Split publishing, identifying as composer

Copyright matters affecting music and musicians.
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lucknow1856
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Split publishing, identifying as composer

Post by lucknow1856 » Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:04 pm

I note that there are often cases where a composer has to (or agrees to) give up a share of publishing rights to someone who has not actually contributed to the writing of a song. For example, I understand Elvis Presley's companies were routinely given a share of publishing by composers who wanted him to record their songs. However, I also note that, sticking with the example of Elvis Presley, he is not actually listed as a composer on record labels, sleeves or CD booklets, for songs for which (my research shows) he shared the publishing.

A while back I wrote and recorded some music and someone I knew was willing to do some production/technical work (not musical input) on it and provide access to a possible market for it. I agreed that this was worth a 50% share of any proceeds from the music but a sticking point was that, for various reasons, I wanted to be identified as the only composer (which it was agreed I definitely was). The other party, however, insisted that the only way he could be sure of a long-term revenue stream from any tune was to have his name on it as co-composer when registering it with (e.g.) PRS, even though he had not actually written any of the music. I therefore declined to proceed.

I can understand his stance if that is true - that without 'having his name on' a given tune he couldn't be sure of a long-term stream of any proceeds direct to him from collecting companies like PRS, without having to rely on other agreements with people such as myself. That's just business caution.

However, I don't know how PRS (etc) works but if Elvis Presley's companies got a share of publishing without being listed as co-composers on recordings etc then surely there must be a way that I can assign 50% of publishing while still being listed as the only composer which still lets the other person get paid direct (?) I'd be grateful for any advice. Many thanks (sorry for long post).

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AndyJ
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Post by AndyJ » Wed Aug 17, 2011 6:45 pm

Hi lucknow,
First of all there's no need to apologise for a long posting. My replies are always long because I like to cover as many details as possible, so it helps to have the question clearly defined.
It is worth making the point that there are royalties due to the song writer (sometimes there are separate composers and lyricists involved) and other royalties due to performers, owners of copyright in the sounding recording, publishers etc who are involved in the later stages. For example it is common practice for newly signed artists to hand over their performance rights to a record company in exchange for an upfront advance and reduced royalties, but rarer for songwriters to give up their rights.
Clearly, like any other business venture, in order to attract investors you may need to sign over a share in revenue stream. The conventional way to do this is to create a limited liabilty company into which the revenue can be paid by the collecting societies, and then the proceeds can be split amongst any investors. But clearly there are disadvantages (for instance the submission of company annual accounts) to this if the revenue is small.
On the other hand the method you mention is not a good alternative. For instance by using copyright as the basis for the disbursements, the investor shares the same copyright term as the actual author of the song, and if he dies after the author it will be his date of death which determines how long the copyright exists for, and his heirs will also benefit from subsequent royalties for further 70 years in the same way as the heirs of the author, and this may not be what was originally intended. Also the moral rights which attach to the author (and which cannot be assigned away) are debased if one of the named 'authors' actually made no creative contribution to the process.
The situation is somewhat similar to where an employee creates an artistic work on behalf on his employer: the company becomes the beneficial owner of the copyright and gains any financial return, but the actual creator (the employee) generally has the right to be credited as the author, and the copyright term is based on his lifespan.
I am not sure exactly how PRSforMusic operates its disbursement system, but it would appear that its Writer to Publisher agreement would have covered the situation you outlined, without the need to name your investor as a joint copyright holder.
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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Post by lucknow1856 » Fri Aug 19, 2011 12:44 am

Many thanks Andy J - putting it in that wider context makes it clearer and it looks like I was right not to go down that route, which is probably the reassurance I was looking for. Thanks again.

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