & NE). My father liked Johnny Cash, Roy Clark, Roy Orbison (guys named Roy, I guess), and Frank Sinatra. And one of the pieces I was tortured by was the above song, written by Irving Berlin, and here performed by Mr. Sinatra. I like me some Frank, but not this one. I can’t stand it.
And another thing I can’t stand is authors using other people’s song lyrics in their books.
This is going to be my annual “you can’t use other people’s song lyrics in your book” post.
And, just like in days of yore, some folks will disagree with me.
But, the legal aspect is quite clear.
Though there is usually no issue with inserting a title “They were rocking out to ‘Duke of Earl!'” there is an issue with using the actual lyrics, which may or may not have the title within them, doesn’t matter.
Yes, permission can be obtained, if you can track down who actually owns them, but song lyrics move around a lot. They get bought and sold, and finding the owner can be quite the (unpaid) job.
Then, if you find them, and you are able to figure out how to request usage, and you get permission, you will have to pay a per-book fee. So, if you sell 100 copies of your book, you have to pay the song-usage fee 100 times.
And you may think, Well, if it’s so hard to find who owns it, I can probably get away with it.
It seems that the very same people who own the songs and don’t want to particularly be found so that you can lease them are quite assiduous about trolling for their lyrics, so yeah, you can roll the dice, but that lawsuit could be expensive and stop distribution of your book.
And here is one final way to think of it that I hope helps, because songs, especially those we have a personal connection to, are so evocative for us that it can seem like nothing BUT the lyric we want to use will do.
So think of it this way:
A lyric is another writer’s writing; it’s like a poem.
In the book that you are writing, do you really want to stick in a hunk of another writer’s writing? Can you imagine if I wrote a story, and, part way through it, I wanted to just stick in part of your story? I mean, you wrote that, why do I think I can just use it?
Lastly, you’re a writer. Surely you can imagine some song lyrics if you need to.
Sorry to be “that publisher,” but it bears repeating, no, you cannot publish your book with someone else’s lyrics inside it. There is no “fair use” way around it.
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