Instead of suing, musicians should pay writers for advertising

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One of the craziest things I learned while attending a writer’s conference recently is that including song lyrics in a book are absolutely forbidden.

Apparently music industry lawyers have exhausted the pool of legitimate offenders who download and share music without paying for it, and also tired of harassing the Girl Scouts of America for singing camp songs without paying as well as karaoke bar owners succumb to the extortion of paying royalties for heinous renditions of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that bear more resemblance to coyotes being impaled in an iron maiden than Freddy Mercury.

The music industry is so litigious right now, said one of the presenters, that you can’t say “Andy Williams sang ‘Moon River’ in the background” in a novel. You could be sued for unpaid royalties!

Can we all throw our hands up and yelp a big “WTF”?

And yet — I just wrote “Andy Williams sang ‘Moon River’ in the background” and it’s on newsprint (or a computer monitor, depending upon where you’re reading this) and I don’t see bottom-feeding lawyers lining up at the front door. Apparently they’re so busy harassing and intimidating B-grade authors writing cheesy romances for Kindle, they haven’t worked their way up to newspapers.

Wonder if it’s a First Amendment, freedom of the press thing. I suspect that’s the case.

Freedom. It’s a beautiful thing.

What’s not so beautiful is the freedom to file all sorts of B.S. lawsuits and wring outrageous settlements out of people for allegedly infringing on a musician’s property and stealing their income. Let’s face it — some half-trashed party gal screeching “Walk Like An Egyptian” (guilty) isn’t going to cost the now-defunct Bangles a dime because A) that’s ludicrous and B) nobody buys Bangles CDs anymore.

For that matter, does anybody buy CDs anymore? Mine are sitting on the shelf next to two decades’ worth of cobwebby vinyl.

CDs. Pssssh. Now, we’re buying music from iTunes, and actually that’s a pretty cool deal because we can buy just the one-hit wonder song we love (read: Ke$ha — “Don’t Stop”) without having to suffer through the hole excruciating album.

Add to that Amazon Prime’s amazing music library (have it) and Sirius XM radio (have it) and Pandora (have it but not paying for it until they force me to), and there’s just not much reason to purchase a CD anymore. The artists get their royalties from whatever digital source we’re purchasing from, and everybody’s happy.

Except authors. Still unable to quote song lyrics in books. This is amusingly backwards (I’d use the R-word, but people yell at me). If a writer quotes song lyrics in a book, obviously you can’t hear it. If the song is integral to the story, the reader might be intrigued enough to look that song up on YouTube, love it, and purchase it on iTunes on the spot.

In other words: Ka-ching.

Where, formerly, without the author’s free advertising, there was no Ka-ching at all.

In a perfect world (I would be in charge) this music royalty thing would be exactly the opposite. Musicians would have to pay the author a fee for advertising their work. Think about it — isn’t this exactly like product placement in movies? Do you think Coca-Cola sues Paramount because Angelina Jolie is sipping a Diet Coke in her latest movie? Oh, hell no. Coca-Cola is doing an ecstatic backflip and scrambling to set Angie up with free Diet Coke for life.

Musicians — take a cue from corporate America. Free publicity is free publicity, and it’s priceless. Leave the authors alone for chrissake. Trust me, 98 percent of them are making mere pennies on their sad little novels that are lost in a sea of self-publishing, and sometimes not that much. Some of them can’t give their books away. Check it out. You’ll find hundreds of free Kindle books, and those authors still can’t get anyone to read their books. Ergo, none of them made bank on your precious little lyrics.

Nope, nobody’s making any money. Even worse, I fear that self-publishing may have the same effect on literature that blogging has had on — ahem — professional opinion writers: A flood of mediocre writing without editorial control that the public gobbles right up until it can no longer detect good writing from sludge.

Somebody should write a sad country song about the deterioration of commentary … “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be columnists… don’t let ’em peck keyboards and laptops too much… let ’em be stock brokers and software engineers and such …”

Yeah, doesn’t quite have the snap of the original. I should probably stick to snappy self-banter.

By the way, I just copyrighted those lyrics. If you repost them, I’ll sue you for royalties for all the income I was denied because you reprinted them without permission.

Ludicrous, right? But is it any more ludicrous than claiming that Andy Williams lost income because I typed “Moon River, wider than a mile” in this column?

Hear that?

It’s the sound of nothing being denied to anybody.

Isn’t Andy Williams dead?

We need some sanity injected into this whole music royalties issue. There needs to be a distinction between someone profiting from a song (for which royalties should rightfully be paid) and a book in which lyrics are mentioned to enhance the story — and, painfully obviously: for which the book was not purchased. Nobody ever in the history of the world purchased a novel because on page 756, “Andy Williams sang ‘Moon River’ in the background.” It simply has not ever happened, nor will it.

By the way, I’ve mentioned “Moon River” several times in the column, and I guarandangtee ya that nobody saw my column today and said “Oh, goodie! She’s writing about ‘Moon River’!” and read it just for that. Moreover, it hasn’t denied Andy Williams a dime. If anything, somebody might think, “Hey, I remember that song” and go buy it on iTunes.

Mr. Williams: You’re welcome.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at; read more of her work at and

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