Are Karaoke Scenes Illegal?

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  • Are Karaoke Scenes Illegal?

    Hey, guys. As far as I know, none of you are entertainment lawyers, but I know some of you have them, so figured I'd see if any of you have some legal knowledge since internet searches are giving me conflicting answers.

    I have scene in my current script where for a narratively important reason, the male lead convinces the female lead to sing the theme song to a TV show with him at karaoke bar for a about a page.

    Since it's a comedy, the female character has a weird quirk that while she can speak normally, when she sings, her accent changes to the point that her pronunciation of words makes them virtually unintelligible and are phonetically written that way so they read like gibberish, which is the main gag of the scene.

    Here's where I find this tricky aside from the fact that people love to tell you to not write specific music cues for copyrighted songs in a screenplay, which is its own discussion that I also find interesting.

    Anyway, because of the gag I just mentioned, I had to actually write lyrics of the song into the script and not just write your standard music cue.

    Basically what I'm wondering is, a producer having to get the license to the song in the film is one thing, but does anyone know the legality and copyright issues as it relates to a writer putting copyrighted song lyrics into a screenplay, even if half of them are altered for comedic effect?

    Would my copyright registration be rejected if I don't get permission from the company that owns the rights to the lyrics? Could I get sued? Or do the altered half of the lyrics meet whatever the standard for parody is?

    I apologize in advance if I'm not super active in this thread. Work is taking up almost all of my time at the moment.

  • #2
    It's fine.

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    • #3
      Thanks, Jeff.

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      • #4
        The movie The Player (1992) has a Karaoke bar scene. A character sings an old 1950s hit song which also happens to be in Japanese. The rights to that song probably cost very little, if they cost anything at all. Find the shooting script to that film and you’ll see how the writer(s) handled using the song. In that instance, the lyrics are not germane to the main story. In your case, that may be the difference.
        Last edited by Clint Hill; 06-18-2021, 11:13 AM. Reason: Additional comments
        "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.- - Ray Bradbury

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        • #5
          Nice you see you back, Clint Hill.

          Prezzy, if the song matters to your story why would you ever listen to someone regurgitating "rules?"

          If someone loves your story, they love your story. The script will have to go through clearances by the legal department where they will address and assess any legal risk to the production. At that point they will determine whether to pay for the rights, leave it in or write it out.

          Think of the clearances Aaron Sorkin's team went through on Social Network. I actually went to a panel where the lawyer who worked on the clearances spoke about it. Those aren't your worries. Not at the spec writing point. Every movie goes through clearances after they're sold.

          The Annual Black List script title Bubbles (and Michael Jackson) and the biopic about Madona's early start would never get through clearances because both of those artists (or their executors) are extremely litigious.
          "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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          • #6
            Originally posted by finalact4 View Post
            Nice you see you back, Clint Hill.

            Prezzy, if the song matters to your story why would you ever listen to someone regurgitating "rules?"

            If someone loves your story, they love your story. The script will have to go through clearances by the legal department where they will address and assess any legal risk to the production. At that point they will determine whether to pay for the rights, leave it in or write it out.

            Think of the clearances Aaron Sorkin's team went through on Social Network. I actually went to a panel where the lawyer who worked on the clearances spoke about it. Those aren't your worries. Not at the spec writing point. Every movie goes through clearances after they're sold.

            The Annual Black List script title Bubbles (and Michael Jackson) and the biopic about Madona's early start would never get through clearances because both of those artists (or their executors) are extremely litigious.
            Thanks for the encouragement, FA4!

            For the record, it's not as much as rules and the licensing and financial production element, which I'm all too familiar with due to my job as a set worker, but more governmental laws that I was pondering. As in, would a government copyright be rejected due to having copyrighted lyrics written directly into dialogue in a screenplay without consent of the original writer to put them in there. Since you're selling the copyrights when you're selling the script, I didn't want to screw myself by writing something I couldn't get a legal registration for.

            By talking with you guys and some other people, I think I'm probably okay. But it's something I thought warranted some attention on my part.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Prezzy View Post

              Thanks for the encouragement, FA4!

              For the record, it's not as much as rules and the licensing and financial production element, which I'm all too familiar with due to my job as a set worker, but more governmental laws that I was pondering. As in, would a government copyright be rejected due to having copyrighted lyrics written directly into dialogue in a screenplay without consent of the original writer to put them in there. Since you're selling the copyrights when you're selling the script, I didn't want to screw myself by writing something I couldn't get a legal registration for.

              By talking with you guys and some other people, I think I'm probably okay. But it's something I thought warranted some attention on my part.
              There’s no harm in considering any of that; you never know what might cause a reader’s disinterest.. Of course, as a writer, you could create lyrics to your own Karaoke song; then you’d have no worries at all. Let those whose job it is to do what they do best do to your script when the time comes, in this case, set your lyrics to music. The option or sale of your screenplay is your hurdle.
              "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.- - Ray Bradbury

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Clint Hill View Post
                There’s no harm in considering any of that; you never know what might cause a reader’s disinterest.. Of course, as a writer, you could create lyrics to your own Karaoke song; then you’d have no worries at all. Let those whose job it is to do what they do best do to your script when the time comes, in this case, set your lyrics to music. The option or sale of your screenplay is your hurdle.
                You're not wrong, but this isn't a make up your own lyrics type of situation, unfortunately. Both characters in the scene have a very deep, but totally different way of how they connect to a certain type of TV show. The choice of a television show theme song was highly deliberate because it ties into the story and characters.

                It wouldn't necessarily have to be the exact theme song I chose, but the one I ended up going with I chose because people not familiar with that genre of television would still be familiar with that song, which would allow the audience to make the narrative connection.

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