Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How to Obtain Permission to Reprint Lyrics for a Work of Literature

Music has been an integral rhythm in my life so no wonder that was reflected in my memoir. Early complete drafts of my manuscript were littered with musical references, including beaucoup song lyrics. From the beginning my classmates at Saint Mary’s warned me that it was costly to procure permission to reprint song lyrics. I never doubted that, but I also received conflicting information as far as what lyrics I could use for free. Unless my memory is fuzzy—which is entirely possible—I assumed, for the longest time, that I could use up to three lines of song lyrics before I would have to shell out any money to reprint them. Although I was unable to substantiate this in Getting Permission: How to License & Clear Copyrighted Materials Online & Off , or through Internet research, I continued to believe this.

Call it wishful thinking.

Now that my manuscript is being finalized—and after I found out how arduous it can be to attain reprint permission, and how expensive reprint fees can be—I decided it would be good to write an article discussing my experience. I also wanted to provide some tips that can help other writers interested in obtaining permission to reprint lyrics for their work. Also, I found several articles and message boards online that were useful but I didn’t find one article or page that housed all that information. I hope this post can provide that all-encompassing help.

To chronicle my experience in obtaining permission to reprint song lyrics for a work of literature, let’s go back to my manuscript.

The manuscript I submitted to my publisher was peppered with song lyrics. Here’s some examples: in the second chapter of my book I used four lines from a Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man song; a later chapter had an epigraph with lyrics from a Langston Hughes poem; in another chapter I wrote one line from Led Zeppelin’s "In the Light.” In similar fashion I referenced one line of song lyrics from a Metallica song, Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” And that’s just the beginning. I also had two chapters written in screenplay format which incorporated song lyrics into character dialogue. In total, my manuscript contained thirteen instances of song lyric usage. (And my editor, Elise, bless her, combed the entire manuscript to note each instance.)

She also informed me that most music rights holders would insist on charging for permission to reprint lyrics. This was no surprise, but I thought I still might be able to get away with using one single line of music lyrics without having to pay a fee. Although I was still naïve about what financial hurdles lay ahead, I knew enough to know that I was unwilling to pay for the right to reprint all those lyrics in my manuscript.

Once my publisher and I honed in on the song lyrics that we really wanted to keep, I went about crafting a letter template to send to the music publishers. I crafted my own letter from this sample letter template I found through The University of Iowa Press. (Their guidelines from their When You Must Get the Copyright Holder’s Permission and Preparing permission requests sections are succinct and solid; you can check them out here.)

Once I got my permission letter template down, the next step, naturally, was finding the name and contact information for the appropriate music rights holder. I figured it would take some work but be relatively easy.

Boy was I wrong.

In my experience, the most challenging aspect of this entire process was figuring out who the correct music rights holder was. Let me give you one example to demonstrate how challenging this was: The Misfits “Die, Die My Darling.”

Okay, so I sought reprint permission for The Misfits “Die, Die My Darling.” Good place to start—knowing the artist and the song title. From there the all-seeing Eye of Sauron—I mean, Google—directed me to a Wikipedia link which informed me that the song was released in 1984 through Glenn Danzig’s label, Plan 9 Records. Great, Plan 9 Records, here I come! A Wikipedia entry (god bless ‘em; and if you use Wikipedia as much as I do, do the right thing and throw some bones their way) for Plan 9 Records informs me that the label was discontinued in 1995. Its materials were subsequently distributed by Caroline Records—whoever they are. Okay, Caroline Records, here I come! But then the Wikipedia entry for Caroline Records states that their parent company is Universal Music Group. According to the article, “Caroline Records are subsidiaries of Caroline Music, which includes Caroline Distribution and is in turn owned by Universal Music Group.” Doobie doo, so methinks Universal Music Group is the place to contact to obtain reprint rights for The Misfits “Die, Die My Darling.”

Still with me? Good. Because we just got started on the trail.

According to the Eye of Sauron, I mean NSA’s bed buddy, I mean Google, “Universal Music Group is the largest music corporation in the world.” Great. Since I had already embarked on adventures through the websites of music conglomerates like Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Publishing I knew it might be challenging to pin down the contact information for whoever manages such permission requests.
In short, my attempt to obtain reprint rights for a song owned by the Universal Music Group took me to an outfit called Hal Leonard Corporation. Who are they? Glad you asked; according to their website, Hal Leonard Corporation is the world's largest music print publisher. What’s there relation to Universal Music Group? I don’t know. All I know is that you have to bark up their tree in order to obtain the music print rights ye seek.

From their Copyright page I was directed to their Copyright Department. It contains handy-dandy links for the types of permission they grant. What I needed was permission to reprint “Lyrics only in a publication.”

Long story short I submitted an online request to Hal Leonard Corporation requesting permission to reprint lyrics from The Misfits song. This happened on October 6, 2014. Their Copyright page states, in big bold letters, “PLEASE ALLOW 4-6 WEEKS FOR PROCESSING,” so I allowed it to slip from my mind. Two months later I received a response. They informed me that “the print rights to ‘Die, Die My Darling’ are controlled by Reach Music Publishing”—whoever they are. The person who sent me the letter was kind enough to include contact information for Reach Music Publishing. By that point, though, my editor and I had already devised a way to retain the chapter and refer to The Misfits song without using any lyrics. I saved myself that chunk of change.

So that’s one song I sought for reprint permission.

There were four other songs I was interested in obtaining reprint permission.

Attempting to find music rights holder can take you into an interweb wormhole especially when you’re dealing with corporations like Universal Music Group and EMI Publishing. Figuring out who owns who is a challenge on its own. Figuring out the proper contact information is yet another challenge.

Thankfully, I was directed to music and performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC that have searchable repertories/repertoires that can help you identify the correct copyright holder for a song. ASCAP’s Repertory search found a listing for one of the songs I sought reprint permission for, Louis Armstrong’s “Someday You’ll Be Sorry.” Their website provided the contact information for the Music Sales Corporation, the copyright holder for that composition.
The initial permission letter I received from them granted permission for an initial print run of 2,000 cloth copies for $100. Not bad, I thought. But then, my publisher asked me to secure “the nonexclusive right to reprint lyrics from the composition” for up to 4,000 hardback, paper, cloth and electronic copies. The company countered with a fee well over $300 for a print run of 4,000 copies. It was quite a jump from their initial letter. I inquired about the cost if we lowered the print run. I was informed that their fee is dependent on the number of copies.

In the end, I paid over $200 for the right to reprint four lines of lyrics from Louis Armstrong’s “Someday” for a print run of 2,500 hardback, paper, cloth and electronic copies. If I need to obtain permission for additional copies—which I highly doubt—I will have to contact the company to negotiate that fee.

At about the same time I was negotiating this reprint fee for Louis Armstrong’s 1946 song, I was trading e-mails with Metallica’s management, QPrime. I badly wanted to incorporate lyrics from their song, “Bleeding Me,” into my manuscript.

Once I forwarded an e-mail inquiry to QPrime they got in touch with me soon after. Via e-mail we negotiated what I sought and how much a “lyric reprint fee” would be. Before long, I received an e-mail from them stating “confirmation of the client’s approval of the reprint of the lyrics from the Composition,…for gratis for the first 4,000 units sold, MFN with all other lyrics being licensed for reprint in the Book.”

I was beyond stoked. You have to understand that I am a huge Metallica fan. In my letter to Metallica’s management I gushed about how much their music meant to me—that I had been listening to Metallica for over half of my life (true) and that I couldn’t quite conceive of life without their music (also true). Metallica—“the client”—had granted their approval of reprinting lyrics from “Bleeding Me,” a song that still means a lot to me. I was ecstatic about that alone—that a member(s) from one of my favorite bands had presumably read the chapter in which I wrote about how much that song meant to me. And I was positively thrilled that they were granting me the right to use the lyrics FOR FREE for the first 4,000 units sold. I was so excited that I had overlooked that curious acronym,“MFN,” in their e-mail.

So what does “MFN” mean?

Elise, the fantastic Senior Acquisitions Editor at the University of New Mexico Press and her equally wonderful colleague, John (the Director of the press), explained that Metallica’s publishing entity, Creeping Death Music (ASCAP) was willing to give me use gratis for 4,000 copies unless I had an agreement with another company for reprint permission—and happened to be paying said company. In that case, QPrime required that I match the same deal with the highest amount that I was paying another company. In this case, ASCAP sought the same deal that the Music Sales Corporation struck in granting permission for “Someday.” That is what “MFN”—legally known as the Most Favored Nations Provision—means.

So that was a bummer. I should have known better. If something’s too good to be true, it typically is. That’s life.

In the end, I was unwilling to shell out around $500 for the right to reprint two sets of lyrics for 2,500 copies. That would have meant paying about .20¢ per copy for the right to include those lyrics. (Don’t they know I’m a fucking writer, e.g. I’m not loaded with money?) And that agreement was only for the initial copy run. If I ever sold more than 2,500 copies of my book, what would these music corporations charge me for additional copies?


But anywho, to wrap up this post, here are some tips and resources in obtaining reprint rights for a work of literature. I hope they’re helpful. Please feel free to include any other resources in the comments section.

• Once you finalize your manuscript, really, really hone in on the lyrics that are indispensable—the ones you need to convey your story.
• If your manuscript will be printed for commercial purposes, figure out how many copies your initial print run will be. In all likelihood, the copyright holders will price the reprint fee based on the amount of copies.
• Give yourself ample time—more than two to three months—to obtain permission. It may take a long time to hear back from these corporations—if they ever respond. (I sent an inquiry to Document Records for reprint permission rights to an old Virginia Liston song. I never heard from them.)  


Music and performing rights organizations:
ASCAP: http://www.ascap.com/
BMI: http://www.bmi.com/
SESAC: http://www.sesac.com/

No comments:

Post a Comment