Copyright--the LAST word

I thinking of making the main character in my next novel a DJ (mostly because I used to be one). I know that if you put lyrics in books, you need to get permission. But if the main character were just to mention band names and song names (but no lyrics) would I need to get any permission? Are there any issues involved in this?

Miss Snark has visions of the sheriff arriving with a summons to court for giving legal advice, and worse, legal advice someone relied on for permissions.

IF you're going to do this kind of stuff, I cannot advise you strongly enough to consult an IP lawyer. Laws change, court cases are decided that have an impact on what law "means' and the last place to get reliable legal advice is the internet.

As we've seen from the recent headlines, it's better to find out if you need permission than ask forgiveness for infringing.


Kyle G said...

I would look for books with similar themes. The protagonist in High Fidelity was a DJ as well, and there are tons of references to song names and bands in that book. After consulting the copyright page on Amazon, it seems song titles and band names are fair game, just like public or historical figures used fictitiously. You are correct that excerpts must be credited and approved.

Janet McConnaughey said...

Anent copyrighting titles, the second item under "What is not protected by copyright?" from the U.S. Copyright Office's Web site

Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:


Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents


The "mere listings of ingredients" means there's no copyright to recipes. Hmpf.

Names and slogans can be trademarked, which is a whole 'nother can of balled wax beans.

countessolenska said...

Incidental uses of trademarks such as products and company names in a novel -- "he sped away in his Aston-Martin" -- are unlikely to cause trouble if the use is merely to convey information. Stay away from extensive use which may give the impression that your book is sponsored or endorsed by the trademark owner. (Unless, of course, you're Fay Weldon actually is endorsed by the trademark owner.)

And earlier someone mentioned trademarks and book title complications? I don't mean to nitpick but naming your novel George Clooney Comes To Sheboygan or The Devil Wears Wal-Mart is unlikely to present a problem in most cases. If the title is artistically relevant to the work (a minimal standard but see the lawsuit brought against OutKast over "Rosa Parks" for an example of a losing argument), you're golden. The right to name your book whatever you want is a First Amendment issue which is given great weight and will often trump trademark infringement claims, consumer confusion claims (state law), or right of publicity claims.

Of course, this doesn't apply if your title isn't "protected speech," the First Amendment standard. You should probably pass on "Kill My President, Kill My President, C-I-L-L My President" by Tyrone Green. Take another pass on titles which are so strongly associated with a single source -- "Gone With The Wind" -- that duplicating the title is likely to confuse readers into believing that your book is associated with or endorsed by the other author, estate, copyright owner, etc. Take a third pass on titles which are identical to a book series.

kaolin fire said...

With regard to recipes... a recipe is generally _far more_ than just the listing of its ingredients. How you put them together is what's most important.