You're so vain, you probably thing this book is song about you, don't you don't you?

Miss Snark,

This question may be either too lame or rare a situation to have answered, but I will try none the less:

My novel is partly based on a song by one of my favorite bands. Anyone who reads my novel and is familiar with the lyrics of the song could easily make the connection. (Both invlove VERY strange events/people so the similarities could never be considered a coincidance) If the book is ever published could this get me into trouble? The band is smaller and I doubt it would ever be noticed, but if it were, could it lead to problems?

What kind of problems?
You mean copyright infringement? No. Just don't use the lyrics verbatim (and even then you've got some wiggle room).

Legal trouble? Is the song about where you hid Jimmy Hoffa's body? Ya, you got trouble then, starting with one of the guys who reads this blog (yo, Gambino!)

Aesthetics? Dunno. Is it a good song? Is it the local equivilent of Louie Louie?

Personal problems? "Honey..why's is the band toilet papering our front yard?"

Odor problems? Look I'm not gonna tell you the song stinks, but some reviewer might notice.

There are all sorts of ways to have problems with novels. Basing it on a song probably isn't in the top five. Even with a bullet.


Anonymous said...

One of the things I do to practice writing and entertain myself (hold on, this is G rated) is write short stories based on song lyrics. An example would be "Atomic Punk" by Van Halen. I wrote a SF short based on that song (thanks, Dave!). As an exercise I use every word of the lyrics in the story in sequence but never two words together. It makes for fun practice and you would be surprised at the creative juices that get flowing. I suppose this technique could be used to break out of writer's block as well. Of course, I will never attempt to publish (I am just thrilled to post on blogs) so I don't have to worry about being sued. But, that wouldn't stop me.

I said all that to say: Just do what you do. There are worse things to get sued for than being a published author, right? -JTC

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark:

You mention at the end of this post, "There are all sorts of ways to have problems with novels".

Many of your posts have touched on one problem or another but I'm sure there are so many more that we've (writers) overlooked.

As one of the most respected literary agents, would you be so kind to list all such 'problems'?

Thank you

C.E. Petit said...

I must respectfully disagree with the charming, perspicacious, and dog-loving Miss Snark on this, at least in theory.

A derivative work is a derivative work. In theory, it doesn't matter whether one is going from small to large or vice versa; from medium x to medium y or vice versa; from famous to unknown or vice versa. As a specific example, consider the shenanigans that went into (and continued behind the scenes) the awful, unredeemable Kenny Rogers as The Gambler. And the less said about the entire Sam Spade controversy, the better; it already takes up over 100 pages of judicial opinions, and that's just the official reported stuff!

On the facts, it is entirely possible that the particular story mentioned would not be a derivative work of the particular song mentioned, and that therefore there is no copyright issue. In principle, though, one cannot say "a story can never infringe the copyright in a song," or vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Anon #2, you've GOT to be kidding. Asking MS to list ALL the potential problems with a manuscript is akin to asking a doctor to list ALL the possible ailments and diseases one might have to deal with, ever, in his lifetime. Or asking a housing development planner to tell you ALL the housing, legal, electrical, and construction codes and guidelines he has to follow. I mean, really. Come on.

Do a bit of looking around at writers' websites and you'll find an abundance of novel writing tips to help solve all sorts of problems: plot, pacing, character development, flat vs. full descriptions, overusing adverbs, show vs. tell, immediate hooks, suspending disbelief, conflict, man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. nature, cliches, avoiding dream sequences, and so on, and so on.

And that's just the written word aspect! You're asking MS to list all the technical problems that could go wrong. At what stage exactly do you want everything spelled out for you? Draft? Rewrite? Critique? Query? Submission? Copyediting? Publishing? Marketing? Copyright and legal issues?

I'd bet that for every one problem you might encounter along the way, there are twenty other problems that could have surfaced too. To follow MS's advice: keep writing, revise, submit, rinse and repeat. The rest will fall into place. Worry about crossing all those other bridges when you get to them. In the meantime, the first bridge is still miles away. Keep writing.

Bernita said...

On the other hand, Dear Inquirer, your version of the roman a clef might be a good publicity hook.
Which band buzz sort of thing.

clouds in my coffee said...

Miss Snark has impeccable taste in music.

type, monkey, type said...

"A derivative work is a derivative work."

I am trying to think of an example of where a court would actually rule in favor of the copyright holder of the song, and not cite fair use. Turning a song into a novel is so transformative. Assuming you don't use the lyrics--imagine you were to write a novel based on The Beatles' Rocky Raccoon. You follow the plot. You use the characters' names. But it is a *novel.* I would wager that unless Rocky has been trademarked, that this would be considered transformative, not infringing on the song's income, fair use, and just fine.

writtenwyrdd said...

Derivative vs. Inspired By.

I have been inspired by a song, as in it evoked a mood, or gave me an idea.

That's what I thought the question was regarding. I am not sure how else a person could write a novel based on a song.

I suppose you might use lines from the song as chapter headings or have one of the characters refer to the song and sing/quote it.

But that would require permissions, which I'd want to have before the WIP goes too far.

Pete Tzinski said...

I wrote a short story once which I based off the lyrics to a song I'd just listened to. After writing a pretty decent story, I went and looked up the lyrics, and then discovered that I had misheard them completely.

So I shrugged, gave it a title, and kept its origins to myself. (Er. Until now.)

Southern Writer said...

I have a lot of experience in getting permission to use song lyrics in novels, and have learned the rules. I can help you, but won't self-promote my site here because this is Miss Snark's showcase, not mine. Bless her heart, she's tolerant, but probably not that tolerant. If you are clever, you will find me. Send me an e-mail and I'll help you.

Hope you enjoy your vacation, Miss Snark.

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark,

A very interesting and timely discussion for me.

I have just been offered representation by an agent for my first book, a music-related memoir in which I quote extensively from lyrics, which are in French--and not, alas, in the public domain.

I'd love to hear more about the "wiggle room" you mention.

I've been under the impression that the only safe route is to quote no more than a couple of lines of lyrics, and then to stick to paraphrasing/summarizing. It is apparently much harder (and more costly) to get "permissions" to quote lyrics than it is to simply pay BMI licensing fees when you record a previously published song.

But if there are alternatives, I'd love to know what they are!

Thanks from a new reader!