I stumbled across a story at Boing Boing today, involving 15-year-olds on acid and the copyright fights they have. Well, I guess that’s a conflation. The real story comes from Poetry and Popular Culture blog, about young adult novelist J T Dutton’s legal battle between fair use of song lyrics in her forthcoming book ‘Freaked’ and Ice 9 Publishing’s copyright claims. From the blog:
In her original manuscript, Dutton had opened every chapter with a quotation from a Dead song, titling each chapter with the title of the song being quoted from. When it came time to publish, though, Ice 9 Publishing—which somehow owns the rights to all of the Dead’s songs—wouldn’t grant permission to Dutton to use all of the lyrics she wanted to use. Ultimately, Dutton was allowed to quote from “Dire Wolf” and was given leave to use brief phrasings from the songs here and there within the text…So in short, because of the exigencies of copyright law and the concerns of Ice 9, the “Freaked” that you’ll see at the store is not the “Freaked” that Dutton had in mind.
Lame. There’s clearly a difference between lifting lyrics and placing them in commerically-used literature without proper permission or credit. The point of published work – no matter what its medium – is for it to evolve. While I’m sure ‘Freaked’ isn’t high-quality fiction, it’s still important for any artist to be able to interpret and provide resonance to existing works. The litmus test for Fair Use is exactly that – if you’re giving new meaning to something, its not plagiarizing it.
Wind in the willows playin’ tea for two;
The sky was yellow and the sun was blue,
Strangers stoppin’ strangers just to shake their hand,
Everybody’s playing in the heart of gold band, heart of gold band.
-Scarlet Begonias (written by Robert Hunter)