A few months ago, an online discussion between other professional writers in a forum I visit alerted me to the fact that I didn’t understand “fair use” law at all. Basically, when it comes to song lyrics or poems (or any other work still under copyright), there is no such thing as “fair use” if the work in which you wish to reproduce the quote is even remotely commercial.
For instance, if I were a music critic writing a review of the latest Rush album, and I wanted to quote a few lines of its lyrics to underscore a critical point about my opinion of the album, that would be protected as “fair use,” which is intended to protect academic and critical writings. The same would hold true if I were writing a college thesis about, for instance, lyrical themes in progressive rock music between 1990 and 2009.
But I wanted to quote a few lines from the Rush song “Workin’ Them Angels” as the epigraph for my new novel, The Calling. And there is absolutely nothing “fair use” about that. My novel is a commercial venture. So if I want to reproduce, even only in small part, someone else’s copyrighted content as part of that work, I have to get written permission and pay for the privilege.
So I did. I contacted the management company of Rush back in December and submitted via e-mail my written request to use four lines of lyrics as my novel’s epigraph. I followed up with their office this afternoon.
Tonight I have my license agreement. Its terms are simple and fair, and the fee was reasonable. And I have the peace of mind that comes with knowing I can include a nod to Neil Peart and Rush, long a creative inspiration to me as a writer, without violating their intellectual-property rights.
This pleases me.