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/

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Coping (or Why Do I Wake Up in the Morning?)

“We [human beings] are on a nice downward glide. I call it circling the drain. And the circles get smaller and smaller and faster and faster. And you watch the sink empty. Huish!”
–George Carlin, 2011

Why do I wake up in the morning
Nothing's changed since the day of my birth.
-Mike Muir from If I Don't Wake Up, 1988

Life is tough. Full of pain. Teeming with injustice. Coping is a life skill. As far as I know, our colleges don’t provide courses to help one cope with life in our modern world.

So how does one cope?

Our future is bleak. I think that’s becoming increasingly clear unless you’re one of those humans who believes that evolution is a fiction, that global warming is a falsehood created by liberals and scientists so they can obtain funding for their studies, or that racism no longer exists in the United States. The signs of our inevitable demise, signs that our cameo on Planet Earth is racing to an end, are everywhere; you can’t get much more of a warning than when astrophysicist-genius Stephen Hawking warned in 2010: "Our only chance of long-term survival is not to remain inward looking on planet Earth but to spread out into space. We have made remarkable progress in the last hundred years. But if we want to continue beyond the next hundred years, our future is in space.”

By now, you would have to be the human equivalent of an ostrich, with one’s head stubbornly entrenched in the sand in order not to see all the signs our planet is giving us. Here’s a sampling—and I’m just a hardly informed citizen who reads some online articles:
• The mass die off of bees around the world
The decimation of our coral reefs at a worldwide scale
• The alarming decrease of plankton—a crucial source of oceanic substenance—in recent years
• The change in migration patterns of countless species throughout the world—in our oceans, in our skies, on our land masses
• The rapid melting of our polar ice caps
• The alarming droughts and subsequent issues of water scarcity affecting major population areas like Brazil and Western United States, which includes California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and across the Southern Plains to Texas and Oklahoma.

So how do we grapple with this? How can we live with this knowledge and continue to attempt to live some form of a typical existence without imploding, without succumbing to depression, without completing giving up? How can we go on?

Like anything in life, I believe there is no right or wrong. There is no template of thought and action that can work for every single individual. With over 7.3 billion people and counting, our diversity is far too vast for that.

The purpose of this post is to share some thoughts I have on this topic, to share some coping mechanisms that I am trying to develop and hone. Again, this is a haphazard assemblage. I wasn’t formally taught any of these skills, and, last time I checked, I’m not referred to as His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Lately, there’s been a lot of ugliness in the world—or so it seems to be amplified since the Internet can almost instantaneously connect us to happenings in practically any corner of our planet. Ferguson, Missouri. The police murder of Eric Garner. The fact that these police murders of our black brothers and sisters continue to happen—and it seems like there’s always a new instance of it. The seemingly neverending conflict in Gaza. The 46 students from Iguala, Mexico murdered, in all likelihood, by the Federal police. The massacre of over 2,000 people—mostly women, children, and the elderly—in Baga, Nigeria. All the ISIS beheadings. The outbreak of ebola in West Africa. I could go on and on and on and on and on.

A few months back, when I developed a fleeting obsession of Joseph Campbell, I heard that he didn’t read a newspaper for 28 years. (He also saw few films during that time, which I consider appalling.) I have tried to find an interview in which he states why he chose to ignore the news in his time but have been unable to. Whatever his reasons were, I can hardly blame him. What is the point of keeping up to date with the news? I’m speaking for myself on this one, but do we really need to read the news or watch our daily newscast (which I equate with propaganda, or what Bill Hicks said about “the news”) to know that the world we shape is supremely fucked up? Do I need to keep abreast of our news to know that it’s hopeless to believe that we will ever learn to coexist in peace? The answer, of course, is “no.” For similar reasons, I’m on Facebook less (a.k.a. Bragbook, a.k.a. Shitbook, because people—including myself—use it to vent their shit) because I don’t need to log in and see my newsfeed to be reminded of how fucked up our world is.

Which brings me to George Carlin.

A few years ago I became aware of one of his famous quotes: “It's important in life if you don't give a shit. It can help you a lot.” I thought it was sort of funny, but I didn’t really get it.

But then the Occupy Movement happened. I saw how much effort our government and police forces expended to undermine and destroy that movement. Then George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin. Reading comments in any online article about the trial was like glimpsing into a hell, so I don't do that anymore. (I have enough anger about how things are. I don't need to feed that fire.) And then Michael Brown was murdered. And again, our inherently racist criminal justice system protected its own and I was left, again, along with millions of other Americans thinking Has any racial progress ever happened on this land?—a land stolen from Native Americans, a land that played host to their genocide which our history books have done a neat job of glancing over, a land that eventually became the United States, a country whose economy was built by slavery. Though I should have given up on my species, like George Carlin wisely did years ago before he died, I finally did after all these recent injustices and atrocities. As Carlin said in his Archive of American Television interview, “the shit is too deep.”

This country is done for. We’re done for as a species. We’ll never change. We’ll never evolve past racism. We’ll never stop using religion or spiritual beliefs to separate ourselves because we’re humans. Despite our outward appearance, despite our modern wardrobe, despite all our fancy gadgets and technology we’re still inherently a tribal beast, and there will always be a human—or group of humans—that will think they’re superior to others. I don’t think that will ever change.

So I’m completely hopeless? Of course I still maintain the right to keep a glimmer of hope. Or, as George Carlin once said: “Oh, they say if you scratch a cynic, you'll find a disappointed idealist. And I would admit, that somewhere underneath all this there's a little flicker of a flame of idealism that would love to see it all—huish—change. But it can't—it can’t happen that way. And incremental change—it just seems the pile of shit is too deep.”

Nowadays I’m trying to cope by stealing yet another page from The Book of Carlin: I’m trying not to have a vested interest in any particular outcome regarding all our madness. Like him, I’m trying to mentally divorce myself from all the injustice and shit we will always have among ourselves. I’m trying to see myself primarily as an observer of how we as a species continue to treat this planet like a fucking rental. (Economist Lawrence Summers once said: “In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car.”) As hard and emotionally impossible as it is, I’m trying not to give a shit. I’m trying not to give a shit about something I have no control over. I know this may make you idealists shake your head at me but I think a part of you can understand how it’s a practical and sane reaction.

That’s how I’m trying to cope. And, of course, love and laughter are necessary tonics. If we’re not living to be with the people we love, to do what we love, what’s the point in waking up?