Awhile back, I wrote a Young Adult romance novel entitled The Chronicles of Casey V (The Wild Rose Press, July, 2009). The story followed the adventures of 16-year-old heroine Casey, a summer camp counselor at an exclusive camp along the shores of Lake Michigan. After a summer filled with madcap adventures, Casey organizes a Broadway-musical style Talent Show. One of her 10-year-old campers, a mysterious introvert named Brooke, volunteers to perform. She chooses “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie and as she stands on the stage, dressed in shabby orphan clothes, face smudged with dirt, belting out the lyrics, (SPOILER ALERT): a police car with sirens blaring arrives on the scene. For some reason, they want Brooke. Casey, at a loss as to what on earth is happening, convinces the intruders to at least allow her to finish her song:
“Tomorrow! You’re only a da-a-ay awa-a-ay!”
They agree, and as soon as the song is done and the audience applause is deafening, the cops handcuff Brooke and shuffle her away. Turns out that this odd little girl was actually the same child who had disappeared from an orphanage weeks earlier, and had been the center of a media frenzy a few towns away.
When I got a publishing contract for Casey, I was thrilled. As I worked through the edits, the cover art and other pre-publication tasks, I stumbled upon a valuable lesson involving the use of song lyrics in a published novel. Come along with me and you can learn it too.
Is It Really That Big a Deal?
In short, it’s a no-no, unless you go through the proper channels to get permission for them. Otherwise, you’re opening yourself up to litigation for copyright violation. If a song is used without the copyright owner’s knowledge and permission, they may sue to get what they feel is their fair share of the use. If they feel you’re making money with something that has their writing in it, they feel deserving of a percentage. And yes, I mean “yourself” – not your publisher. The most trouble the publisher will get into is they’ll be asked to pull the book off the market. The author is the one in the hot seat. And word has it that the music business is fairly litigation-happy in nature.
It’s Easier to Just Remove the Lyrics, But …
When the subject first came up, my editor mentioned that their company policy wasto have the authors eliminate the actual lyrics, and somehow write “around” the reference to the song. Then they avoid the necessity of dealing with the licensing issue at all. Song titles aren’t copyrightable, so you can use those all you want. But the lyrics themselves are. I wasn’t happy about the rewrite, but I rolled my sleeves up and gave it the ole college try. But try as I might, I couldn’t retain the dramatic tone of the sirens blaring in the midst of this heart-pumping musical number, being performed by the quiet little wall flower who had barely said a word all summer --- while simply saying, “She was singing a song about a little red-headed orphan from a popular musical – nudge, nudge – you know the one.”
So, I revisited the subject with my editor. She told me she was willing to let me include the lyrics if I went ahead and got the proper permissions, and absorbed any fees on my own. I decided, what the heck, and began the process. If I ran into a brick wall or something I wasn’t willing to do, I could back off further down the road.
Where To Start
First I did some internet research (Google is my friend) to determine who owned the rights to the song. I quickly came up with the name of the songwriter and the lyricist. A few more searches gave me contact info, addresses in New York City for representatives of both individuals. Lacking proper email addresses, I composed two snail mail letters describing my dilemma and what I was after, and mailed them off. There must have been some routing around of those letters, because I eventually got an email back from the Permissions Manager at the Hal Leonard Corporation, who owned the copyright of the song. Surprisingly, Hal Leonard was not the recipient of either of my original letters. But somehow my request got to the right place. I was on my way.
What’s Public Domain Anyway?
Through the copyright section of the Hal Leonard website, I learned a few things. First, I learned the actual meaning of the term “public domain.” In speaking to a few of my writer friends, I had heard the inaccurate information that copyrighted songs are in the Public Domain, and therefore, you can include them in your book without permission. Oh boy, was that incorrect! The only songs that are in the Public Domain are songs that were copyrighted in 1922 or earlier. “Tomorrow” was written in the 1970’s. Not wanting to risk litigation, I wanted to do this the legit way.
The Process Starts
The Permissions Manager directed me an electronic form to submit with lyric information. They wanted to know: Pub Title, Author, Publisher, Format, Price, Territory, Print Run, Pub Date, Pub Description. Then the Song Title being requested, the songwriter and the Lyric Text. They cited three weeks response time.
My next correspondence was a request for more information: a personal email from the Permissions Administrator at Hal Leonard, asking for the number of copies to be printed, a complete list of all compositions that will be included in the publication, and the excerpt as it was to appear in my publication, including at least one page before and after the excerpt.
At this stage of the game, my finals edits were wrapping up, my book was being formatted and I was starting to sweat it out, wondering if this copyright issue would be resolved by the time my book was ready to go to print. But I needn’t have worried. Within a reasonable amount of time, I received a letter back, telling me they’d be willing to grant me the permission I sought. They assessed a fee, based on the number of copies I’d shared with them.
Most Favored Nations Basis … huh?
They said the fee was quoted on a “most favored nations basis with any other lyric excerpts included in the publication.” I didn’t have a clue what this meant, so I fired up Google to check it out. I learned this was an industry term used not only when song lyrics are included in books, but also when music is used in movies and other artistic formats. It basically means that although Hal Leonard quoted me a fee to use the Annie lyrics, if I was also working with another copyright holder to include lyrics of another song in the same book, and their requested amount was more, then I needed to pay Hal Leonard the higher of the two amounts. And if I tried to get sneaky, and pay them the lower amount, they would somehow find out and I’d be in breach of contract.
Since “Tomorrow” was the only song lyric included in my book, it didn’t apply to me, and I was satisfied with the fairness of the price they quoted, so I agreed to their terms.
Next came two more requests from Hal Leonard:
· They provided actual wording to be included in a special Acknowledgement page inside the published book. They dictated the placement of the special page (after the copyright page and any Dedication page, but before the actual content starts) and the exact wording.
· They asked for a free copy of the finished book to add to their library. I didn’t mind this, actually. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to imagine my Young Adult novel sitting on a library shelf somewhere within Hal Leonard Corporation, along with all the other novels containing excerpts from their massive collection of songs. Casey is in good company!
It was an educational trip, and not too incredibly painful, so in retrospect, I’d do it again. And if you have a scene or chapter where the actual song lyrics are crucial to the plot, and couldn’t easily be replaced with a vague reference, I’d recommend the same thing for you.
Laurie Larsen is the published author of six novels. Not one to stick to a single category, her work spans such genres as contemporary romance, inspirational romance, Young Adult romance and mainstream fiction with romantic elements. In 2010 she became an Award Winning Author when her novel Preacher Man won the prestigious EPIC contest in the Spiritual Romance category. It was a mountaintop experience she’ll always remember, hearing her name called in a crowded ballroom in New Orleans. She’s eternally grateful she didn’t trip on her way up the steps to the podium to give her acceptance speech. Laurie is married, the mother of two exceptional sons and a lovable mutt named Gracie, and spends her daytime hours managing application development projects in the high tech world of big business. Visit Laurie online at www.authorlaurielarsen.com to learn about Laurie’s books, including her newest release Inner Diva, read her online journal, participate in giveaways and contests, etc.
Current work: My latest book is Inner Diva, a contemporary romance featuring quiet, reserved Monica, a theater manager who dreams of being in the spotlight, and Carlos, a handsome Hispanic man who’s trying to put his priorities in order after a past containing violence and lost love. Carlos’ little sister Luisa brings the two of them together when Monica becomes her mentor through the Big Sisters organization, much to Carlos’ disapproval. No one in their right mind would put these two “opposites” together, but love doesn’t always strike when it makes sense. As their love grows, only they can help each other realize their dreams.