My Adventures in Song Lyric Copyright Permission, Part II: in which I meet a Prince and a Lord(a)

TATYQ_Alden_Front121412_ver2In the first, hair-raising episode of “My Adventures in Song Lyric Copyright Permission,” I had “discovered” that I had lyrics from not one but nine songs in The Answer to Your Question for which I did not have copyright permission.

Make that ten, given that I had a whole song in the novel.

I immediately changed all the lyrics to just the song titles, which are not copyrighted, and sent the corrections to my formatter, 52novels.com, then uploaded the revised files on Amazon.

But that left the whole song, “Who’s that Knocking at My Door,” to which I had helped myself without permission.  I couldn’t imagine excising that song from my novel.  It’s a great song, and so perfect for the story.  To take it out would leave a big hole. The only way I could see to fill that hole would be for ME to write a song to replace it . . . An even more daunting thought than the Music Industry Police knocking at my door.

I had no memory of where or how I had come upon the song.  But I found a folder in the basement from 2006 that had the lyrics, printed from the www.bluegrasslyrics.com website.  The author was listed as “na.”  Apparently I hadn’t paid much attention to attribution back when I first incorporated the song, assuming without really thinking about it that any permission issues would be handled by the publisher–never dreaming that seven years later, that publisher would turn out to be me. Over time, as I worked on the novel, the song became part of the reality of the story.  I thought of “Who’s that Knocking . . .” as folk music passed down generation to generation, authorship unknown, a song an old mountain woman like Ganny would have learned from her granny, not something written by someone who might be alive–and litigious.

I had to find the songwriter, if there was one beyond “na.”  I Googled the title.

Who’s that Knocking at My Door is a 1967 drama film which marked the debut of Martin Scorsese as a director and Harvey Keitel as an actor. Did you ever see Keitel in Jane Campion’s amazing movie, The Piano? Sexy!

Anyway. The movie Who’s that Knocking . . . has nothing to do with the song I had hijacked. But it certainly messed up my search for the song.  I finally found that a bluegrass band called The Dreadful Snakes had made a recording of “Who’s That Knocking . . .”  The band was started by the great banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, who wanted an informal group to pick with when he was off the road. They recorded an album in 1984 called Snakes Alive, which is still one of bluegrass music’s most respected.

I loved the idea of a band called The Dreadful Snakes with an album called Snakes Alive, since my novel has a dreadful snake on the cover.  I had actually found their recording of “Who’s That Knocking At My Door” to play at my publication party. But at that time, back in February, I hadn’t thought one iota about the fact that I was using the song without permission in my novel. It still hadn’t crossed my mind to wonder who had written “Knocking.”

When I couldn’t turn up the author in my Google search,  I tried things like the Smithsonian Folkways and traditional music/ballad sites. I emailed bluegrasslyrics.com and Bela Fleck’s manager, asking for help in finding the author.  I got nowhere.  Finally, I decided to ask the music librarian at the Hennepin County Library for help, figuring he had more data bases and research experience than I did. He dug into the assignment enthusiastically, trying various searches.  Then he thought to pair the term “bluegrass” along with the song’s title.  Up until that moment I had assumed I had normal intelligence.  It had never occurred to me to think “bluegrass,” even though I had found the song originally on a bluegrass website. Continue reading “My Adventures in Song Lyric Copyright Permission, Part II: in which I meet a Prince and a Lord(a)”

Doobie Doobie Doo: My Adventures in Song Lyric Copyright Permission

Coming this January--SANS LYRICS--to an Amazon store near you . . .
Coming this January–SANS LYRICS–to an Amazon store near you . . .

I made a mistake.

I know, I know.  You’re shaking your head in amazement.  Paulette made a mistake?  She usually makes so many of them, how could she make just one?

Well, it was kind of a doozy, so I want credit for that.

Last January when I self-published my novel, The Answer to Your Question, I thought I’d done everything right.  I wanted to handle the publishing as professionally as a real publisher would.  I thought I had!  I was feeling pretty cocky.

Since I figured I had this self-publishing thing knocked, I decided I’d publish a collection of my short stories, entitled Unforgettable.  I was merrily steaming along toward this goal, until I read a guest post this summer on Jane Friedman’s wonderful website (“Writing, Reading and Publishing in the Digital Age”) about copyright infringement, by Brad Frazer.

Brad Frazer is an author himself, as well as a lawyer who has written on matters of Internet and intellectual property law. From what I can tell, he’s a swell guy. Not only is his post clear and informative, he responded thoughtfully to a million comments from readers like me seeking (free) answers to their copyright questions.

If I had any thoughts at all about using copyrighted material, they had to do with some vague, wishful thinking about “fair use.” Frazer explained that there are two prongs to the fair use question. To be considered fair use, the use must be for purposes such as “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.”

Frazer explains it this way:

That’s the first prong. If your use falls into one of these categories (criticism, comment, etc.), then you move to the second prong of the test. A court will consider the following four factors to determine if your use is a fair use:

1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (emphasis added)

4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

If your use falls into one of the enumerated categories AND you are able to prevail factually on at least two of the four second-prong factors, you might succeed in proving that your use is fair and thus not copyright infringement.

Frazer gives the following example: Continue reading “Doobie Doobie Doo: My Adventures in Song Lyric Copyright Permission”