Music Copyright

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Anna
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Music Copyright

Post by Anna » Wed Dec 14, 2016 2:48 am

Hello!

I have a question regarding the ownership of musical products. Hope you could give me some help. I have(own) some lyrics and am negotiating with someone to make rhythm for them. The composer wants to ear money from the products. I don't mind his making money from the product, but need the ownership to safeguard my wide use in the future. My question is if I agree with his condition, would it bring harm to my legal interest?

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Wed Dec 14, 2016 7:36 am

Hi Anna,

The rights in the lyrics and the rights in any music composed to accompany the lyrics will always be separate entities, and will be owned by their respective authors unless or until they choose to make different arrangements, usually by way of formal written agreements known as assignments. So on that basis any money which is made from the 'products' would be split between the two copyright owners. By 'products' I assume you mean a recording of the combined words and music and the release of that recording, say as a download or physical disk.

And although the economic value of these products will probably lie in the successful pairing of the words and music (and possibly who sings the song) the royalties for the two elements will always be accounted for separately. Indeed from a legal, although not necessarily practical, point of view, there is nothing to stop you collaborating with a number of composers so that the same lyrics could be matched to a number of different tunes. Equally, the tune might also have a separate life as an instrumental track (say in a TV advert).

It would be sensible to draw up a simple written agreement which safeguards your individual interests while aiming to maximise the economic potential for both of you. So for example you might decide that you, as the performer, would have a continuing right to perform the song (ie the words and music together), say at a live gig, for which the composer would be entitled to a small share in the profits from that booking, or alternatively a fixed annual fee might be agreed because it would be easier to administer. There are any number of different models for this sort of agreement. The important thing is to agree the terms in advance so as to reduce the scope for disputes later.

I assume that you do not intend, at this stage anyway, to involve either a music publisher or a record company. If you did want to do that, they would have their own standard agreements which would usually involve you both (lyricist and composer) signing over your rights to the company in exchange for royalties. This makes life simpler for the creatives, but does mean you lose considerable control over your own works.

This whole area is immensely complicated, and so if you can't afford a good music lawyer you should certainly undertake lots of research before committing yourself to a bad deal. As a starting point try looking through the Bemuso website. There are dozens of other equally useful sites, such as this one MusicLawUpdates covering various different aspect of the music business.
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

Anna
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Post by Anna » Thu Dec 15, 2016 4:49 am

Hi Andy,

Many thanks to the easily understood and detailed reply. Very helpful! I have some more questions, could you continue helping me?

It makes sense to me that the tune and words will be owned by different authors, but I cannot understand how would it work for me to have the authorship to the tune while allowing the composer to make money from the final product. Could I expect to have the copyright to the tune? If the composer grant me the perceptual royalty to use the tune, would there be any limitation for me to use the product?

Another situation is that the composer agrees to let me have the copyright to his tune, but he demands the credit. He told me it's the right of songwriters, and I believe so. What concerns me is that if I put the credit on everywhere the product is used, would it give people an impression that the composer is the copyright owner to the song? I mean no disrespect to the composer, but what if I forget to put the credit due to the wide use, would anything bad happen to me?

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Post by AndyJ » Thu Dec 15, 2016 8:40 am

Hi Anna,

Yes, I can understand why you would like to own the copyright in the tune as well as the lyrics. If you commission the composer to write the music and it is agreed from the outset that he/she will also transfer (by assignment) the copyright to you, then this would be fairly straightforward, but it would also increase the cost to you. The composer is entitled to make money from his/her creativity and the normal method of reward is the royalty one where the income is directly based on the commercial success of the music (in this case, as part of the overall song). Therefore when they are asked to give up ownership of their copyright, most composers would expect to compensate for the loss of royalties by increasing the up-front fee they charge for the commission. Calculating the amount to charge is something of a gamble because neither of you will know in advance how successful the song will eventually be.

The right to a credit as the composer is a separate issue, and as you have been told, it is a right the composer can insist on. However it doesn't mean that having a credit on the record label entitles him to be treated as the copyright owner if other arrangements such as an assignment have been made. In reality the copyright to most songs is actually owned by music publishers or record companies, with composers and songwriters getting both the credit and royalties for their song.

As you appear to be fairly new to the complicated world of music copyright, it is probably helpful to explain some of the terms which are used.

Author/authorship. An author is the person who creates the work, and authorship is the condition of having authored a work. Authorship cannot be transferred although it can sometimes be split (co-authorship or joint authorship) where two or more individuals create a work together. This only applies where their individual contributions cannot be separated. This often happens when a band writes a song together by a process of improvisation. It would not apply, as in your case, where the lyrics were written by one person, and tune by another.

Ownership. Copyright is a property right and it can be transferred like other property (a house or car). Therefore the author of a work can transfer his/her economic rights in the work to someone else and that other person then becomes the owner of the copyright. Where someone is employed by a company, any copyright work the person creates in the course of their work duties will automatically be owned by the employer; employment in this sense means fully employed not hired to do a specific job (like a builder or website designer).

Royalties. These are periodic payments made to an author, usually based on the commercial success of the work they created. It is rather like the rent a landlord receives when he lets out his property. There are a number of different sources of royalties for musical works, such as record sales, air play on the radio or television, use in films or adverts and so on. The usual way most royalties are collected and paid out is through Copyright Collecting societies such as PRS for Music and PPL.

Licences
. An owner of a copyright work is able to control how that work is used, for instance if copies of it are to be made available to the public (say, in the case of books), or if it can be performed in public (say, with a song or play) or if someone else may adapt the original work, for instance by translating into another language. If the author is the owner of the copyright then they can do all of these things themself, or they can give permission to someone to do so by issuing a licence to that person. A licence means that the owner retains ownership while still permitting someone else to exercise some of the rights associated with copyright ownership. So a playwrite might licence a theatre company to perform his play, and the licence could specify how long the play may run for and in what town or locality it may be performed. The playwrite can then licence another theatre company to perform the same play elsewhere if he chooses. Often the author will sign a deal with a publisher or agency whereby the publisher etc handles the business of negotiating fees for licences and so on, leaving the author free to get on with writing the next book or composing their next piece of music. In order that a publisher can undertake certain legal actions, such as suing for copyright infringement, it is expedient to transfer the copyright to the publisher as part of the publishing contract. Much the same occurs in the music business when record companies contract with artists.
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

Anna
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Post by Anna » Fri Dec 16, 2016 3:58 am

Hi Andy,

I understand your explanations. This is indeed a complicated world, it seems dangerous for me to handle this problem. I made up my mind to consult a lawyer. Thanks for those help, they are very useful. Have a wonderful time in the coming Christmas. :)

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