I had to do quite a bit of rewrites to parts of Night and Day before it could be republished. Copyright laws have gotten significantly more stringent in the past few years, and it seems like every week there are new lawsuits popping up, dealing with various intellectual property issues. There is generally an agreed standard permitting fair use of up to 20% of a work if properly credited and cited, but really, that’s only a guideline, and copyright owners can choose to be as litigious as they want. It’s not worth the risk.
And 20% of a song is pretty small. Plus, tracking down copyright holders who may or may not grant permission isn’t the easiest task, either; it took me several weeks to find the owner of the song “Cabaret” to get permission to use six words of it in one of my books.
But Nate Pederowsky is a singer, and in a time when Tin Pan Alley was in full swing, with George and Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter and Irving Berlin and George M. Cohan and dozens mores churning out hit after hit for Broadway shows and that new medium, radio. Patrons of speakeasies and supper clubs wanted to hear those songs. So Nate sings them. At least he sort of does…
I work for a law firm as a librarian, and part of my job is pulling news feeds for our Intellectual Property group. Trust me – you do not ever want to get involved in an IP case. They are messy, expensive, and last for years. Warner Brothers just settled a long-running, high-profile case over the ownership of the song “Happy Birthday” – they’ve been charging people for the right to use it for decades, and now they have to pay them back…
So when the time came to rerelease Night and Day, I chose to eliminate any direct quotes from any of the songs, even if they fell within the 20% standard. Instead, I tried to convey the feelings behind the songs. Sometimes just the title gave enough, but sometimes it needed a bit more.
Sometimes copyright issues – in the form of plagiarism – hit close to home. Recently two very close friends in the m/m community, JP Barnaby and Piper Vaughn, had works stolen and repackaged under other names. Not just lines, not just paragraphs, but entire works. I can’t even begin to describe not only the anger, but the emotional devastation this caused. And yet “writers” like the ones who plagiarized don’t apparently seem to realize how wrong that is. Not only wrong, but actionable. Sadly, few of us have the resources to pursue them beyond trying to force the offenders to take down the plagiarized works.
In the two cases referenced, it was actually fans of Piper and JP that first discovered the plagiarism and brought it to their attention. And it was their fans who left the negative comments and accusations that forced the removal of the forged works off the Interwebs.
I don’t always agree with every aspect of intellectual property law. I think there are too many loopholes clever lawyers can take advantage of, and too many restrictions in other cases. But they are laws. And plagiarism is theft.
So, much as I’d like to quote verses of the songs that mean so much to Nate and Rick and me, I won’t. Because someday it might be me. And although the composers are long gone and would care, I would. I would remember the pain and devastation of my friends, and know myself for a hypocrite. And that would my pain – and theirs – so much worse.
So my thanks go out to you, gentle readers, for your love and care that help guard us and our works. You are the many-headed Cerberus at the gates. In the words of George M. Cohan (proper attribution!) “My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my sister thanks you – and I thank you.”
About the Book: Nate Pederowski is about as far down as he can go when he’s tipped to a job as a singer in a speakeasy. Dishonorably discharged for being queer, broke and homeless during the Great Depression, Nate is embittered and lonely. The club’s handsome owner, Rick Bellevue, and his sister Corinna are wowed by Nate’s voice and offer him the job.
But the Starlight Lounge is much more than an ordinary supper club, and Rick and his sister much more than just the owners. It’s not ’til Nate gets caught up in a gangster’s plot that he discovers just what secrets they’re hiding. Nate’s life is going to change in ways he can scarcely imagine, let alone believe.
First Edition published by Dreamspinner Press, 2010, in the Myths and Magic: Legends of Love anthology.
About the Author: An unrepentant biblioholic, Rowan Speedwell spends half her time pretending to be a law librarian, half her time pretending to be a database manager, half her time pretending to be a fifteenth-century Aragonese noblewoman, half her time… wait a minute… hmm. Well, one thing she doesn’t pretend to be is good at math. She is good at pretending, though.
In her copious spare time (hah) she does needlework, calligraphy and illumination, and makes jewelry. She has a master’s degree in history from the University of Chicago, is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and lives in a Chicago suburb with way too many books.