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January 7, 2013
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New Lyrics for an Old Song...How Close is Too Close?

:icona--anthony:
A--Anthony Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013
I like to write new lyrics to songs I like, sometimes they're completely different, but other times I echo the lyrics that already exist very closely because I want to give the reader the impression of the same song, so that the changes strike them even more strongly. In my gallery I recently wrote my own version of lyrics for Auld Lang Syne, which was completely different from the original song but echoed the same sentiments: [link]
I know that would not be considered anything like plagiarism because the lyrics are entirely and completely different, word-wise. However, about a year ago, I wrote new lyrics to another song which used some of the same lines as the original song. I did this purposefully because the original lyrics of the song always irritated me when I heard it sung, mostly because I felt like it did not reflect the world as it is now, and the song itself (being so recognizable) could make people think more if some of the lyrics were changed. I am torn about posting the song because I did use many of the same lines as the original song, although if I do post it I would definitely post a link to the original lyrics and give credit to the original lyricist.

My question is this: How close is too close? If you write a reprise of an existing song of which you are not the author, is it plagiarism? Especially if you use about twenty percent of the original lyrics without changing them? Can you use a greater amount of the original author's lyrics and steer clear of being criticized as a rip-off artist? (Keep in mind, I don't intend to use the rewritten lyrics for profit, I simply would like to know what fellow writers think about this topic if I do decide to post the song on DA, but I would appreciate any comments that analyze the legal issues involved as well if it were ever published. FYI, the song I rewrote the lyrics for is, I believe, old enough for the copyright to have expired) Thanks all!
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:iconmr-timeshadow:
Mr-Timeshadow Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013
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.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I've heard technically Weird Al's protected by parody laws, he just does it out of courtesy.
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:iconmr-timeshadow:
Mr-Timeshadow Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013
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!
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:icona--anthony:
A--Anthony Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013
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 :P
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:iconmr-timeshadow:
Mr-Timeshadow Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2013
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.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Woooow. Haha, wtf. I know royalties actually go to Lucas for use of 'droid', but that's so not the same.
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:iconmr-timeshadow:
Mr-Timeshadow Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013
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...
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Yeah, seriously. They could push to drop the charges if they wanted to, it's still in their name :/

What the fuuuuck. I wonder what Mendel would have to say about that.

Never heard of that!
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:iconmr-timeshadow:
Mr-Timeshadow Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013
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...
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
hahahahahhaha, holy damn. is it older than Star Wars?
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