Famed entertainment attorney John Branca has seen it all after more than four decades in the music industry. While some lucky songwriters make it big on licensing deals and royalties, it’s not unheard of for artists who have written megahits to see others profit off of their work while they don’t, all because of a legal oversight. The image of the starving artist plugging away at his or her craft may be a romantic notion, but the reality of missing out on fair compensation for a work created can be soul-crushing. To make sure this never happens, Branca has shared these five legal tips.
Official copyrights are an airtight way to keep others from using an artist’s music without proper permission. However, many countries also confer de facto copyrights specifically if the work is “fixed,” meaning recorded in some format, and “original.”
If the music is copyrighted, artists also need some way to track its usage. Joining performance rights organizations like the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers or Broadcast Music, Inc. will ensure a musician never misses out on revenue when his or her original song is played.
Some artists feel there is an advantage to crediting a lone songwriter for a piece rather than worrying about co-writers and composers. An easy way artists achieve this is by writing a derivative by taking a song already in the public domain and creating a new work based on that. While others may also use the portion in the public domain, the new work created from it is considered its own entity and can be copyrighted.
When artists work on collaborations, it’s necessary to hash out who gets the writing credits early on. Songwriters should note information like who has written the verses or choruses and who has composed the tune. Working out the details before the song is publicly released saves the guesswork and legal hassles if it becomes a hit.
The share of the revenue from music composed in a group needs to be determined as soon as the song is finished. It may sound like putting the cart before the horse, but the time to figure out who gets what percentage of the revenue generated is before the song ever makes a penny. This way, cool heads will prevail when theoretical wealth is on the table rather than actual wealth.
Songwriting is a labor of love, but it’s also a business for many musicians. Ensuring the proper legal arrangements will protect artists’ work and future revenue.