Joint Works: Who Owns What???
Let's start with the basics. Joint works are works that have been created by the joint efforts of two or more people. At the time of the creation of the work there was the intent that either creator wanted to merge their work with another person. When you have joint works, either author or creator can make non-exclusive deals with the entire work meaning they can license the ENTIRE WORK out to others, but they must pay the other creator his or her share of the proceeds. Each creator owns an interest in the entire work not just their contribution.
I tell all of my entertainment clients the following: At the conclusion of a recording or writing session with your friends or bandmates, you should write out a simple agreement as to who did what and what percentages each person contributed to the song. If you state no specific percentages of contribution, such as 10, 30 or 50%, then the presumption is that everyone contributed equally. So, it is important to put these agreements in writing BEFORE you leave the session and then have everyone sign and date it. Keep copies of the music that was created and date it for your records.
A person makes a lyrical contribution if they are helping create the words or lyrics of a song or musical composition. Someone can also contribute by creating the music or musical arrangement such as the melody, beat or tempo, any type of pattern that becomes an integral part of the song such as the hook. An integral part of a song can be determined by assessing if that hook makes the song catchy or becomes a distinct and recognizable part of that song. Disputes arise among writers often, especially when songs become a hit. That's why I like to preach prevention as much as possible. It will save you money from having to file or defend a lawsuit over this issue if you draft this simple agreement that day. A lot of young artists, writers and bands like to take people's word as stone and think that people will honor their word... I'm glad people still think positively about human nature, but in this business you will learn that a piece of paper and written agreements are very important.
If you are in a group or band that has preexisting band agreements that state specifically that each member has an equal interest in ownership of their songs, regardless of who comes up with the songs, that is not a bad idea if you think that having equal ownership will avoid future band disagreements and will promote the harmony in the group. Take heed. If you have made a major contribution to a song, make sure your contribution is reflected in your percentage of ownership of the song. You never know when you may create a masterpiece or if it will become an award winning song... which will make for a great payday down the road. And that brings me to another point, think before you sell your interest in a song! Taking a small sum of money from someone up front could have you kicking yourself in the rear if it becomes a radio hit. Joint works can be a little tricky, but I hope this article gets you thinking before your next writing or recording session.
Written by: LaQuita R. Stokes, Attorney at Law of Corbin Johnson, PLLC
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