Songwriting collaboration

Legal Issues to Think About When Forming a Songwriting Partnership

If you’re the kind of songwriter who goes through regular bouts of writer’s block, forming a songwriting partnership can be a good solution. When you’re stuck, you’ve got another person (or persons) that might be able to fill in the blank spots.

But before you go rushing into a creative partnership, you should get some things in writing. It may feel awkward writing this sort of thing down, as if you don’t trust the other person to be fair. But problems arise when two songwriters have very different ideas about what “fair” really is. It’s best to write up an agreement.

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Also, a well-described collaboration helps you if someone else has taken your song and used it without your permission.

Even in the very small chance that your agreement will face a test in court, you will want to get legal advice, particularly if your partnership is going to result in songs that make money. There is a good article online that you can use for a guide, “Legal Issues With Songwriter Collaborations.” It was written in 2016, and based on U.S. laws, but will serve as a good guide even if you are a citizen of a different country.

Give that article a good read. In it, you’ll find some good information that you’ll want to include in a songwriting partnership agreement, including the following:

  1. Partnerships are generally considered 50/50 when it comes to copyright ownership and splitting of revenue. If you want something different, you need to specify it.
  2. Song ownership is typically split between the writing of the words and the writing of the music. If you wrote the words and someone else wrote everything else, that’s a good example of 50/50. If you wrote the words, and two others wrote the music, you get 50% and the two others would get 25% each (unless you specify something different).
  3. Any person in the partnership can grant use of a song to a third party. But if you go ahead and do that, each member of the partnership must still get whatever is due them. And presumably you can specify in the agreement that no one can go rogue and shop a co-written song around without everyone’s agreement.

In my mind, leaving anything unsaid is not wise. And even though 50/50 would be assumed by the courts if something ever did come to a legal battle, it’s best to have it drawn up and understood by all parties in the collaboration.

Even though it’s possible to write up an agreement that states that the amount of ownership will change for each song depending on the contributions of each partner, I strongly advise avoiding that situation. It’s far better to simply establish 50/50, and then make the assumption that the actual contribution by individuals within the partnership will change.

One other bit of advice I would give regarding partnerships is to make sure you hitch your creative wagon to someone you consider to be a good creative partner, someone who, even if their writing style is radically different, shares a common idea of what songwriting means to them.

You want a partner who, as I mentioned before, can fill in the gaps in your own creative talents. It’s OK if their style of writing is different, but you certainly want someone you feel comfortable working with, and someone who considers your own ideas with respect. When all is said and done, a partnership will succeed or fail based on whether it feels like a good fit.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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