Songwriting Tips, News & More

Songwriting Tip: Legal Issues With Songwriter Collaborations

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Apr 05, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Legal Issues With Songwriter Collaborations
by Wallace Collins, Esq

MusicianArt-1

Under the US copyright law, an author or creator owns a copyright in his or her work the moment it is “fixed in a tangible medium” (i.e., the moment the expression of an idea is written down or recorded in some manner). When it comes to the recorded music business there are two primary copyrights of interest: one in the musical composition or song; another in the sound recording of that song. A copyright extends for the life of an author plus 70 years, and in the case of collaborators on a copyright it extends for the life of the last surviving collaborator plus 70 years.

This article will focus on the collaboration between and among the co-writers of the musical composition or song which is generally comprised of the music (e.g., melody, harmony, chords, rhythm, etc.) and the lyrics (i.e., the words). The essence of collaboration is working together to create a single work regardless of how or what each party contributes. Collaborators may work together in the same room at the same time, or not. The creative contribution of each co-author may be equal in quality or quantity, or not. Both authors may work together on the music and lyrics or one might write just music and the other lyrics. The long history of collaboration has shown that there are endless combinations. Co-authors do not need to have a written agreement concerning their joint work, but it is probably a good idea to do so given the myriad issues that can arise and become a problem under such circumstances.

             Co-writers can divide copyright ownership in whatever proportion they determine, and that ownership concerns both rights (ownership and control) and revenues (income generated). In the absence of a written agreement, under current case law concerning both copyright and partnership law two or more collaborators are generally deemed to share equally on a pro rata basis. This might be so even if it is clear that the contributions of the authors were not equal since the Courts generally prefer not to make decisions about the value of each author’s contribution to a copyright and simply divide it by the number of authors (and we probably prefer that Courts not be making decisions about whether the hook or chorus lyric has more or less value than the chorus melody, etc.). Therefore, without a written agreement two songwriters would be deemed to own the song fifty-fifty, three songwriters one-third each, etc. A typical music business guideline for dividing ownership has been to designate the music as 50% and the lyric 50% of the song copyright. Under this scenario, if one person creates the music and two others write the lyrics, they may agree to divide the ownership 50% to the music creator and 25% to each of the lyricists. However, this concept does not have any legal significance so if there is no written collaboration agreement then under this scenario each author would own 1/3rd of the song copyright.

             Beyond the issue of just dividing the income there arises the issue of copyright ownership and control (sometimes referred to as the administration right). Many songwriters prefer that there be separate administration among the various writers and their respective publishing companies, if any. In other words, each author retains control over its respective share of the copyright. In this way each writer retains some control over what happens with the song, the scope of the licenses and how much is charged. Under US copyright law, each joint copyright owner can exploit the song and also grant non-exclusive licenses to third parties subject to the duty to account to the co-writers for any money that is generated. Each writer could also transfer some or all of their respective share of the copyright (e.g., to a publishing company) without affecting the ownership interests of the any other co-writer’s share in the copyright (although no one writer can grant an exclusive license nor transfer copyright ownership in the entire song without the written permission of each co-writer).

             All of these issues can be addressed in a written collaboration agreement. There are endless variations depending on the circumstances. Each author may retain his or her share of revenues and ownership but grant the administration rights to one party (e.g., the artist/co-writer and/or its label) so that the artist would have the right to record and exploit the song and grant third party licenses. Particularly in the world of synchronization licenses (i.e., using the audio with visual images such as in film, television or video games), it is usually more convenient for one party to have the right to grant licenses and to collect and divide all the income. Licensing can become complicated when a licensee has to seek the approval of, and document permission from, multiple writers and their respective publishers. However, each different scenario and the co-writers involved will need to determine and negotiate what arrangement works best for themselves in that particular situation.

             A collaboration agreement can be as simple as a pie chart drawing made on a napkin at the dinner after the writing session or as complicated as a writer’s publishing company dictates that it be. Over the years there have been many stories of writers agreeing, however reluctantly, to acknowledge a “co-writer” who did not even make a contribution to a song (e.g., featured artists, producers, record executives, band members, etc.). The exact contribution to a song is always a somewhat subjective measurement and if the price of getting a song on the record of a multi-platinum artist is to share writing credit then this pressure can be difficult, if not impossible, to resist. However, keep in mind that once a “co-writer” is acknowledged in writing it can be very difficult to undo. Most successful songwriters rarely, if ever, share credit in this context and every writer should try to follow this practice.

            At the end of the day, if you believe in yourself and your talents, give yourself the benefit of the doubt, and invest in good legal representation - all the successful songwriters do. Your lawyer can create a fair collaboration agreement for you to use or “translate” the documentation presented to you and explain its terms and then help negotiate more favorable terms for you as appropriate. My advice: never sign anything - other than an autograph - without having your entertainment lawyer review it first.

[Article used by permission from Wallace Collins]

Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney with more     than 30 years of experience. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School. T: (212) 661-3656; www.wallacecollins.com


  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, collaborations, copyright a song, Registering a copyright, U.S. Copyright Office, Co-Writing Songs

Songwriting Tip: Why You Still Should Register A "Copyrighted" Work

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 29, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Why You Still Should Register A "Copyrighted" Work
by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq., The Jacobson Firm, P.C.

copyright_stamp

While many creatives in the entertainment industry believe (and are partly correct) that a work is copyrighted as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium it still pays, often literally, to formally register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office, particularly where legal issues are concerned.

A common misconception in the entertainment industry is that an author has a “copyright registration” in the work upon completion and the publication of the created work. However, this is not true. Although the Berne Convention, which the United States is a signatory to, creates a “universal copyright” or copyright upon creation and publication of a work, the work is not “registered” until it has, in fact, been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Truth be told, all of the benefits of copyright ownership are not available in America until the Copyright has been registered.

Registering a copyright is as easy as preparing and submitting an application to the United States Copyright Office with the appropriate filing fee and a copy of the copyrighted material. Once the work is registered and the certification is issued, the benefits of the registration begin immediately and are retroactive to the original filing date of these elements.

While it is established that a copyright is automatically created in a work upon the completion of the original work of authorship, when it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression; a formal registration of the creative materials with the U.S. Copyright Office within three months of public release provides additional, valuable benefits to the creator of the work. Some of these benefits include that the work now becomes a matter of public record and is available for search within the U.S. Copyright Office and the Library of Congress. This makes it easy to search and verify the ownership and extent of an existing, copyrighted work. This permits an individual to quickly find and contact the creator in the event that the individual desires to use or license the copyrighted material.

Additionally, in order to bring a copyright infringement lawsuit when an author believes that one of their copyrighted works has been infringed upon, the work must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office prior to instituting a lawsuit. A valid registration certificate constitutes prima facie evidence of valid copyright ownership in the work after five years. Also, if the owner has filed for registration prior to the infringement or within three months of publication of the work, the author may be entitled to recover actual damages incurred, statutory damages as well as attorney’s fees. These fees can exceed the actual damages incurred by the copyright owner.

A valid registration also defeats a defendant’s defense of being an “innocent infringer” and provides increased statutory damages for infringements found to be “willful.” It also allows for the owner to easily license and catalog the various rights in the works.

Therefore, while there is no requirement to register a work to receive a “copyright” in the creative work, the existence of a valid copyright registration certificate provides numerous benefits to protect the work as well as provides monetary and licensing benefits that would not exist without the certificate.


[Article used by permission from Justin Jacobson]

Justin M. Jacobson has helped bring in numerous new high-profile clients, including Celebrity DJ/Producer Joshua “Zeke” Thomas and his Gorilla Records label; international live art competition, ArtBattles; G-Unit Records recording artist, Precious Paris; former NY Jet Donald Strickland; Warner-Chappell producer, J-Dens; celebrity jewelry designer, Laurel DeWitt; and BMI Latin award-winning producer, Carlos Escalona. He also spoke at Cardozo School of Law as part of “Beyond The Billboard: Advertising Law in the Fashion Industry” presented by their SELSA & IPLS Fashion Law Committees. He is a lawyer at The Jacobson Firm, P.C.: http://www.thejacobsonfirmpc.com/
  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, copyright a song, Registering a copyright, U.S. Copyright Office, Co-Writing Songs

Songwriting Tip: Does your Latest Song Sound Similar to Ones Before?

Posted by Jessica Brandon on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 @07:00 AM

Songwriting Tip: Does your Latest Song Sound Similar to Ones Before?

by Mylène Besançon

 

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For many songwriters, one of the biggest challenges is ensuring that their songs are unique. With music lovers tending to have very discriminating hearing and short attention spans, picking up on similar patterns, lyrics or recurring themes between two or more of your songs could easily turn them off, regardless of how subtle the similarities are.

In a saturated music market, it’s not uncommon for different songs from different songwriters to sound similar, especially in genres such as pop. Listeners, though, are less likely to be forgiving when they are from the same songwriter.

So, how do you avoid plagiarizing your own music (or anybody else’s for that matter?) Whether you’re a known songwriter or still in obscurity, there are a number of ways to ensure that all of your songs sound different from each other.

  1. Have friends and family review your songs: If you have a large catalog, you may not have the time to go through all your previous songs to see if a new one sounds similar. But, you can ask people who are close to you and are familiar with your music to read through your lyrics and listen to the song to determine if it’s noticeably similar to anything you’ve done before.

  2. Invest in a low cost music production company: This really depends on what you can afford as a songwriter who is trying to make a career out of your writing talent. However, if you’re out of writing ideas and in danger of using the same melodies in new songs, you should contemplate investing some money into an affordable music production house that can bring fresh ideas to the table to match your style or even help you revamp songs you’ve already written so that they sound totally different.

  3. Expand your repertoire: If you’re already well-known for writing songs based on certain themes, rhyme schemes and genres, you may want to broaden your horizons without totally alienating your fan base. This may be a balancing act but music history is littered with singers and songwriters who successfully crossed genres and strayed from the prevailing themes of their song collections, earning new fans and expanding their markets in the process.

  4. Collaborate with another writer: People co-write songs all the time and, while this may cut into your royalties, it is better to share than risk losing listeners due to unoriginality. However, be sure to work with someone who is a good writer and can bring fresh ideas to the table.

  5. Learn an instrument: Some of the best songwriters are those who also play an instrument, such as the guitar or piano. Adding an instrument to your skillset can serve as inspiration and as a guide in your head when trying to write fresh lyrics.

As a songwriter who intends to make a life and living from your talent, having a steady stream of songs under your belt is the only way to keep going. However, continuously writing songs may eventually take a toll on the imagination, making it harder to compose a song that has its own identity when compared with all those you did in the past. The preceding tips could help you to survive such trying periods whenever they arise.

Mylène Besançon is the CMO of SongCat LLC, a top-rated online recording studio. We believe that by making professional music production financially accessible to anyone with a dream and a voice, we have the potential to change the musical landscape forever. Visit http://songcat.biz to learn more.

  
To enter the 21st Annual USA Songwriting Competition, go to: http://www.songwriting.net

 
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Tags: songwriter, song writer, song write, Song writing, Songwriting, songwrite, song demo, copyright a song, Registering a copyright, U.S. Copyright Office, Co-Writing Songs