Author Can't Quote A Single Line Of A Song In His Book Without Paying Up
from the fair-use-is-dead dept
We’ve pointed out in the past just how ridiculous it is that publishers are incredibly risk averse when it comes to quoting anything in a book without permission. Even though brief quotes should undoubtedly be fair use, most publishers won’t allow even single sentence quotes without permission just to avoid the risk of getting sued.
Author Fletcher Wortmann alerts us to the ridiculous situation he faced with a memoir he has that’s coming out next year, where the publisher freaked out about the inclusion of two song lyrics as intros to various chapters:
But thankfully my editors requested only two changes that I objected to, both involving song lyrics I?d used as introductions to two of the chapters. Apparently, although neither of these was more than a line (and neither was more than 10% of the work, so my borrowing should have been permitted under fair use), I could not quote without risking a lawsuit. Apparently I could offer to pay the rightsholders in advance (anywhere from a hundred to a thousand dollars), but this was not recommended, because it would invite further legal scrutiny of the work which we were already slipping though the gates under the cover of darkness. If I refused to pay I would be sued, and if I agreed to pay I would be sued by someone else.
This is stupid. This is stupid in a staggering number of ways that I will now elaborate for you.
First, this is all in spite of the fact that, in the glorious age of the internet, I can find the not only the complete unauthorized lyrics to both of these songs but also pirated music concert videos, mp3s, and Youtube music vids with spliced-together footage of Troy and Abed from Community exchanging sexy glances. If people want your song, there isn?t a thing you or I can do to prevent them from taking it and doing what they like with it. Denying an author access to lyrics does nothing to change this.
And aside from its fundamental uselessness, this legal barricade me as an absurd perversion of the intent of copyright. It?s generally accepted that the purpose of copyright is to prevent bootlegs from being produced, so that no one buys an illegal copy instead of the original and cheats the artist out of a buck. That?s an admirable and just notion. But in what insane parallel universe is someone going to skip buying a song because I quote part of the chorus? Who is going to read a memoir, glance over a dozen words, and decide they?ve somehow illicitly derived the essence of a rock song they no longer need to purchase? Does my quoting lyrics in some way decrease the value of the music?
Fer chrissakes, if anything, I?m recommending your song. I?m telling my reader that I loved this music, that it meant so much to me that I used it to encapsulate a chapter of my life. If it was Diet Coke or something instead of music, you?d pay me to mention your product.
One very minor point: there is no “10% rule” as many people seem to assume when it comes to copyright and fair use. I agree that this almost certainly was fair use, but for many reasons having nothing to do with 10% usage. For example, the key point that Fletcher makes later: that the impact on the market for the work is unlikely to be harmed here is a key pillar in showing fair use.
Either way, this is yet another example of copyright law being used to stifle a form of creativity and speech rather than encourage it.