#7 Writing Tip: Is your written content legal?

That quote you pulled from the Internet to use in your marketing, or your book…can you legally use it?

I can use this shot of my daughter in a high school production of "Clue," because I took it. The play title is royalty free, but if I quoted any of her lines here, I'd need to pay royalties, since someone else wrote the words.     @2013 ANVidean

I can use this shot of my daughter Codi (the “Police Chief” in her high school production of “Clue”), because I took it. The play title is royalty free, but if I quoted any of her lines here, I’d need to pay royalties, since someone else wrote the words. @2013 ANVidean

Do you think if you simply provide a source, you’re covered? It’s likely you’re not. You may need to ask permission, or even pay royalties to use it.

When I wrote my novel, Rhythms & Muse, I included famous advertising quotes, celebrity names, song titles, even some lyrics. Not wanting to borrow trouble later, I sought out the advice of a copyright attorney to see what I needed to do to use these snippets of other people’s material. I used Etherton Law Group, but can also recommend Kevin Keener an intellectual property attorney at Keener, McPhail, Salles, LLC.

Advertising quotes

The lawyer informed me I could not use ad quotes, no matter how much people banter them about in common conversation. I had to find a way around it, like in this excerpt from the novel.

      “You mean like, that anti-stomach acid commercial with the Italian guy sitting on the bed saying he can’t believe he ate…’” Alex started.
      Suzanne continued, “Yeah, yeah. …the entire bowl of spaghetti.” She laughed. “Something like that.”
            “Well, I can’t believe I dreamed this whole thing about Matt.”

Celebrity names

Since it is against the CreateSpace Terms of Agreement, I ended up not using celebrity names at all. This forced me—in a fun, creative way—to allude to recognizable characteristics:

“Great. Now, if your local studio doesn’t work out for some reason, we’ll make arrangements to do all recording at our LA studios. I’m hoping for ‘Frankies’ place, though,” Mr. Grandberg said, his unexpected smile lighting up behind the cigar. “Recording at the home studio of my all-time favorite crooner – rest his soul – would be a rare privilege, not to mention the great PR it would make for the single.”

I also used recognizable nicknames, as in this excerpt:

      “Hey, Lex, I have great news!”
      “You mean, the King of Rock and Roll really does live?”
      Suzanne laughed. “No. I’ve patched things up with Kathy.”

I found out Priscilla Presley owns the rights to her late husband’s name, and she requires you to get permission or pay to state his name, depending on how you use it. (Can you say “amass a fortune?”)

Another interesting and frustrating discovery: if you’re self-published, Disney won’t allow you to use any character name. Period. You can’t even pay to use it. [sigh] That led me to sections like this:

“Look, she’s surrounded by all her little dorks right over there. Anyone of them would be glad to have her in their little cottage cooking and cleaning for them. See?” She started pointing one by one to the jocks. “Doofy.  Dippy. Dweeby. Dullard…”

Music artists, song titles, and lyrics

You can use the name of musical artists and their song titles without sourcing or paying royalties. But, if you plan to use any portion of the lyrics, you must pay for their use. This involves contacting music rights management firms like ASCAP, BMI or Hal Leonard in writing, with detailed specifics about how the information will be used.

I ended up paying a few hundred dollars to use a few lines of lyrics from John Denver’s “Annie’s Song,” Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” as sung by Roberta Flack, and Tim Rice’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from the play/movie Jesus Christ Superstar.

Of course, I own full rights to my own original lyrics appearing in the book, and the book’s “soundtrack” of original tunes I wrote and recorded on CD.

Even quotes from famous people are often copyrighted, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you use anyone else’s materials in your writing, be sure to clarify its use with a qualified copyright lawyer. If someone else uses your work, you want them to source it or pay for it, now don’t you?

P.S. If you’re the first to comment, answering the following four questions correctly, I’ll send you a $10 gift certificate from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Can you guess:

  1. The name of the product I alluded to in the ad above?
  2. The name of the crooner who actually owned a home on Hayden Lake in Idaho? (It’s not Frank Sinatra, despite my using “Frankie’s place.”)
  3. The real name of the King of Rock and Roll?
  4. The Disney character I suggest who cooks and cleans house for her little guys?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s