I Need Help – Copyright Laws

Dabble - Sketch by Trent P McDonald

So I was doing a last run through of my short stories and got to the last story and stopped.  I had worried about it before but then decided it would be fine.  I’m not so sure now.

The story is based on the lyrics of a well known song.  There isn’t really much of a story in the song itself while my story is complex and might have bit of magic.  Maybe.  Very, very different from any story in the song itself.  And yet, it is there.  I never quote whole lines of the song (except a couple of key words here and there) and usually just paraphrased the song.  At the end of the story I give the song writers credit.  Before I put in that credit tag I had someone say they loved the story but there were too many cute cliches.  I told them the song I used, they went back, read it and laughed – that is were the cliches came from!

So, if I take a song and spread it out through a story, creating my own story that is very different from the story of the song, and never directly quote the song, do I have to have permission from the song’s owner to use it?  Can they sue me if I don’t?  When it was on my blog I didn’t worry about it since I’m not making a penny from it, but if it is in a book of short stories?  Hmmm.

As i said, early on I worried a little, but then I decided I should be fine if I give credit where credit is due.  I know if I quote the song I have to have permission, but I don’t, so I felt fine.  But now I’m down to the wire, just about ready to click “Publish” and am getting nervous about it.  The story just rounds out the book so well, I want it in there!  But I do not want to be sued….

So, what do you think?  I will NOT hold anybody liable for their opinions!  All decisions are mine, I’m just curious on what people think.

Thanks.

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23 thoughts on “I Need Help – Copyright Laws

  1. D. Wallace Peach

    I can’t really help you here, Trent. But, I heard that giving credit isn’t the same as receiving permission. The safest thing to do, I believe, is to actually request and get permission. It’s a pain, I know. Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      No, giving credit isn’t the same as getting permission. For fair use you don’t need permission, but what makes up fair use seems to be very subjective! Over the last couple of days I have found a few cases similar to mine that were deemed fair use. One thing that makes my case unique is that I never quote the song, just make references to it and use some of the same words, if not in the same order. But, as you said, getting permission might be safer. In this case, if I go that way I’ll leave it out of the book instead of try – it is one of the shortest stories, 177 words out of a book of 71,000+ words, so not a huge loss except that I like the story. Thanks.

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  2. Pingback: if We Were Having Coffee on the 7th of January, 2017 | Trent's World (the Blog)

  3. nonsmokingladybug

    I don’t know too much about copyright law either. But a Christian radio station informed me before Christmas that they would discuss my abortion post on their station and they gave me the link to the program. I replied that they would do that without my authorisation and they took it off the air without any further questions -what surprised me.

    Copyright issues or plagiarism can get costly. Be aware of it!

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Copyright can get tricky. Of course I would be giving credit to the owner, so there is no plagiarism. I’ve spent many hours looking at copyright law from every angle and every expert says that there are grey areas. From what I can find, I’m looking at one of those grey area, though today I finally found a case where someone did something similar to what I am asking about and it was counted as “Fair Use”. They even quoted the song, which I will not do – there are no direct quotes in the story.
      One thing I’ve seen many times is that a copyright holder can say, pretty much, “cease and desist” if something has been published or not give their permission to use it before it is published. Even if something is allowed under fair use, if the copyright holder says “no” you will be in a lot worse shape using it anyway (even under fair use) than if you assumed it is fair use, didn’t ask, and then fond out you were wrong and have the owner come looking for you (I’m not talking “stealing”, I’m talking quoting and giving credit but in a way that’s not considered fair use). That’s one reason why that radio station dropped it – you said “no”.
      It is complicated. And it can get costly, and very, very costly if you make a lot of money, take a lot of money from the owner (people buy your version instead of theirs) or actually steal it with no credit given (most music copyright cases).
      Thanks! I’m still looking into this particular use and every bit of information or opinion helps.

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  4. Karen

    As you never use complete lines – you should be in the clear, Trent. We all quote something others said before (everyday!); due to the fact that each language has a limited number of words and thoughts.
    Even if the whole song is spread throughout your story in tiny bits, it should suffice to give credit.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks Corina. After reading that it was still pretty grey, but there was a link from that page that actually had almost my situation: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bernard-starr/self-publishing_b_2340231.html
      Not quite, but close enough. Actually, I think back in June of last year when I decided to put this story in I had read this article (I know I spent hours researching!) and this is why I included it. It’s still very grey, but there are a few points he makes in it. And, of course, there are 70,000 + words of story in the book and only 177 words in the story in question with no complete lines of the song ever quoted, not one. In the article he gives an example of a scene were a song in the background is mirroring what is happening and said that is fair use.

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      1. Corina

        Yup. It was my gut feeling that you’re okay using what you did. I’ve read a lot of stories that used entire stanzas (is that what you call it in musie?) of lyrics. And they are self published with not a lot of sales. I’m pretty sure they didn’t ask for permission!

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks. I do have to think about it and do more research. With my bits of research, “plagiarizing” is using text without giving it credit – I would give credit so technically it is not “plagiarizing”. Copyright infringement is a much greyer area. At least with US copyright laws there is such a thing as “fair use”, but “fair use” is a grey area in the law. It is possible someone would think it is “copying” and not using “fair use”. With “fair use” big chunks of text can be used as long as the author is identified. Songs are usually much more touchy than books and rights owners of songs usually press the issue harder. My big issue is that every article I have read about copyright law talks about quoting text, and I am not quoting anything. There are no direct quotes from the song, but if you know the song you will see it… However, I have read examples of quoting text from a song playing in the background and having the same thing happen in the story as being OK by “fair use”, but it was one scene in a long book. But then, this is a 177 word story in a 71,000 word book. If I took out all references to the lyrics and just had the story, the story has no relationship at all to the song, the references to the song just add a different layer of meaning to a story that works independent of the song. Hmm, but you are right that I need to be very careful!

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