Lyrics and Lawsuits

I was editing for a client recently and ran across a rather large block of text that seemed out of place. Not only did this long paragraph seem different than her normal writing style, but it seemed very poetic, songlike.

So, that got me wondering…

A quick Google search of a line or two from the paragraph unveiled the answer I was looking for. That paragraph was indeed part of a song. A pretty decent-sized chunk of a song. The paragraph wasn’t italicized, nor were quotation marks used. No attribution was given to the songwriter or performer. But, it wouldn’t have mattered. Copyrighted lyrics can’t be used in your manuscript, not without getting permission from the copyright holder.

(If you have any further questions about this, you should consult a licensed attorney in your state or country where you reside. I’m not an attorney and can’t give legal advice.)

For those of you who might be shaking your heads, wondering why this author would do such a thing, I want you to stop. This author did exactly the right thing. She put her manuscript into the hands of a trusted publishing service. That publisher put the mansuscript into the hands of an editor who went over it carefully and pointed out not only grammatical mistakes, but potential pitfalls that could result in a lawsuit (like the unauthorized use of copyrighted lyrics).

This, my friends, is why signing with a reputable agent or publishing house can be helpful for first time authors. If you choose to go the self-publishing route like so many of us do, please don’t do everything alone. Please reach out to other, more experienced authors. Do lots of research. Hire an experienced editor. And, if in doubt, hire an intellectual property attorney.

Here are a couple of books the come highly recommended, written for authors, BY authors who are also attorneys:

Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook

The Writer’s Legal Guide

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