A MetaFilter thread discusses the replacement of the rock songs on the old show WKRP in Cincinnati by generic music in the syndicated version to avoid paying hefty ASCAP fees for the original music. This strikes me as an idiotic situation (as several commenters point out, this way ASCAP and the musicians it represents get nothing rather than a reasonable fee), but I don’t watch much tv and only saw a few episodes of the show back in the day, so it caused me more head-shaking than angst. But this, in a comment by Slithy_Tove, really bothered me:
The situation with music lyrics is difficult for prose writers, too. One spec fic original anthology includes this in its guidelines:
Manuscripts which feature quotations from popular music or published authors will be rejected unread. It is difficult and expensive to clear rights for this sort of material, and the potential liabilities to both author and publisher are enormous.
Big Name Authors include popular song material in their stuff all the time, but I suppose they have enough economic clout that their publishers are willing to clear rights for them regardless of hassle or expense. For minor writers and small presses, though, it seems to be more trouble than it’s worth. Again, I don’t see how this benefits the IP rights holder. Wouldn’t they be better off making the process to obtain rights to quote lyrics easy, and make a little money from each use?
When authors are prevented from using common cultural coin in their writings, there’s something very wrong. I don’t know who makes the rules about the fees for such rights, but somebody should suggest to them that they moderate their greed.