In 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)”