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Anyone with knowledge in law, music, copyright, and/or intellectual rights out there? For I have a question.

I have a new idea for a novel turning about in my head. It would center around a theatre production of a musical, though would really be about the interactions between some of the participants. I was thinking of a play by Sondheim in particular. I wouldn't make fun of the play; I like it, and would represent it in a flattering light. There would be rampant use of character names and lines and lyrics. I'd mention Sondheim by name; there would be no question that he wrote it, not me. So, do I need permission to use it, or is it decidedly "fair use" to do something like this? If I do need permission, who do I ask? Would I have to pay for it?

If I have to pay, then really, I'm just going to scrap the whole idea.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 26th, 2004 11:14 am (UTC)
I think it depends on the degree to which your work included material from the play. If your characters go to see Sweeney Todd, maybe hum a few bars on the way out of the theater, it probably falls under fair use. If you include a lot of lyrics, you might need to get permission from the copyright owner, which would probably mean Sondheim's publishers, agents, or manager. What you're doing is unusual; in practical terms, in making an inquiry you'd probably get bumped to the people who license out his musicals for regional performances and have to spend a lot of time on the phone just finding the right people to talk to. They'd also likely be wary about how Sondheim's works are portrayed (don't take this personally; think of the crank factor among his fans), and make you go through a lot of hoops. This might involve some monetary payment.

My offhand guess is that unless you know someone on the inside, it might be possible to get permission, but it would probably be a huge pain in the ass, and unlikely to be free. This isn't an intimately educated opinion on my part, so feel free to discard it in favor of advice from someone more on the inside. But I think it's a reasonable educated guess.

Jul. 26th, 2004 11:18 am (UTC)
you, no matter what, will need a discaimer at the begining of the work stating that all matteirial created by *blah* belongs to *blah*.

and a letter to the distributer where the work is copywrited to never hurts. if you need help, let me know:)
Jul. 26th, 2004 12:30 pm (UTC)
Oh, I would definitely include a disclaimer. But a disclaimer doesn't legally protect you, apparently. I'll have to find out who exactly has the copyright and talk to them, if I want to do this, I imagine.
Jul. 26th, 2004 12:29 pm (UTC)
You're more involved with the music business than most people I know, so I think it's a worthy comment. :) Yes, I'll probably have to end up trying to talk to Sondheim's "people" and explain all kinds of stupid plot details if I want to do this--which is silly, considering I'll likely never have more than a few hundred readers, but I know they've got good reasons to be paranoid.
Jul. 26th, 2004 11:34 am (UTC)
Well, a lot of it depends on how much of Sondheim's work you use, and how integral the work is to your story.

Unfortunately, if you were making fun of or satirizing Sondheim's play, you would have a LOT more leeway in this...but since you're not, your position is decidedly murkier.

At the very minimum, you should ask permission and see what the copyright holder requires of you. Hopefully they won't ask for a licensing fee. You'll have to do a little research as to who holds the copyright for the work in question...it could be Sondheim, it could be a publisher, it could be someone else entirely.

Hope that helped a bit. ^_^
Jul. 26th, 2004 12:32 pm (UTC)
Heh, yeah...
It would be integral in that the play is what the characters are involved in, and it's how they meet. But the story wouldn't really be about Sondheim or about the play's plot; it would just be the platform from which to launch the rest of the story...though since I haven't actually mapped it out yet, let alone started writing it, I guess I'm not sure how much I'd involve it. :)

Probably worth asking, yes.
Jul. 26th, 2004 11:39 am (UTC)
I'm not sure about the legalities of this... however, the person in question is a lucrative money-maker and I'd assume that it *may* be hard to get the OK to center something totally around his work (especially something like Sweeny Todd).

In a similar manner, I have seen novels and plays centering around the production of older plays such as Romeo and Juliet or Othello because of the ease with which one can use those texts.

If I were you, I'd create my own musical or play to center the story around (this could be based on another musical, or it could even lampoon another musical if you'd like to be snarky). This, I know, is a little more work but all matters of legality would be your own then.

Cheers. How's the other novel coming, btw?
Jul. 26th, 2004 12:40 pm (UTC)
Re: Hrmmm...
Well, I was thinking of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum actually, but same deal, I'm sure... :)

I considered using Shakespeare or another classic, but a) would have to review the plays, as I'm fuzzy on most of them, and b) would prefer a musical anyway, given the plot idea I had in mind. (Sidenote: would be kind of funny if his people vetoed this use, considering Sondheim [with Bernstein] rewrote Romeo and Juliet for West Side Story. Heh.)

Hadn't thought of creating my own, though. That might work.

I know I've read novels, of the high-school-romance variety, in which the school puts on an actual modern musical like Oklahoma, and I'm pretty sure I've seen it happen in TV shows and movies too. But then I don't know what kind of strings they had to pull to make it happen. Besides, I'm certainly no one of consequence compared to those publishers and producers, so they might be less willing to trust me. May be worth asking, but I'll be prepared to ditch it for another idea.

The other novel is at 80,000 words currently, and nearly done. Which is why I need to think about the next one. I know from experience that I'll become adrift and neurotic (more so than usual) when I've finished the story and don't have another to work on. :)
Jul. 26th, 2004 02:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Hrmmm...
One of my Novel Ideas requires me to create a TV show. So I thought of a neat TV show. Problem was, the TV show idea was *so* cool that I was loathe to waste it the other novel -- I want to expand it to its own novel. So, now I've got 2 novel ideas, and still need to think of a TV show for the first one. Woe.
Jul. 26th, 2004 04:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Hrmmm...
Heh! That's the direction I saw myself going too, as I thought about it. I'd have to write a story within a story, and couldn't give very much effort and shape to the embedded story, or else I'd just want to write it instead. :)

Maybe you can actually sell your TV show idea to Fox for a couple hundred thousand... (well, we can dream.)
Jul. 26th, 2004 05:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Hrmmm...
I'd *NEVER* sell a show idea to Fox, not these days. They kill off shows faster than...no one, really. LOL.

Plus, as I kept thinking about this "show" the more I drew in themes that can only be explored in a book. So. Shelved novel idea it has become ;)
Jul. 26th, 2004 03:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Hrmmm...
Have you seen the movie Camp?

The screenwriter wrote it, using Sondheim's music in spots to move the plot along. He didn't get permission to use Sondheim's material until after he had finished the script (if I remember correctly).
Jul. 26th, 2004 04:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Hrmmm...
Interesting. No, I haven't seen it, but I've been curious about it. May have to see what they did with the material for comparison.
Jul. 26th, 2004 07:20 pm (UTC)
safe than sorry
Here is where the cliche, "it is better to be safe then sorry" comes into play. Since you are saying that the story would be based on specifics from one piece of work then you would need to contact the publisher about using it in a novel. Chances are they will not charge you for the use of it and if they do then they may just want a percentage of the profit or they may offer to publish the novel and rather than the advace they may use that for the royalty fee for the play. However, like one of your other comments, you would need a disclaimer and you would need to acknowledge the publisher and the original writer of the play.

More than likely, since you are asking before you are using the material they may not charge you anything at all. They may, in fact, tell you that you did not have to ask at all and thank you for doing so. Either way, it is not going to hurt you to contact the publisher.
Jul. 26th, 2004 07:46 pm (UTC)
Re: safe than sorry
True story: I wanted to use four lines from T. S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" in a book. Not only did I have to ask for permission, but they wanted money up from AND a percentage of my royalties.

Hell wit' dat, sez I; I made something up instead.

I would not assume that just because you ask ahead of time that they wouldn't charge you. It will just make it easier for them to track you down. Otoh, if you don't ask ahead of time, you're setting yourself up for an infringement lawsuit. And your publisher will not defend you, because when you sign your contract, you affirm that you haven't infringed anyone.

Not worth the trouble. Make something up.
Jul. 26th, 2004 07:47 pm (UTC)
Re: safe than sorry
up front. Not "up from."

Tyops R Us.
Jul. 28th, 2004 08:24 am (UTC)
Re: safe than sorry
Ugh, what a nuisance! Yes, I'm starting to think making something up is a better idea. I get full control over the material then anyway.
Jul. 28th, 2004 08:23 pm (UTC)
Ok, firstly: People continue to mention Shakespeare's plays as examples for not needing copyright permission. That's because they're not copyrighted. Also, copyright protection runs out on all creative works after a set period ... something like thirty or fifty years after the creator's death. This is why, for example, Picasso's works can be reprinted in art history textbooks without raising a fuss. I would agree with the general idea of pokeystar in that you're more likely to get a positive "yes" or "no" after at least a draft of the novel is written, but that could be a ton of work to result in a "no".

I guess, ultimately, you won't know anything until you find the people to contact and ask ... they can only say, "no", "yes" or conditionally yes ...

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )