Were I asked, I would tell any aspiring writer: “Never use song lyrics in your fiction.” This is a real pity as it means populating literature with characters who will never listen to, nor replay in their minds, the riffs of jazz, the heart-break of ballads or hard hits of heavy metal. Symphonies might do, but no opera. Permissions rights people are slow, difficult, expensive, and even incomprehensible.
This is a recent exchange of emails, through my permissions person, four months after first requesting permission to use two lines from a Smokey Robinson classic.
Thank you for your email dated August 2, 2010. As your deadline has approached (we had offered a tentative publication date of June), the author will need to remove the lyrics from “Tears Of A Clown” from the publication as approval has not been granted.
But the question remains; will permission be granted later? Should we wait and hope, or was this a permanent clear-cut denial? The reply to this question was:
Thank you for your email dated August 3, 2010.
The request has not been denied regardless, however I can not guarantee any sort of a time for a response to arrive.
This is the lyrical world of permissions we live in. Did you know that when you write a book, you must program half a year’s delay to your publication, if you need permissions? Let this be a warning.