• Write Your Own Damn Words

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Rants & Raves     Comments 5 comments

    All Rights ReservedSo you want to quote song lyrics in your book?

    If you were a friend, this conversation would go differently, but I believe the outcome would remain the same as if you were my worst enemy:  You would ignore everything I write here.

    First, a little known fact (apparently):  If you quote any recognizable portion of a copyrighted composition, then you need to obtain permission from the copyright owners or their representatives (not the songwriters themselves and absolutely not the performers).  Even if that recognizable portion is just a part of a single line.

    Before you even think of uttering the words “fair use,” please be advised that fair use is a defense one can claim when one has been brought up on charges of copyright infringement and that the law is set up to protect the copyright owners.

    And besides, what kind of an asshole hack of a writer would want to use someone else’s work without permission and without compensating the person?  It’s called respect.

    But of course, all of this is simply concerned with going about requesting permission in the proper manner.  The real problem I have with writers using song lyrics in their books is the fact that it is usually completely unnecessary.  Well, perhaps not unnecessary to the hack whose writing cannot stand on its own and who decides to use famous lyrics as chapter epigraphs.

    Rolls of MoneyAnd before anyone brings up the fact that Stephen King did just this sort of thing with The Stand, let me just point out that the minimum fee for quoting lyrics in a book is $100.00–per song–and that fee only grants permission for a very, very limited number of copies.  You want permission for an unlimited number of copies?  You will pay around $10,000.00 per song.  Do you have that sort of money?

    But this is all getting away from the very thing I am most bothered by:  You are a writer.  Perhaps you spent tons of money on your education (at a private school where they had no student-teaching opportunities and so now you’re stuck licensing music for a living), or perhaps you’ve simply read and worked and honed your craft by spending years writing and re-writing and discarding and despairing; however you arrived at the point where you are now, you call yourself a writer and yet, when it comes to it you’re going to use the words from a U2 song to convey a characters feelings.  Write your own goddamn words!

    Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and situations one can never foresee.  John Irving’s newest novel contains an excerpt from a Neil Young song.  Does this make him a hack?  Perhaps not, but keep in mind it is the only song quoted in the book, it is quoted in the body of the text only a single time and John Irving paid a hefty fee without the slightest argument or hesitation.  He could afford it.

    So, you want to quote lyrics in your book?  Why?

    Delicious ScotchWrite your own words and spend that money on a really nice bottle of Scotch.

    Oh and by the way, U2?  Don’t even think about it. Instant denial.



    Rigadoon has a master’s degree in writing from one of the top private schools in the country and lives in the Midwest where he attempts to pay off his student loans working in a field which has very little to do with writing.  He’s very angry but also very tired; therefore, although he occasionally barks loudly he soon falls back asleep.


    Discussion question: Have you used song lyrics in your published work, or have tried but ran into a copyrighting roadblock? Tell us about it below.

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    Michelle D Keyes

    I didn’t know this and while I can appreciate the sentiment you’ve expressed here, I like the idea of lyrics forming the theme for a book or chapter. Music is a big part of my life and it’s the same for others. I hadn’t thought of the monetary ramifications of using song lyrics in literature so I appreciate that information at least.


    Although I feel very strongly that a writer should be able (and willing) to set the theme, mood or what-have-you for their book and chapters and etc. with their own words, I do (albeit grudgingly) agree that the important fact to take away from my post is that such use requires permission and money and… I believe I did not whine about this… time. There is an in between time when one should request permission: Do not request permission prior to being able to supply publishing details (publisher name, print run, etc.) and do not request permission a few weeks… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Or you can go the Jimmy Buffett route–quote your own lyrics in your books.


    Did I ever tell you the story of how I insulted Jimmy Buffett? Or how I used to leave any bar instanty if a Jimmy Buffett song came on? Or how I tend to smack people who mention Jimmy Buffett to me? But seriously, if you are not a recording artists with a large following of strange people who dress in Hawaiian shirts, hang out on yachts and smoke… well, stuff… you can still write your own lyrics and use them in your book. Or quote songs in the public domain (www.loc.gov – The Library of Congress) or quote historical… Read more »

    David Duhr

    You have never, ever told me a story about insulting Jimmy Buffett, but I’d very much like to hear it.

    (By the way, you can say “pot” or “marijuana” or “reefer” or “doobie” or “the green” or “the ganja” on the WBN blog. We do not believe in any self-censorship. And neither do you, Rigadoon.)

    That book you mention reminds me of David Shields’ REALITY HUNGER. Have you checked that one out yet?

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