Music appeals to the soul. The raging beast is often calmed by a well placed song. This is why so many authors love using popular songs, or even songs long gone from the lexicon, in their work. In teen books, current music can be part of defining characters—differing tastes, an anthem that speaks to them, even a haunting love song will add to your story.
There are a few things the author needs to remember about songs in their stories. Far too many of those new to the writing world don’t understand this completely and make the mistake of adding lyrics to their novel.
First of all, it’s nearly impossible to write a book these days without some reference to music. Even a country’s anthem has come into play in books with patriotic themes. Most believe that lyrics, like all other material that’s used daily, can be inserted easily into a novel. They feel this contribution will add to a singer’s fame and they can do as they please in this situation.
Hold on right there.
Are you rich enough to defend yourself against a copyright lawsuit?
Bu… bu… but, you argue. I’ve seen lyrics used in other books.
I’m sure you have. Have you contacted the author and asked if they have permission to use those lyrics? Better yet, did you bother to contact the singer’s representative and request permission to use the lyrics?
Oh, no, you say. People sing along to songs all the time. They make videos for YouTube with the songs in them. They’re not in trouble. Why can’t I do that too?
Good question. Why can’t you just insert lyrics into your novel?
The answer here is that music lyrics are probably the hardest thing an author can get permission to use. You’d better be ready to pay a hefty fee to use those lyrics if you do get permission. You can use a song’s title. According to copyright and trademark laws, those aren’t subject to copyright laws. The same as your book title. Anyone can use it as the title of your book. The only thing your copyright affords you is protection for the information contained within the covers of the book—your story.
Another thing to remember as you begin the search to find out who to contact to use lyrics in your book. There are some companies who own the lyrics and will never give permission to use them. Others will charge an amount so high that you will never make back that cost in royalties. Your best bet is to either just refer to the song by its title, or to make up a song.
About the K.C. Sprayberry
Born and raised in Southern California’s Los Angeles basin, K.C. Sprayberry spent years traveling the United States and Europe while in the Air Force before settling in northwest Georgia. A new empty nester with her husband of more than twenty years, she spends her days figuring out new ways to torment her characters and coming up with innovative tales from the South and beyond.
She’s a multi-genre author who comes up with ideas from the strangest sources. Those who know her best will tell you that nothing is safe or sacred when she is observing real life. In fact, she considers any situation she witnesses as fair game when plotting a new story.
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