13 July 2010

Copyright Permissions Absurdly Hard To Get

Tony Woodlief writing for the Wall Street Journal explains from experience how profoundly flawed the process of getting permission to use an excerpt of a copyrighted work can be. Often, there is simply no one willing to discuss a deal, and the prices demanded for even tiny excerpts is often absurdly high.

For example:

When I asked to use a single line by songwriter Joe Henry, for example, his record label's parent company demanded $150 for every 7,500 copies of my book. Assuming I sell enough books to earn back my modest advance, this amounts to roughly 1.5% of my earnings, all for quoting eight words from one of Mr. Henry's songs.

I love Joe Henry, but the price was too high. I replaced him with Shakespeare, whose work (depending on which edition you use) is in the public domain. Mr. Henry's record label may differ, but it's not clear that his interests —or theirs—are being served here. Were they concerned that readers might have their thirst for Mr. Henry's music sated by that single lyric? Isn't it more likely that his lyric would have enticed customers who otherwise wouldn't have heard of him?

Similarly, "I reached the height of frustration when I realized it was going to take heroic effort to use J.R.R. Tolkien's "Bath Song," which is controlled by a division of my own publisher's parent company."

Few lobbies harm the American economy and our culture (and probably our national security) more than the lobby for "strong" intellectual property laws.

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