Can I Quote You on That?

So, as you know if you’ve been following this blog lately, I’ve been hard at work on revising my YA Contemporary with notes from my agent and her assistant.

One of the notes asked me to develop a stronger relationship between my MC and her BFF, so I came up with what I thought was a genius plan: both characters are major geeks, so I was going to have them communicate in geeky movie quotes, trading the witty repartee of a shared pop culture experience. I even wrote a handful of scenes…

And then I thought to check with my agent.

Turns out movie quotes are like song lyrics. You have to obtain rights to use them (which are often super-expensive). I had hoped they’d fall under Fair Use, but according to my agent…not so much. It seems things are kept rather intentionally murky, but if I was brought to court and lost, it could cost me a bundle…so the scenes got cut again, since I’m not willing to risk it.

But it did leave me wondering in general, is there a line where something is no longer considered a quote, but has entered pop culture lexicon? Are the rights still fully attached to phrases like, “Use the F*rce,” or “Eat my sh*rts, man”?

What if you change the wording a bit? Is it okay to say, “These are not the chickens you’re looking for?”

What about single word quotes? Can my geeks use the word “shiny” for something they think is awesome? Or is even that too Whedon-esque?

And what about trademarks? I mean, I understand that I can’t write a sci-fi book where they have laser swords called L*ghtsabers. But what if my geeks go to a con and get to see Mark Hamill’s actual prop weapon? Can I call it by name then?

Anyway, this mostly just me blathering, because I don’t have any definitive answers. Right now, I’m left with two quotes that have been in the story since the beginning, which are fairly central to the plot, one of which may be considered “pop culture lexicon,” and one reference to a quote that I’m not even sure if it counts or not (how’s that for confusing!?)

I think our plan is to leave them in and see what publishers think. If  (hopefully when) the story gets picked up by an editor, they’ll have the final say over what needs to be cut or what rights need to be applied for.

Until then, I’m keeping my references to those two (and a half), and my fingers crossed.

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