Navigating Co-Writing In The Music Business

February 10, 2021 | Written By Peter Jay Speroni


Music Business – It is right in the title.

Business: For many musicians, the majority of industry related conflicts and setbacks stem from neglecting the business side of their creative endeavors. All too often, musicians and artists move forward with their creative processes without first considering the potential negative implications of not prioritizing the business side of their careers. Being proactive can help strengthen the trajectory of an artist’s career, saving time and money in the long run. 

While recording in the studio, the general rule under copyright law is “absent an express, written agreement stating otherwise, copyright law will apply the default rule: each writer has contributed equally to the underlying music, composition and lyrics,”. For example, if there are 4 people in the studio when you record and a song is created, and you did not take the time to have everyone sign off on the percentages, each person, under the default rule may argue they are entitled to 25%  your song. According to the legal definition, the default rule takes effect even though the other writers may not have provided anything of value in the songwriting process. Thus, many artists all too often find themselves battling over conflicts that arise from rightful intellectual property, specifically copyright ownership.   

Having a co-writing agreement in place at the time of recording is invaluable, as it provides songwriters important governance over the work moving forward. If written by an experienced copyright attorney, that co-writing agreement will also be the key document that proves your ownership and authorship in the songs you create.  Do not make the mistake of thinking that your music is not copyrighted until you register it with the US Copyright Office; your song is copyrighted the minute it is written down or recorded. Therefore, if you do not have a valid agreement in place regarding rights to the song in question, you can expect potential conflicts with your creative works moving forward. 

When working collaboratively in the studio, it is of vital importance that everyone involved, whether artists, songwriters, producers, or engineers, understand who owns what in the event the song creates substantial revenue. When signing with a record label or negotiating a deal with a music publisher, having a co-writing agreement in place, allows you to move forward with negotiations in a transparent manner. 

Often, record labels and music publishers will have to first clear the “Chain of Title” before signing a writer, artist, or song.  You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity because multiple people are now claiming ownership over your song, despite minimal contributions in studio. If an agreement is not in place beforehand, the default rule kicks in and you find yourself splitting your copyright with people that may not have materially contributed to your music.

Protect yourself and your art by ensuring the proper safeguards are in place! Reach out to discuss our songwriting “Co-Writer” Agreements to not only protect your future creations, but also to ensure you are taken seriously in the industry.  

Peter Jay Speroni is counsel with the Parlatore Law Group and practices in the fields of copyrights, copyright infringement litigation, and trademarks.  Mr. Speroni brings over fifteen years of music industry and entertainment experience to the firm including artist development, music publishing, media promotions and music consulting. His specialty is intellectual property licensing, including, complex music publishing, production, film and soundtracks, record label and artist management contracts.  His passion and creativity help him to provide his clients with valuable and robust strategies, whatever their entertainment-based business needs. For more about Peter, click here


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