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Chris A. Baird | May 1, 2020
What are the legal steps to publish a book about music It would include my own transcriptions of copyrighted songs.

For any copyrighted properties, you have to keep in mind that someone owns them and that you can't just use them as long as you want. Find out the legal ways that you need to go through to be able to publish your book with copyrighted songs.

Don't Get Into Trouble

Today's question is, "What are the legal steps to publish a book about music? It would include my transcriptions of copyrighted songs." So that was a question that was sent directly to me a little earlier this week.

We will take a look at this one. It's an excellent question and so the real thing is, where do you start? what are the legal steps? The hard part about it is that we have an idea of a great book.

We know people would want to read it. It's discussing songs that people would like to see the transcriptions for but we don't own the rights to the songs.

So, how can we publish a book without getting ourselves in trouble for using copyrighted songs or property of other people in particular music companies?

Check out this related article: What Are The Mistakes To Avoid When Marketing A Self-Published Book?

Before I answer the question, you should check out my Self-Publishing Secrets Checklist that I created. It helped me publish over 170 ebooks. So you're definitely going to want to check that out.

Now, let's get right on to it. Well, my story, I can't say that I have done the music side but I can say from cookbooks. I discovered on cookbooks at least when I was publishing them, the recipes are not protected.

I have also seen other people get in trouble for using animated series or videogame characters and things like that without permission in their books. That has created a big problem.

It Involves Contracts

On the music front though, this is a little bit trickier. Because the people who own the rights to it do not want people to just borrow their music. Take the text or figure out the tabs or chords to it and post that out on the web.

Or even sell books, that would even get them in more trouble without contacting them. Where this gets especially tricky is the fact that getting contact with them, they will only do it through contracts.

They are not just going to send you an email and say go ahead and make money off of the book that we've come up with. They are only going to be dealing with bigger name people. So this is where it gets very very tricky.

And so the short answer is, it is probably not a good business model to try to make books off of other people's content like that. It is not because it's a bad idea and not because people wouldn't be interested.

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But the level that you would have to be at to get somebody to the recording studios to sign away rights or figuring out deals like that would have to be pretty big already.

By that point, they would be contacting you and they would have lawyers and such to make sure those contracts are looking good. If you do it without their permission, that creates also a bunch of problems because of course they could sue you.

They can come after you figuring out but often they won't. They probably just contact Amazon to tell you to take your book down. That's the reality of it.

They don't even contact you directly and that's what normally has happened. But I am not a lawyer so I'm not telling you what you should or shouldn't do. You should of course contact a lawyer yourself.

Consult With A Lawyer

But I have been in touch with many people who are in this exact same situation. Looking to see, "how do I get the rights for a celebrity or musician or whoever it might be to include their information or their intellectual property inside of my books?"

The answer is always it is insanely difficult to get them to let you do that. So that's a little unfortunate there. I hope I could have been a little more help to you.

I can't say that if you do it for free and publish stuff, usually they tend to leave most people alone on that. But even then, the recording labels do not like people publishing lyrics or publishing the chords to their music.

I have seen problems with that in sites getting takedown requests as a result of exactly that. You would think people just want to be able to play their music which would probably trigger more sales.

In fact, many of these record labels even got their starts by people passing around tapes, copies in the 80s of their music. And now they sued them once other services came out while distributing their music without their permission.

So that's the short story version of it. You would have to talk with a lawyer again regarding contracts. All this sort of information upon what you can and can't do and how much music you can include.

Check out this related article: How To Write A Self Publishing Copyright Page?

Though I haven't ever seen anyone who can make money doing this route or even getting permission in the first place, it is very difficult. But maybe for smaller time artists you might be able to do that.

What have you found? Have you found that you can publish a book with copyrighted songs? Plenty of other readers and listeners and viewers, have you found that you were able to do it with music or copyrighted songs or other intellectual property?

Maybe you found that it wasn't so painful or have some tricks. Please do share them in the comments below and check out my next blog regarding your other self-publishing questions.

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