Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Forgiveness v. Permission

Is it really easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission?

Here we go again with the ‘using song lyrics’ in fiction writing debate.  With a little sprinkling of ‘fair use’, it gets tricky (imho).
So, I did a bit of digging and it looks like sticky ground to me.  Directives are quite clear: you need permission to use lyrics in your writing, and that permission can come with a fee.  An easy way out is to use the title of the song your character is listening to.  That, apparently is ok.
There is also something called ‘fair use’ where a ‘blind eye’ lets a writer use about 300 words of someone else’s prose/poetry/lyrics before getting snarky.
In conclusion, is it too risky? Or would such an infringement glean a tad of much-needed publicity in this tough world of authorship?
And what if you don’t really know who wrote the darned thing in the first place? Here’s my example - if your story has a bunch of characters banging out a well known gospel ditty apparently written by Hank Williams (or is it?), where do you, as a writer, stand?  The lyrics look very similar to verses from the bible to me, I wonder if Hank got permission. Or did he just ask  the Heavenly Father for forgiveness?
Praise the Lord, I may have seen the light!

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