Hey, it’s time to print TJ and Amal Volume 2! Which is going to be sold! For money! And it contains movie dialogue and copyrighted song lyrics all over the place!
GUESS IT’S TIME TO BUY RIGHTS TO SOME CONTENT.
A quick summary - If you’re also planning on quoting songs or movies in your published work:
1. Try to avoid it, it’s expensive and a hassle. Cut, parody, or paraphrase if possible.
2. If you gotta do it, try to keep it to one licensed item.
3. Find who to contact by looking on the sheet music, not in the album liner notes
4. Allow 2-3 months for response time before press date.
5. READ EVERY LAST BIT OF FINE PRINT in the license agreement before you sign it. If you don’t understand a clause, don’t be afraid to ask.
6. It’s up to you to keep following up - don’t sit and wait for them to get back to you. If it’s been over 2 or 3 weeks, check in. And again.
Anyway, the details: (WARNING: THIS IS SERIOUSLY FUCKING LONG)
WHO TO CONTACT AND HOW TO FIND THEM
Okay, so I spent about two days desperately poring over album liner notes and calling record labels, only to find that music rights and lyrics rights are two very different beasts. Fortunately, @mcruthless saved the day by suggesting I look up the sheet music!
So. Go to musicnotes.com and look up the sheet music for the song you need. Just type the song title into the search bar and it should come up.
So, for example:
You’ll only be able to view the first page, but that’s fine, because that’s where the copyright info is! Down at the bottom, you’ll see something like:
Musicnotes.com won’t have everything, but it’s a good place to check first. If it’s not there, then try just Googling “[song title] sheet music”, and you should be able to find a scan or transcript.
You can also just try searching the artist or song title at http://ascap.com. If it’s a smaller independent band and you can’t find it on musicnotes.com or ASCAP, try contacting the record label.
So the copyright holder on the lyrics is Dick James, but rights are administered by Universal/Polygram. A quick Google reveals Dick James is defunct, so let’s go to Universal Music Publishing instead. (Universal owns Polygram.)
Click “License Music” and it should refer you to one or two e-mail addresses. Most licensing requests are for use of the song itself, like in an ad or movie, so you may get bounced to someone else who specifically handles lyrics or print stuff instead. It varies depending on company.
Now, this isn’t “visit site, go through cart, buy rights” - in most cases, it simply pointed me to a particular e-mail address to contact. Each license is investigated before it’s granted, so you won’t be able to buy rights immediately; it’s gotta get checked out by the licensing division first, and that take a few weeks. (Licensing the Back to the Future movie dialogue was a lot faster, but I’ll cover that further down.)
Each licensor I contacted had a different setup. Carlin Music and EMI had a set licensing system already in place; Merge Records, a smaller outfit, just went by e-mail and forwarded my request to the singer/songwriter himself.
So now let’s cover…
WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR INITIAL LICENSE REQUEST
These are the factors that determine what sort of license you need and how much it will cost!
- Song title
- Who wrote the lyrics
- Title of your book
- Brief summary of your book (“two strangers go on a road trip across America and fall for each other” was mine)
- The scene and context the lyrics appear in, and how much of the lyrics are used (e.g. “TJ sings the first two lines of the song as he comes out of the shower”). Some licensors will ask you to elaborate on this, probably to prevent derogatory/defamatory use.
- Production budget for your book
- Retail/cover price
- Number of copies to be printed
- Self-published or through a publisher? If so, what publisher?*
- Is there a deal for bookstore distribution? (e.g. is Random House going to be sending this out to Barnes & Noble stores, is it going to be on Amazon, etc.)
- Will your comic be sold just in your country, or worldwide?
- Are you using the lyrics in advertising/promoting your book?
* Even if your book is coming out through a major publisher, it is still your responsibility — not the publisher’s — to handle these licenses! Most publishing contracts include a clause where the author frees the publisher of any liability or responsibility for damages arising from the book’s content, so it is up to you to C your own A.
THE MFN CLAUSE: READ THE FINE PRINT
In the process of trying to license the “Transatlanticism” lyrics, I encountered a little thing called the “most favored nation” or “most favored customer” clause. It’s better to show than tell, here, so: click here to see the agreement.
Basically, what it means is that you gotta pay all the licensors you work with the same amount for lyrics rights, and that “same amount” is the highest fee quoted to you. So basically, if I’m trying to license one song from EMI and one song from Warner, and EMI asks for $100 and Warner asks for $200, I have to pay EMI $200 as well.
MFN/MFC clauses are pretty common all over the entertainment industry, so you should probably expect one if you’re doing licensing like this. If you’re just licensing one song, this shouldn’t be a problem!
However, since I was attempting to license SIX SONGS, I decided to hold off on finalizing any agreements till I knew whether or not those fees would break the bank.
Aside from the fee, most licensors will also ask for you to sign and mail agreement paperwork (snail-mail; only one licensor accepted a PDF), plus one copy of your book (when it’s available) for their records.
WHAT I LICENSED, HOW MUCH IT COST, HOW (& WHETHER) IT HAPPENED, AND HOW LONG IT TOOK
Normally I don’t like to talk dollar figures, but I think the usefulness of this info outweighs the bad manners. The figures below are for a self-published, self-distro run of 2,000 comics, $15.00 cover price. If you’ve got a novel coming out through Del Rey or a GN coming out through Top Shelf or something it’ll likely be a good bit higher, but anyway…
CONTENT, LICENSE FEE, AND TURNAROUND TIME, IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
[Not song lyrics; skip this one if you want]
Dialogue excerpts from “Back to the Future”
$500.00 (2 excerpts at $250.00 each)
Time to secure: 20 days
Submitted the initial request through Universal Pictures’ licensing shopping cart system on 6/8; received a phone call from a licensing rep a few hours later. There was some weird back-and-forth between Universal and Amblin due to confusion over what a self-published graphic novel was ( :| ), but I wound up working over the phone with the Universal rep. The fee was per excerpt rather than per line, so to keep costs down, I cut the script from this page (replaced it with music notes) and cut this page entirely (also cut that page to preserve a 2-page spread later on :U)
It’s worth mentioning that this process went a lot faster and more smoothly than the lyrics stuff - Universal Pictures licenses SO MUCH MATERIAL on a daily basis that they have a really streamlined system in place.
First 4 lines of Fleet Foxes’ “Drops in the River”
Time to secure: N/A (license could not be secured in time for print due to band tour)
Contacted BMG/Chrysalis, Inc. via e-mail on Friday 6/8. Band rep asked for a transcript of the scene, which I provided. Band rep later asked for the full book as a PDF, which I provided. Received no word until 7/11, when band rep let me know they wouldn’t be able to handle licensing issues before the book went to press. [Something exciting is filling in here! Will make an announcement about that when it is also finished.]
First 4 lines of Death Cab For Cutie’s “Transatlanticism”
$100.00 ($150.00 due to MFN clause)
Time to secure: 5 days / 39 days
Contacted EMI Music via e-mail on Friday 6/8; on Monday the EMI license rep referred me to Hal Leonard Permissions. Filed with Hal Leonard and had license purchase within the hour. Received license agreement paperwork 5 days later but held off on signing until 7/17, when the other vital properties were taken care of.
First 4 lines of Destroyer’s “Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux (Sea of Tears)”
$N/A (request denied)
Time to secure: N/A
Contacted Merge Records via website form Thursday 6/7. Request was forwarded to singer/songwriter Dan Bejar, who denied it 8 days later. Lyrics in book have been replaced with music note SFX and Amal just humming along.
[the Toby Keith “Angry American” lyrics have been removed entirely and replaced with made-up lyrics]
First verse & chorus of Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog”
Time to secure: 32 days
Contacted Carlin Music (UK) via e-mail on Friday 6/8. Heard back from licensing rep 6 days later. Sent requested relevant info and comic pages. Received license permission & info 6/20; sent payment by mail. Agreements signed 7/10.
First 2 lines of Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun”
Time to secure: N/A; licensor did not return calls or emails
Called the number for Gorno Music (found on the ASCAP site) Monday 6/11. Got rerouted to an attorney’s office, talked with rep on the phone, sent requested info via e-mail. Received no word afterwards, even with repeat inquiries, so decided to alter words to paraphrase instead of quote. (Reader should be able to guess what song is being referenced even if the lyrics are wrong.)
First 2 lines of Lerner & Loewe’s “C’est Moi”
Time to secure: N/A; licensor did not return contact at all
Contacted Warner/Chappell, Inc. via e-mail Monday 6/11. Received no word, even with repeat inquiries. Decided to alter words to paraphrase instead of quote. (It’s not important that TJ’s singing “C’est Moi” so much as that he’s singing a pompous song about a knight.)
First 4 lines of George Gershwin’s “Summertime”
$105.55 ($150.00 due to MFN clause)
Time to secure: 39 days
(I mistakenly assumed “Summertime” was in the public domain because it is 77 years old. Good thing I double checked!) Contacted the Gershwin Estate via e-mail Monday 6/11; they referred me to the licensor within the hour. E-mailed back and forth clarifying usage details for a couple of days before request was submitted back from the publisher to the estate for approval. Received no word from estate for a month. Checked in again and got licensing paperwork on 7/17.
TOTAL RIGHTS FEES: $950.00 ($450.00 for music)
So yeah, that’s… that’s a lot, but it’s what I’m paying to NOT spend several weeks and a lot of heartache completely stripping out and redoing some vital scenes. (Or altering important bits enough that it would throw an informed reader out of the story.)
I was shortsighted and wasn’t even thinking about rights issues/publishing when I wrote those bits; I was just having the guys be themselves, singing real songs that they like. But it’s definitely something I’m keeping in mind for Volume 3. Fortunately, I think there’s only one song that gets quoted in that.
Overall, this process was an expensive pain in the ass, but it was a learning experience, and I’m glad I did it.
The pain-in-the-ass part was the digging for rights holder & contact info and w-a-i-t-i-n-g for responses; actually dealing with the licensors was fine. IDK what I was expecting, I guess standoffish Hollywood types or something, but the folks I spoke with were really helpful. Which makes sense - they have something to sell, you want to purchase it, it’s good business.
Could I have printed and sold Volume 2 without getting in trouble? Most likely. It’s probably vain and ridiculous to think my tiny book would attract any big eyes. BUT. Licensing this content through the proper channels bumps the risk from “low” to “zero”, and more importantly, 1. the songwriters whose music appears will get some royalties out of the use of their material, and 2. the songwriter who denied the license request retained control over how his work is used.
And as an artist myself, I can definitely appreciate that.
Anyway, thanks for reading! When I first set out to license this material, I could not find ANY solid info or any sort of guide, so I hope this helps a few comic authors or novelists out there!