On Writing


As an intellectual property creator, I’m supposed to be highly enthusiastic about copyright.

The problem is – certainly in my layman’s view – the laws on this stuff are just bizarre beyond all reason.  I’m doing more editing, which is a thing, but a couple of my pro beta readers (read: in “The Industry”) have said that a bit in my book needs to go.

See, one character sings the happy birthday song to another.  I’m thinking, “This is pretty safe.  People have been having birthdays since before time.”

It’s again fortunate that my friends look out for me, as this is a great exanple of how un-safe things really are.  Turns out: Warner own the copyright for that song, and gain revenues from its use.

Well, what if you only use a bit of the song?  Like the first line (which, in our example, might be disingenuous: the first line is the song).  Turns out, it doesn’t matter.  Now I guess there’s two routes you can go:
1. Petition the existing property holder for use of the IP (…for
a fee);
2. Roll the dice, use it anyway, and end up in a prison shower looking at a bar of soap on the ground (hint: it’s a trap).

I’ve gone through the scene and scrubbed the use of the song.  I reference the song, but no lyrics are there (just the mention of the title of the song).  This is a bit at odds with the use of e.g. company names, which seem to be fair game (under certain sensible precautions).

I put a question in with a lawyer friend on this today, and he had this to say: copyright law is a mire, as there’s no useful registry (like there is with trademarks).  This means that you might not necessarily know if someone holds copyright on something until you test it.  Pass the vodka.

Anyway, today’s been fun!  I had to remove some emotional punch from a scene because someone’s managed to get copyright on something that’s been in use since before Jesus was born.  I hope Jennifer Nelson is successful!  The time horizon on that’s going to be useless though.

See you tomorrow.