Dear Rich: My Co-Writer Disappeared. How Do I License Our Song?

 

Felice and Boudleaux Bryant - Pyragraph

Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, cowriters of “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Rocky Top” and other great hits. Photo courtesy of Rich Stim.

From Dear Rich: An Intellectual Property Blog.


Dear Rich: I write song lyrics and about three years ago collaborated by email with a composer. He sent me a musical composition that I have since written lyrics to and would like to pitch for a TV ad campaign and CD production. Unfortunately, I get no response from email, and the Soundcloud page of the composer is inactive. Can I use the music legally or do I have to have written permission? I can’t think of any other ways to contact this person to get authorization.

 

It sounds as if you and the composer—like Felice and Boudleaux Bryant—intended to combine words and music into “inseparable or interdependent parts.” That makes you and the composer joint copyright owners of the song.

Rights of joint owners. With one exception (see below), joint copyright owners can separately grant permission (a license) for someone to use the song, provided that each writer shares the income with the others. If the writers have not agreed on the percentages, courts often start with the presumption that all songwriters contributed equally. Because you cannot locate the composer, you should put aside the composer’s share of any income as a demonstration of your good faith.

First authorization of song. There’s one question that’s unresolved: Do all cowriters have to consent to the first release of the song? We think so because the first release makes the song available for anyone who pays a fee to record the song. Keep in mind that others may disagree because there is no explicit requirement in copyright law that all writers must agree to the first release. If you’ve used your best efforts to locate the composer and you’ve documented your efforts, you may be better served disregarding our advice in this situation.

Support Pyragraph - Pyragraph

Music Licensing Agreement for Musicians and Filmmakers - Pyragraph

Music Law by Attorney Richard Stim - Pyragraph

Support Pyragraph
Rich Stim

About Rich Stim

Attorney Richard Stim specializes in small business, copyright, patents, and trademark issues at Nolo. He practices law in San Francisco and has represented photographers, software developers, craftspeople, publishers, musicians and toy designers. He is the author of many books, including Music Law: How to Run Your Band’s Business; Patent, Copyright & Trademark: An Intellectual Property Desk Reference; and Profit From Your Idea. Stim regularly answers readers’ intellectual property questions at Dear Rich: Nolo’s Patent, Copyright & Trademark Blog. Rich is also an author on Intellectual Property Law Firms. Stim also produces audiobooks, such as Nolo’s Crash Course in Small Business Basics, and performs and records with two bands, MX-80 and angel corpus christi. You can also find Rich on Google Plus.

Leave a Reply

Pin It
[ + ]