June 23, 2012

Xmas bummer

The other day, it occurred to me to wonder whether I could legally include lyrics from Xmas carols in my horror novel, Xmas Carol. They're all over the place in the book right now because I considered them to be in the public domain.

Well, I'm glad I looked into this before publishing the book. It seems you can't include song lyrics in a novel unless you pay exorbitant rates to the copyright holders. If you include lyrics in your novel without paying the title holders, lawyers will swoop down on you and sue you for a zillion dollars. Apparently, you can mention a song's title but not one word of the actual lyrics. Oy.

This strikes me as weird and unproductive. Yes, I know people wrote those songs and they deserve something for their work -- but you're not copying the song and playing it on your TV show; you're just giving the tune some free advertising. And you're certainly not competing with the songwriter in any way. You're not re-selling his song, in other words. (Though I could see how someone might think differently about this.)

But at the core is something deeper: we're talking about Xmas carols here. They're as American as apple pie and "The Star-Spangled Banner". We were weaned on these songs. They are us and we are them. For this reason, it seems ridiculous to say you can't quote the lyrics of an Xmas carol in a book.

Anyway, it's a major bummer. I used the lyrics well in the book. They added something essential by connecting readers' Xmas memories to the story. I hate to lose that. Sigh. Now I have a huge hole to fill. Song titles ain't gonna do it. Bummer.


Artichoke Annie said...

Artichoke Annie to the rescue. Consider it an early Xmas gift.

Public Domain music:

Deck The Halls
The First Noel
Hark, The Herald Angels Sing
Jingle Bells
Joy To The World
Come All Ye Faithful
Silent Night
The Twelve Days of Christmas
We Wish You A Merry Christmas

writenow said...

Thanks, Annie. You'll note I just bumped into this info (it's in the post after this one). Thanks so much. The first source I looked at said you can NEVER quote a song's lyrics. In fact, I found several pages that said this. But I finally bumped into the list. Whew. I'm so relieved. Maybe I'll make fun of the religious ones, if I don't have enough to work with. You're a pal, Annie.