My book is set in 1997, so I thought it would be fun to include quotations from my favorite 90s songs and television shows. Sadly, that turned out to be illegal.
In my previous life, I could quote whatever I wanted, probably because I made zero dollars on my academic publications. But for a novel, you apparently need permission. My only choices were to cut all of the direct quotes, or to negotiate licensing agreements with the copyright holders.
What the hell, I thought — I love projects. So I decided to try. This is what happened.
I. Song lyrics
First, I learned that each song has at least one lyric publisher that handles reprint requests. Some songs are owned by multiple publishers who each hold a “share” of the rights (one of the songs I quoted had three different shareholders).
Getting in touch with the right people was surprisingly easy, but they all wanted substantial fees, despite my explaining very sweetly that I’m just a little lesbian author with a tiny budget. One publisher wanted $250 per 5,000 copies. Another wanted $250 per 3,750 copies.
This raised the uncomfortable question of how many copies I could expect to sell. I didn’t have the first clue. I never researched average lesfic sales or asked my publisher because the answer didn’t matter to me — this book has already brought me so much happiness. I truly don’t care about the money.
At the same time, I feel intensely motivated to sell copies, due to some psychological tendencies I’ve discussed here previously. I plan to go balls to the wall and market the living crap out of this thing. Swag will be ubiquitous and plentiful. I will never shut up. So, given that, I had to figure out a likely ceiling.
A very kind Ylva author talked numbers with me and helped me to come up with an optimistic / pessimistic estimate (depending on how you look at it). I realized there was a very real risk of spending a thousand dollars, or more, on these lyrics.
I was almost crazy enough to do it. But coincidentally, I was short on cash, having just spent $4,500 to get the cat to shit again. (She turned out to have megacolon. Poor thing.) So, I very reluctantly passed.
II. Television studio
The television studio was completely different. There was no process, except to e-mail a guy in Legal Affairs named Dick Douchecanoe.
Dick was initially skeptical that a mere romance author could form legal conclusions about what constituted “copyrighted material.” He very patronizingly told me to consult with a lawyer and then get back to him. So, I waited a day and then informed him that my lawyer agreed with me.
Then, he wrote back and said, “we can’t give you permission.” I followed up with a couple of very reasonable questions, and he ghosted me like a bad Tinder date. I e-mailed him every two weeks for a month, even called his voicemail, and nothing.
So, I re-named a minor character after him, described the character as a pissy little troll, and moved on with my life.
In conclusion, there is no copyrighted material in my book.