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Politeness in Theft
(How To Get Away With Filking Your Friends)

by Roger Burton West (

A lot of filk uses other people's tunes. This has a long and honourable... well, _long_ tradition; a quick look at the first NESFA Hymnal reveals only a few original tunes (all of which have since been deleted for copyright reasons). But it can cause all sorts of problems, so here's a brief guide on how to avoid some of them.

First, commercially released songs. Typically, these are still in copyright, so permission must be sought before putting them on tape. In the UK, the Performing Rights Agency can give appropriate information. Strictly speaking, one should seek permission before performing the melody, but songs in a circle or at a convention concert - to a small audience, who haven't paid specifically to hear you sing - are generally considered "reasonable usage".

If the song has been released by another filker, the same considerations apply, naturally; but if it's possible to get in touch with the author, it's at the very least polite to seek his permission before performing. (All the authors I've dealt with are usually quite happy as long as the performance isn't for commercial gain.)

So much for copyright and performance; but how about the parodies? We've known "Filk Wars" on both sides of the Atlantic, though they seem to have died down for the moment; I recommend a single tactic to prevent a recurrence. When I write a parody - specifically, a song that makes fun of another, rather than just something using the same tune - I always show it to the author of the original first. If he denies permission to
perform, it stays in the filkfile. Now, granted, I'm not a prolific parodist, so this isn't a major problem for me; but it does ensure that anything that's really going to hurt the original author won't get the chance to do so.


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