What I Need To Know About My Rights As A Songwriter and Why -- Part 1 by TCMA Correspondent Wayne Duke

July 07, 2018 4:30 PM | Linda Wilson (Administrator)

Submitted By TCMA Correspondent Wayne Duke:

First things first, I am a songwriter, not a lawyer. Anytime you’re entering into a contractual agreement with another party that has complex and complicated matters or laws attached to them, get the best lawyer you can afford to represent your interest in the matter. Not your Uncle Earl, Esquire, who doesn’t have any more clue about the music or publishing business than you.

 This will not be an exhaustive collection of knowledge of copyright law as I am still wading through those waters myself. I will share what I’ve been taught over the past couple of years from the most informed person I know. I will also share with you from where I received this education and how you can get your hands on it also.

 Let’s get started. You are writing songs that people other than granny and Uncle Earl say are good. This also means you have probably written somewhere between 500 - 1000 songs by yourself or with other like-minded souls and a few of them don’t make the dog run for cover. You have developed your craft into more than a hobby or “do it when I feel inspired to” kind of thing. You have started writing songs that connect with people about the human condition. You also have to write or your head will explode, metaphorically speaking. Now you need to know how do I protect my songs legally. I’m glad you asked.

 If you have written a song all by yourself, you own 100% of the rights to copy. At the time you placed it on paper and/or made a simple recording it is protected from anyone using it other than you or someone you have given consent to through the licensing process. At this time, you can go outside and bury it in the yard and nobody can touch it without your permission if that’s what you want to do. You can also register it at The Library of Congress at this time, but it wouldn’t be prudent. You can do that in bundles of songs on their website. You also will want to leave time for revision of the song and if you have already registered it, now you have to amend the song for an additional fee. Schedules of fees can be found at https//www.loc.gov under the Copyright header. If you register every song you write in a year and you write 100-150 songs a year it can get expensive. And besides, a song is never final until it’s vinyl. Publishing companies don’t even register the songs their writers write until they are cut. It’s a business and you have to start thinking about it this way. The best business practice is to wait until you or an artist cut the song to register it in the final form. As a side note, forget the poor man’s copyright, it won’t stand in court.

 I can hear the alarms going off as I type, “What if someone steals my song”? Not very likely. They would have to have heard it somewhere or been in the room with you when you wrote it. Now ideas, titles and chords are not protected. You may here a song on the radio written by someone else that has similarities to one you have written. If your song hasn’t been on the radio or played out live a lot, take it as a shot in the arm that you are actually writing songs like the pros do. Registration with the Copyright Office gives you the right to have standing in a federal courtroom. There have been two recent cases where the rights of a copyright holder have been found to be infringed upon. But even then, these are lose/lose propositions. If you get caught up in these kinds of things you’re more than likely done in the business. Take it as a compliment and move on. One more note on this, most music is stolen when it is file-shared or performed at a venue that does not operate with a license from a Performing Rights Organization (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC). I’ll save that for another time.

Here is a simple formula to remember:  song © +license= $.

If you are planning to perform and record or allowing an artist to record/ perform your song, you have to invest in an education or the school of hard knocks. The school of hard knocks just has too many dead ends, road blocks and land mines to satisfy me, although I tried it for a short time very unsuccessfully. An education from those who have done it and lived to tell about it are out there making themselves available to teach you how the road is navigated. There are no guarantees or shortcuts to success because they don’t exist. Knowledge is the key that opens doors. And there are a ton of things that you will need to be very familiar with before you will be able capitalize on your songwriting talent. Knowing how to take care of the business side of things will allow you to gain the respect of your peers and will let the people you are doing business with know that you are ready to work on their level. Professionally.

I will get into the bundles of rights (licenses) in part 2. A list of sources is below for you to check out if you seriously want to go for success in the music world. They have been priceless for me.   

Thanks for the opportunity to share!

Wayne Duke

TCMA Correspondent





Library Of Congress https//www.loc.gov/

Amanda Colleen Williams

Marty Dodson

Clay Mills III


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