Copyright songwriter/band ownership question

Copyright matters affecting music and musicians.
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Copyright songwriter/band ownership question

Post by Rubber_Soul »

Hi all , just looking a little info and help .
I am a songwriter Who has a catalogue of songs wrote from 8 to 10 years ago which I marked as copyright to myself . Then 6 years ago I joined a band with a group of mates and we used 6 songs of mine that I had previously copyright marked to myself on an album , and when we released the album ( all done by ourselves , no companies involved ) the album was marked as copyright to the bands name .
Recently their has been talk of someone thinking of buying the rights to our catalogue of songs , and my stance is that I don't want to do that , but I am worried that as the album has copyright to the band name , that the decision can be made by the other members , and I would not have a leg to stand on .
Could anyone clarify that as I have copyright on the songs from the word go, could I block that from happening ?
Many thanks
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Post by AndyJ »

Hi Rubber Soul,

We need to distinguish three separate things here: the songs themselves (the words and music), the performance of the songs, and the recording of the performance of the songs. In this reply I have assumed, based on your question, that you wrote both the music and the lyrics of the songs. These are separate types of work as far as copyright is concerned.

Assuming the band performed your songs without any changes, then undoubtedly you own the full copyright in the songs. Sometimes a few changes can be introduced during practice sessions and this may result in a new version of a song in which the copyright will be owned jointly by all those performers who contributed to the new material. This is complicated and there is a fine line between a few tweaks which don't alter the authorship, and a more major alteration which results in a new work being created. Here are a couple of judgments in court cases which illustrate this issue: Procol Harem, and Minder Music. I am going to assume that your songs were not substantially altered, and therefore copyright in the six songs remains solely yours.

All performers of the songs have a set of economic rights known as performer's rights, which includes the right to agree or not to the making of a recording of their performance, usually by a third party who is known as the producer. Performers also have the right to consent to the recording being copied (eg CDs being pressed etc) and to the recording being made available to the public (say as a streaming download etc). The producer will own the rights in the actual recording but is required by law to pay both the performers and the song writer(s) an equitable royalty based on any sales of the recording. Beyond that, there are other royalties when the recording is played in public or on the radio etc, usually supervised by a copyright collecting society such as PRSforMusic. You didn't ask about that aspect, so I won't expand on it here.

So to summarise what I think applies in your case, you own the copyright in the songs, which means you can decide who may publish the songs (say in sheet music form), who may perform the songs, and who may alter the songs. You can transfer these rights, using an assignment, to another person if you want to, usually in exchange for a lump sum and future royalties. As a member of the band you have a performer's right to refuse that your performance is to be recorded (or to stipulate the terms on which it is recorded) and to share in the royalties for your performance. If the band produced the album themselves, then they will share equally the producer's rights, but if you used an external producer that person will generally own the rights in the recording and can decide how to release the album (traditionally a record company would perform this function). Assuming that you agreed: a) to the band performing your songs and b) to the recording of the performance, then you will have very little say in how the recording is to be exploited if this was not agreed at the time of the recording. However it sounds as if the offer you are facing does not involve the recorded album itself, just your songs and/or the band's performance of them in the future. If this is right, then you have a complete veto with regards to the songs you alone wrote, and a part veto in any other songs you may have written with other members of the band.

I assume there is no band agreement in place. This is a really important document for a band when just starting out, probably before they have any proper management and some way before they get a recording contract, because it sets out exactly what all members of a band are entitled to (say between those who write the songs and those who don't) and what is to happen in the event of members joining or leaving the band, or indeed the break up of the band - something which is not unheard of in the music business! Now would be a very good time to draw up a band agreement in case things become more acrimonious later. You can get off-the-shelf versions which you can alter to suit your needs, or better still you can get a music lawyer to draw one up for you.

I hope this has answered you question. You can find out much more about this whole subject on a number of websites dedicated to the music business, such as: Bemuso, Music Law Advice and Music Law Updates.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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