Songwriter Tips for Copyright, Credit, and Royalties
Songwriters usually know the ins and outs of writing lyrics and composing music; but when it comes to the business and legal end, they could use some tips from experts. There are many legal issues that arise, such as how to split up the royalties and who gets credit for songs. Use the songwriter tips in this article to guide you through the sometimes convoluted business and legal side of the music industry.
Agree on Songwriter Credits Immediately
Among songwriter tips, an important one is regarding songwriter credits. When you are co-writing music, be sure to specify how revenues and credits will be sorted out, as soon as you finish the songwriting. If you don't do this right away, you could find yourself arguing about how to split credits and revenue with people you don't work with anymore. This could take some time and may cause delays. Be sure to include any non-writing members you want to share in the income. Although you don't need a formal contract, you do need to put your agreement in writing. If you are in a band that is already earning money, owns its own equipment, and has a working career, you should consider using a band partnership agreement.
How to Split Songwriting Credits
If you contributed in any way to a song's structure, chord progressions, or lyrics, you are given a copyright to that song. Even if you only contribute to a section of the song, such as by creating the rhythm section, you have copyright ownership interests. The most straightforward ways to decide who gets songwriter credits are to have the members of the band determine who contributed to the song, or decide that every contributor shares equally in the band-written songs.
Publish the Name of Your Songwriters
After you have determined who your songwriters are, publicize their names and contact information or the contact information of your music publisher. Encode these names and copyright information into the text tags of your songs, as you prepare them for downloading.
Copyright is Automatic
Registering songs with the U.S. Copyright Office is unnecessary to secure your copyright. As long as your song is original, meaning it is yours and was not copied from some other source, and fixed, meaning it exists in some hardcopy form (like on sheet music, a tape, or on a computer), your song is copyrighted. You should still register your song to help protect it from copyright infringement. Having your copyright registered will help you in any infringement cases so long as you register it before any infringements or within three months of the song's release and may help you to recover more money damages in an infringement case.
Transferring your Copyright
Whenever you sign with a major music publisher, you give up the copyright of the song to the publisher. In return, the songwriter receives a large portion of the royalties and often earns the bigger share from the publisher's work. It is best to have an attorney review the deal for you, to ensure your best interests.
Consider Sampling Old Music of a Dead Songwriter
Any music published before 1923 is considered public domain and is free for anyone to copy. Using this older music allows you to avoid having to pay royalties, get permission from a copyright owner, or give credit to the songwriter of the original song. Once you have used an old song, others may use those same tunes, but not copy the unique elements that you added to the old song. If they do, they have infringed upon your copyright.
Register with Performance Rights Organizations
Performance rights organizations monitor media such as radio stations, nightclubs, and websites and collect royalties from those that use your song. They pay these royalties directly to the music publishers and songwriters. Register with such organizations as Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) or the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.
Be Smart About Marketing your Songs
Radio used to be the way to get your song heard by the masses. Technology has changed all of this. Market your music in ways that will open up licensing opportunities for you. Consider using
- Music streaming services like Spotify;
- Social media and the Internet;
- Video games;
- Advertising agencies;
- Motion pictures;
- TV companies.
Using a Publisher, Despite Lower Revenue
Songwriters who publish on their own, instead of using a publishing company, receive 100 percent of the revenue. If you use a music publisher, the publisher gets part of your earnings, and you will probably receive between 60-75 percent. Established music publishers are better connected and able to book you more lucrative deals and publicity than if you were on your own.
Work from Home Tax Break
If a portion of your home is used only for composing and recording your songs, and you have no other fixed locale you work from, you can claim a home office tax deduction. The amount you are allowed to claim is directly proportional to the percentage of your home you are using. For example, if you are using 20 percent of your home as an office, you can claim 20 percent of your home office expenses. These expenses include rent, mortgage interest, property taxes, utilities, homeowners insurance, etc. If you use this deduction, once you sell your home, you lose the capital gains tax exemption on the home office part of the home. You can avoid this by living in your home for two of the five years preceding the sale of your home.
Get Legal Help Protecting Your Songs
You may have written a brilliant song, but it's up to you to protect your rights. Without adequate proof -- best secured by a registered copyright -- someone else can come along and claim it as his or her own. If you're a songwriter, it's a good idea to seek the assistance of a local intellectual property attorney to assure you get royalty payments and are claiming the proper tax credits if you compose from home.