Goodnight Kiss & Scene Stealer Music

Putting YOUR Words/Music to Someone Else's Copyrighted Work

Q. I need some advice; quick !! I know you can't just sit down and write out your own words for music that has been copyrighted. What is the correct way of handling that type of situation ?? My husband's grandmother wrote different words to an already published song. What can we do and not do ??

Thanks in advance,

A. Hey, Gail,
Is it possible the words were to a tune that is in public domain? You are allowed to play with those . You are also allowed to perform "parodies" of songs that are well known (like Weird Al Yankovitch does.)

The moral (and always, before, legal) way, is to follow the normal routine for cutting a song that belongs to someone else... i.e., you pay a mechanical royalty for each song you "press" (the minimum is 500... I recently pressed 300 cds of "Scarlet Ribbons", but I had to pay for 500.) Weird Al ALWAYS pays the royalty, by the way.

This is through Harry Fox ( Right now the royalty is 7 cents per song pressed ($35.00 to press 500). Remember that this is for the writer AND publisher, not much, if you ask me, and only applies to ALREADY RELEASED songs.

NOW! Remember that if you are taking someone else's work, and CHANGING it (think how much you'd like that, if someone tampered with your work and your name was still on it... or worse, see your work with someone else's name on it), you should always seek permission... even if you are incorporating their work INTO your work, with NO change, you should seek permission.

I will tell you, as a writer, that MOST writers are flattered that you like their work. They also like making royalties (even half of $35.00). On the other hand, if you are "adapting" a song from a classic songwriter, they might not want to even entertain the idea of a tiny change. (I don't know for SURE, but I have a feeling if I told Jay Livingston that I had some new words for Silver Bells, he might not go for it...). Normally, you can find a song by title, publisher, or writer at ASCAP, BMI, or one of MANY online song research sites. (Almost everything like ASCAP, you can just .com it, and it works.) The contact persons for the songs will be listed at those places, usually the publisher.

Here's something that floored/burned me. "R.D", (irritating L.A. DJ), did a horrible parody of a BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC hit. It ended up being offensive and not at all clever or entertaining (in my humble opinion). He paid not one dime towards a mechanical for that album, which he sold quite a few of. He was sued by the writer. THE JUDGE RULED IN FAVOR OF RD.. his reasoning? God knows. Apparently, he felt that a well-known song was equivicable with the law that covers the making fun of a well-known person, that once "it" is a household word, it may be spoofed. I think that it was the worst decision I have heard for years, and I pray it is eventually overturned. (Actually I believe the case was not based on an owed royalty, but a "right" to adjust someone else's work... I say go back and make it MONIES OWED, but I'm no attorney!)

OK. The reality... if you are planning on making a quick cassette or CD to share with family and friends, etc., not to "shop" or try to "broadcast", and you don't seek permission or pay a royalty, probably nothing will happen to you (not counting karma, of course). If you are planning on "investing" in a "master" that can be "aired", consult a professional on the realities of that first, ok?

I had a very nice letter at Christmas asking me if I would allow the use of my version of the song "Auld Lang Syne" to be used as a "background" for all the nostalgic pictures the person had taken at Christmas. They promised there would be only 25 copies, not for distribution or sale, but to record family memories. (Of course, they weren't CHANGING my work, but rather adding to it.) I thought it was a fine compliment, and I gave my blessing. I also asked for a copy, for the record.

Hope that helps!

Janet Fisher
Goodnight Kiss Music


2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 Janet Fisher, Goodnight Kiss Music