Seeking advice on a co-writing situation...

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mdscoggin
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Seeking advice on a co-writing situation...

Post by mdscoggin » Wed Feb 22, 2017 11:58 pm

Hi Taxi team,

Here are my circumstances. A not-particularly-musical friend of mine has decided to embark on a musical career (she likes to sing) and approached me to help her with voice lessons. She offered to pay me a nominal fee (or sometimes wine) to make our weekly sessions a little more worth my while, and I accepted, even though it's not the rate I normally get. After a while she also asked me to help her write songs.

With the songwriting, she typically brought in a musical idea/theme with a few lines of lyrics. Since I have songwriting experience (I started informally composing about 45 years ago with personal but no commercial success), I actually enjoy taking the “seeds” she provides and creating a structured and polished song, usually including substantial input on the lyrics. I also create the sheet music to capture it since she has no musical skill there either.

I was happy to consider our efforts simply a 50/50 co-authoring arrangement, however, her claim is that since she’s reimbursing me for my time she owns the songs. (As I’m just helping out a friend, we’re clearly not employer/employee and there are no other agreements, written or otherwise.) She has started proceedings to copyright our songs as the sole author without my permission or participation. I’m looking for a legal reference that applies to this situation.

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Re: Seeking advice on a co-writing situation...

Post by Len911 » Sun Feb 26, 2017 1:20 am

I'm not sure there is a legal reference, other than divorce, for mixing business with pleasure. :P

You could sit down with her and have a discussion, though it probably will not conclude well. I would forget about negotiating past arrangements, and it's doubtful that making a suitable agreement for all future work is amiable. She wanted cheap, and you wanted, well, wine! Otoh, maybe she wants you, and you want her, and you both should get engaged, get married, and live happily ever after.

I make a terrible Ann Landers impression, but I would just cut my losses and move forward.
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Re: Seeking advice on a co-writing situation...

Post by hummingbird » Sun Feb 26, 2017 3:12 am

I am a voice teacher and I make it clear to my students who are songwriters that if they bring a song to lesson and I give some feedback, it's part of our lesson and in no way do I claim any ownership due to the fact I am being paid for my services (how much doesn't matter, I am offering a service and getting reimbursed for providing it).

However, I did work with a student quite extensively on several songs and we said, upfront, that it would be a 50-50. While nothing ever came of the songs it was a pleasant collaboration.

In this case, I would agree with Len. Nothing was discussed or agreed, as far as I understand from your post, before the work began. To try to claim something after the fact when your participation was part of a service you were offering and were paid for.. it's too late really. And let us also say that unless one of the songs is an undeniably chart topping hit, there isn't much point.

I would go so far as to say that you should inform her kindly, at the end of the next month, that while you enjoyed teaching her you will need to raise the fee to your usual rate for financial reasons. In my experience reducing the fee should only be a short term thing you offer to established students or people you trust.. for maybe three months because they have a financial difficulty. This includes barters. I have found when people pay less or nothing for a service, they tend to act in less respectful ways. I try to steer clear of teaching friends or family, as the dynamics can be.. shall we say... more difficult.

Hope I've helped a little. Mind you, all this is opinion. Not legal advice. You could talk to an entertainment lawyer and see what they have to say. I hope you have notes. I record my lessons so everything I do is on an audio file.... you might have a case and a letter from a lawyer might help you get your share of yet unforeseen income. I guess you have to weigh that up against the friendship as it sounds like it's already sliding....
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Re: Seeking advice on a co-writing situation...

Post by Telefunkin » Sun Feb 26, 2017 6:05 am

Just a few opinions (but that's all they are).
In further discussions with her, you might also bring up points such as:
- there are no records of her paying you and no 'work for hire' agreement, therefore you are a co-writer whether she likes it or not.
- would the songs have ever seen the light of day without your input? If not, she can't deny your co-writer status.
- you were actually doing her a favour by cutting your rates for singing lessons, and this is how she treats you?
- songwriting lessons were not part of the deal, so you helped her songwriting for free, and this is how she treats you?
- in theory then, you could also do likewise and copyright the songs under you own name, but that would be playing dirty and you wouldn't.
- you could also, in theory, re-use your substantial contributions in your own better songs, but that would also be playing dirty and you wouldn't.
- If you were to let the songwriting community know how she behaves she'd never find another (badly needed) co-writer, but again, you wouldn't.
- if she has no idea about songwriting, she probably also has no idea how to market the songs and won't make a cent anyway.
- alternatively, with your help, you might BOTH find an outlet for the songs and potentially earn from them, but not without your name on them.
- from now on all previous (unwritten agreements) are terminated.
- without reconciliation there are no more lessons of any kind, and in any case no further collaborations without written agreements.

All of those points stacked up should at least make her think a little about what she's doing. However, if the logic is lost on her, then leave her to her own devices, take her off your speed-dial and Christmas card list, and forget her. Also forget any notion of involving legal parties in any argument, because they'll be the only 'winners'. Finally, unless these are killer songs that artists would die to record you'll probably not be missing out.
DISCLAIMER: I'm no legal advisor, just a guy with an opinion that you're free to dismiss. :)
Last edited by Telefunkin on Sun Feb 26, 2017 6:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Seeking advice on a co-writing situation...

Post by Pvgeldrop » Sun Feb 26, 2017 6:18 am

Got to agree with the advice given above. Cut your losses and move on. Unless you feel that there's some amazing work in there, it's probably not worth the effort to get anything legal going on. On the other hand, you'll most likely be in the possession of all the notes, sheetmusic, et cetera, so if it came to proving the writing involvement, that shouldn't be too difficult at all. As there are no written agreements in any shape or form, I'd say that authorship is clearly shared.

In the end, the way she appears to be treating you is simply unacceptable and unprofessional. If she intends to make a musical career, she'll swiftly find out that behaviour like this won't help. From your description, it seems she's not getting much further without a co-writer and musical help. I personally wouldn't even consider any further collaborations with stunts like this, written agreements or not, but that's my somewhat principal point of view.
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Re: Seeking advice on a co-writing situation...

Post by Kolstad » Sun Feb 26, 2017 8:58 am

If you don't have an agreement, you don't own 50% of the song, each. You actually both own 100% of the song.

"Without an agreement, a song written by multiple people is subject to the default rules of the Copyright Act."

Here's the reference http://www.newmediarights.org/business_ ... meone_else

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Re: Seeking advice on a co-writing situation...

Post by NaeDae » Mon Mar 20, 2017 10:29 am

I'd tell the entitled brat that she can write her own songs unless she agrees to a 50/50 split on all projects past and future (which is very generous, given you're basically writing the whole song for her) and starts paying full price for her lessons.

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Re: Seeking advice on a co-writing situation...

Post by mojobone » Thu Apr 27, 2017 4:42 am

I agree; cut your losses and cut her off. Simply put, her behavior is abusive. Feel free to show her this thread when you give her the news.
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