You Can’t Quote That

by Andy ScheerAndy Scheer June 2015 3745 72 dpi

Sometimes ‘fair use’ doesn’t apply.

Page 174 stopped me cold. Unless the novelist wanted legal trouble, something had to change.

In editing the novel, I’d already checked the copyright and permissions page. I saw the usual boilerplate acknowledging use by permission from several Scripture versions. But nothing about song lyrics.

Ideally, the author would two choices. But this project was on a tight deadline. So page 174 had to change.

A character had just turned on her car radio, and it scanned to an oldies station. Suddenly she was back with her boyfriend in 1965 at their senior prom, hearing their favorite song.

A natural segue for a brief flashback. With one problem: the author quoted the song’s entire chorus.

Printing the full chorus
of a recent song
is clearly too much.

Enter the copyright police. While lawyers struggle to define exactly how much of a copyrighted work an author can freely cite, printing the full chorus of a recent song (and 1964 is still considered recent) is clearly too much. Opinions vary about whether quoting even a line is kosher. But mentioning the title is safe.

I confirmed the author had neither the time nor the inclination to track down the song’s copyright holder. So now, readers will be told that Grace smiled when the radio played “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups. The next paragraph will say they had expected that soon, they would go to a chapel and get married. And a paragraph later, the sweetheart will paraphrase a line of lyrics about loving until the end of time.

In the story, the former sweetheart had done four years in prison. I wouldn’t want the author to share a similar fate.

About Andy Scheer

With more than 30 years in publishing, Andy Scheer has provided freelance editorial services since 2010. He has edited fiction and nonfiction for publishers including Moody, WinePress, and BelieversPress, as well as for clients including Dirk Cussler, McNair Wilson, DiAnn Mills, Heather Day Gilbert, and Sammy Tippit.

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