Who Steals Songs?

When songs are stolen, you might be surprised to know that the culprit is often someone you know.


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Music thiefIn this day and age, it’s practically impossible as a singer-songwriter to make any kind of name for yourself without using the worldwide web. Unless you’ve got your music online, with video and sound files easily accessible by any and all, you don’t have much of a chance of making singing or songwriting a career.

Along with the benefits that come with an online presence are the dangers. Specifically for songwriters, there is always the danger that your music can be stolen by someone else. And if /when that happens, it can be difficult to prove that the songs are yours if you haven’t taken proper precautions before presenting your music to the world.

But who is stealing music, anyway? Does this happen a lot? And how can you safeguard against it?

In answer to the first question, you might be surprised to know that music is not typically stolen by perfect strangers browsing the internet looking for songs to pilfer and call their own – though it does happen. Most of the time, music is stolen inadvertently, often as the result of a misunderstanding between bandmates.

One scenario might be that a song is started by the keyboardist in the band, the other band members rehearse it and add their ideas, but the song is then put aside as being the wrong fit for the band. Eventually the band breaks up, and the keyboardist completes the song, keeping the ideas that the former bandmates threw in. By rights, the copyright for that song should be shared by all the former members. Because songs in this scenario often evolve over time, it can be an honest misunderstanding regarding how much was written by the original writer, and how much, if anything, was thrown in by the other members.

And there are lots of variations on that story. The point is that most of the time, music is stolen by people known to the songwriter, and can be due to either a misunderstanding, or ignorance of the legalities of who owns music.

Here are 3 tips you should consider as you sit down to write your next song.

  1. Copyright is shared equally between all writers of a song. Don’t bother trying to work out how much each band member added – that’s irrelevant to this issue. All members share copyright equally.
  2. Royalties are shared proportionally, as the result of an agreement between the writers. Typically, the more you’ve added to a song, the more you might expect to be paid. This agreement should be written down and signed. If you usually work with a songwriting partner, you should have an up-front written agreement that covers all the songs you write, usually 50-50. This assumes that for some songs, you write most, while for others, your partner is the main writer. Eventually (theoretically) it all evens out. Lennon & McCartney had this sort of arrangement, with the additional feature of shared authorship. If you and your bandmates write a song, consider an even share of royalties unless one member very obviously wrote most of it.
  3. Chord progressions are not protected by copyright. If you write a melody, and a bandmate creates a chord progression to go with it, you are within your rights to consider the song yours alone. But this rarely happens. Most of the time, a bandmate won’t just add chords, but will also add something else germane to the song. In most cases, if you bring a song in to a rehearsal to complete the songwriting process, consider it a shared project.

Registering the copyright of your music gives you a fighting chance in court if it ever comes to that. Without copyright registration, copyright is almost impossible to prove. Hopefully, since most cases of copyright infringement is the result of misunderstanding of the facts, or misunderstanding of copyright law, you can work out any disagreements without the time consuming and expensive prospect of hiring a lawyer and heading to the courts.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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