Writing about music without infringing copyright.

It’s hard to write a novel about 90s rave culture without mentioning music.

You have to be careful not to infringe copyright. This has been a real issue with my story set around Sydney’s Oxford Street in that era. I started by referencing songs without using their lyrics. Or I’d reference those lyrics without using them directly.


For example, at one point I wrote about a character leaving a nightclub:

He sauntered outside leaving Kylie with the devil she knew.

I did this many times. Or I’d let a character make an indirect lyric quote:

Yet in her mind, she was the cool one, after helping herself to any drink from the bathtub which took her fancy. One fist punched upward, then the other, as she sang along with the lyrics ‘It’s Like That’.

“It’s just the way she is.” Ken shook his head.

“Who is she?” Brent asked. “If she’s not your friend, then who is she?”

Several times as with Ken above, an ‘almost’ lyric is spoken not to get me into copyright issues. The song title before his line is fine. It’s a direct song title. But quote any other line word for word and I could be sued.

Then something magical happened.

It was one of those days when my writing flowed. I referenced the Severed Heads track, ‘The Dead Eyes Opened’ and had a light bulb moment.

I’m a writer. I am writing. How does this music sound? How does it make me feel? What images come into my head as it plays?

This changed everything. As part of my research for this project, I made a list of songs used in the manuscript, fished them out of my record and CD racks, popped on headphones and answered these questions directly into my phone’s audio recorder.

And I’ve just added that imagery into this work.

I have to admit, I sounded very deadpan on the recordings even as most of these tracks were House tunes! Go figure? But the stream of consciousness worked.

So a simple paragraph like –

The pop diva’s honey vocals invited Grant to confide in her. The remix of this modern classic spurred something. He lost himself in her words, replaying his kiss with Lane.

– became something entirely different –

Kylie started playing. Violins accompanied the intro but not as if this were a disco tune. They were characteristically classical before a hint of guitar made it modern. Grant checked the next room then closed the door and danced.

The pop diva’s honey vocals spoke of her confusion. Should she help? Should she not? She didn’t know. But she knew love was a challenge.

Kylie finally invited Grant to confide in her, as if she already saw his kiss with Lane in her crystal ball. This monumental moment with his friend replayed continually in his mind.

Okay, it’s still an early draft, but it’s given this work texture.

And I’m revealed I’ve elevated this novel without worrying if lawyers will knock on my door one day.

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