A different way to legally quote lyrics in your books

ADMIN NOTE: I’ve written a more comprehensive post on the same subject: “How (and Why) to Use Free Culture Lyrics In Your Book“.

BookBaby’s blog today throws a damper on your wish to quote lyrics in your novel (after noting the 1923 cutoff for the public domain):

The writers and publishers of the lyrics you want to quote are entitled by law to:

  • deny you the right to quote the lyrics.
  • grant you permission and set the terms for usage.
  • ask you to pay them any fee they want for those usages.
  • ignore all your requests until you throw your hands up in the air and decide to just invent some song lyrics of your own to fit the scene.

All of this is true, but it’s not the whole story.

For one thing, there is the Fair Use provision of copyright law, but given the media industry’s habit of suing everybody who uses even a word or a note of something they own, and since they have more money than you or I, I’m not going to suggest you take that kind of chance.

You absolutely can, however, quote lyrics without the headaches detailed on the Bookbaby post, or the Galleycat post to which it links — if the song is available under a Free Culture license.

This is a bit more narrowly defined than just a Creative Commons license. Many, many musical works are put out under CC licenses that restrict derivative works to being “non-commercial” (you can’t make money from the derived work), and there is a whole class of licenses that deny you the right to make derivative works (which quoting a song in your book would count as).

But that still leaves you two licenses, and plenty of songs to choose from. The Attribution (CC BY) and the Attribution-Share Alike (CC BY-SA) licenses are here to save you!

Since, in my Writing Music Monday posts I tend strongly toward instrumental music, or else music with vocals not in English, perhaps my loyal three readers are not aware of the wide variety of lyrical content available under the Creative Commons. So, here are a few pieces of awesomeness to get you started.

Sungod Abscondo, Inside Open Wide (CC BY 3.0)

I made a silly video of the first track using public domain monster movie footage:

Josh Woodward, Airplane Mode (CC BY 3.0)

All of Josh Woodward’s work is under an Attribution-only license. And there is no small amount of it.

Conway Hambone, Live at the Social (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Monster Brothers, Colossal (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Inmyths, Inmyths (CC BY 3.0)

The Dada Weathermen, Birthnight (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Juanitos, Best Of, Vol. 1 (CC BY 3.0)

Abscondo, Midnight Snow (CC BY 3.0)

UNKNW, UNKNW EP (CC BY 3.0) — Though if you can get more than a few words out of the grunge and fuzz sound, you’re better than I at discerning sounds. 🙂

Brad Sucks, Out of It (CC BY-SA 3.0)

And this one’s a bit less clear, but the group is too damn good not to mention: Pur:Pur makes excellent music, usually with clever lyrics, almost always in English despite being (I think) Ukrainian. They give away their music for free, and encourage people to, for example, Make Youtube videos with it, but it’s not under a formal Creative Commons license. Still, given their attitude, it seems completely doubtful that they’d complain about free advertising in the form of being quoted positively in your book. Their albums are all downloadable in multiple formats on Kroogi, and this is a video of possibly their catchiest song:

And if not a one of those float your boat or fit your project, here’s the CC Search Engine so you can find something that, hopefully, does work for you.