Google "filking" or "filksong" and you should find a lot of discussions of current legal policy toward what you want. Weird Al Yankovic does it as parody, but he makes it a policy to notify the band in question and ask their permission. A few react with horror and threaten him with lawsuits, but others are very accommodating. Michael Jackson gave consent, on the condition that Weird Al use his original sheets and even some of the same band members, for accuracy. Class act! Others won't even talk to him. The law has specific policies about this, but you'll find that some bands are WAY more litigious than others. Even if you are in the right, they may ruin you with a pointless lawsuit. So: tread carefully.
Yeah, that's my understanding. That, and some will sue you whether they have standing or not. Spielberg's lawyers sued a museum for a display called "The Jurassic Classic"....until the bad publicity leaked out and the courts said they couldn't "own" a word in the dictionary. That didn't stop them from forcing the makers of Dark City, which back then was called "Dark Empire", saying they owned the word "Empire" as well. George Lucas said he owned it too... Jeez, guys! Grow up! Let someone else use the sandbox for five minutes!
That's true, using certain phrases can be a complete crapshoot. I think Paris Hilton suing over "That's hot" was about the strangest one. I guess even if your work is original, you have to be wary of the phrases you might include
If the work is too generic, the courts don't allow it. Titles like "The Wall" have been used so many times in so many ways that you can't claim it as your own. Lucasfilm also tried to sue over the media using "Star Wars" as the name for Ronald Reagan's missile defense program. As I recall, the courts didn't allow that one either, but I'm not certain on that.
It lowered my opinion of both guys when this nonsense started. I know it's their teams of overzealous lawyers, but when it happens over and over you gotta think they don't mind that much... Oh, and Marvel says it owns the word "mutant"... You know, the irony is that if you buy Return to the Stars by Edmond Hamilton. Get ready for a surprise...
It's a classic of science fiction with a roguish spaceship captain who rescues a guy with plans for a machine capable of destroying whole planets. There's a forest of tiny people (perhaps several inches though, and not furry)...a flight through an asteroid belt...a telepathic creature with a black cloak and dark helmet who breathes loudly and is after the princess...
Thank you so much for the great information I've never heard of filk before (although of course I've heard of Weird Al), but it seems like a really interesting creative genre. I will definitely look into it some more. Thanks also for the copyright warnings, definitely will come in useful if I ever attempt a song not in the public domain. In that vein, do you know if there are any similar problems legally if using a song already in public domain (i.e., the song I used was written in the late 1800s, and became public domain a while ago)? I would assume not, since copyright has expired?
You're very welcome! Yeah, I figured you'd have a much easier time doing research if you knew a distinctive search term. Congress passed a law a few years ago that gave creative artists like movie makers and musicians rights for FAR longer than originally planned under copyright law. Companies like Disney that are pretty damn old demanded it. Basically, if your song comes from the nineteenth century or earlier, you probably have nothing to worry about. If you want some real info, listen to the commentaries of every Simpsons ever made. They often talk about the hoops the lawyers made them jump through to get a parody on the air, like doing a "purple submersible" instead of a "yellow submarine", with different colored suits on people, or horizontal stripes instead of vertical, or... Ditto when they parodied songs. The line between okay and not is very fine!
I realize it's not original, I'm fine with giving credit where credit's due. I'm more concerned with it not being considered a plagiarist. What's the opinion on writing a song reprise that's close to the original?
If you retain large sections you should expect people to be confused about what you are trying to do. It is not technically plagiarism, it is a derivative work. And the idea that such a classic could be 'improved' by a modern writer strikes me as... questionable.
True, I don't think classics could be "improved", so to speak...I mean, they are classics because they are original works of genius. However, I do think altering classics to make a point can give the reader a new viewpoint on the topic discussed, or make them look at the world (and the lyrics) differently.