View Full Version : Actor singing a few lines of a song?


thenewgirl
01-22-2012, 06:43 PM
First off - hello everyone! As my username suggests, I am new here. Well, new to posting. Long time lurker and grateful for all of the amazing info posted on these forums.

Anyway. A question I am having some difficulty finding an answer to:

If in a short film, I have an actor sing a few lines from a song (NO music, just the actor singing 4-6 lines acapella), does that require the same rights/clearance as if I was featuring a full recording of the song?

I am working low budget and was planning on requesting festival clearance to use the lyrics, but before I do so, thought I would see if anyone has done something similar and was possibly able to find a workaround (in case the expense is too high).

Thanks so much.

Ziggy
01-22-2012, 06:58 PM
Welcome. I wish I had better news though, regarding your question. You need permission/license even for a couple of lines unless the song is in the public domain. This is why you rarely hear Happy Birthday sung in movies. The good news is that getting permission for a festival targetting short film can sometimes be a little easier than features with labels occasionally being in a generous mood. (contact them in the morning!) Good luck.

FrankLad
01-22-2012, 07:57 PM
In your case you should only need pub rights (as opposed to needing both master+pub, if you were to use the actual recording). You can typically look up the publisher by doing a song search through ASCAP or BMI.

They'll usually ask for some basic info, such as:

- Brief Synopsis of Film
- Scene Description of where music will be used
- How much of the song you would like to use (ie 30
seconds, full use)?
- Use (film festivals, exhibit, educational)
- Deadline for clearance of song

They may also like to know your budget, or even ask that you state what you are willing to pay for the song.

I'd like to think that in your case (ie. a character singing a few lines of the song), you could get by with a reasonably low fee. Is it a really well-known song?

Conroy Films
02-08-2012, 08:56 PM
You need permission to sing Happy Birthday in a movie???

That would be a great court battle.

Zensteve
02-08-2012, 09:11 PM
You need permission to sing Happy Birthday in a movie???

That would be a great court battle.

It would be settled pretty quickly. You'd lose. It's owned by Time Warner. :secret:

Also, have you ever been to a restaurant where the staff sing their own custom version of a birthday song? That's so they don't have to worry about any infringement issues. Well, they also get their own unique gimmicky thing out of it, too, but that's just an extra.

IndieBudget
02-08-2012, 09:16 PM
Also, have you ever been to a restaurant where the staff sing their own custom version of a birthday song?

I worked at Joes Crab Shack and we sang "You Lost That Lovin Feeling" ..Im sure a problem if the owners of the rights had issue..

ROC
02-08-2012, 09:25 PM
there was some guy on here recently I told this to and he had the melody in his trailer, he disregarded me...

if (big if) the film goes big, he's gonna have problems, and I'm gonna type "Tolja so"

:)

DeJager
02-08-2012, 09:53 PM
It is true.. the original happy birthday song is copyrighted, which is why restaurants all have their own versions.

[B]FACT: You cannot copyright phrases

"Copyright laws disfavor protection for short phrases. Such claims are viewed with suspicion by the Copyright Office, whose circulars state that, "... slogans, and other short phrases or expressions cannot be copyrighted." Phrases are considered as common idioms of the English language and are therefore free to all. Granting a monopoly would eventually "checkmate the public" and the purpose of a copyright clause to encourage creativity-would be defeated." --
Copyright and Fair Use - Standford University

Meaning: If they don't actually sing the song but only speak the words then they will be fine. You cannot copyright phrases and sentences. It has something to do with tone and the chromatic scale... I can't remember all the specifics.

Gingg v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 56 F. Supp. 701 (S.D. Cal. 1944)
- earlier supreme court ruling that is interesting to read -

Alcove Audio
02-08-2012, 10:40 PM
I worked at Joes Crab Shack and we sang "You Lost That Lovin Feeling" ..Im sure a problem if the owners of the rights had issue..

No problem at all. Most restaurants pay an annual blanket fee to ASCAP or BMI to cover the playing of music in the establishment; this includes the staff singing "Happy Birthday" and other songs. If I remember correctly, the fee is slightly higher and based upon venue capacity for live entertainment. This is why even A list bands can play cover songs without any legal ramifications. It's only when they decide to release a recording of the performance that they have to delve into royalties issues.

Blade_Jones
02-12-2012, 10:31 PM
It is true.. the original happy birthday song is copyrighted
I did not know that. I never would have thunk. Just goes to show that you never can assume anything.