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Songwriting Agreement

by Ben McLane, Esq.

Important decisions a songwriter faces concern which publisher to sign with and what type of contract to sign. Publishing deals are of two basic kinds: the single song contract (generally for one song) and the exclusive songwriter's contract (for all songs written during a period of time). Although these two deals are quite different, they have one thing in common that the writer must be aware of: copyright ownership is transferred to the publisher. Therefore, it will be a long-term deal. This being the case, the writer needs to be certain that he/she is entering into a fair contract. Some basic points that a songwriter's contract include are the following:

Reversion Clause. There should be a provision that if the publisher does not secure a commercial release within a specified time (i.e., one year), the songwriter can terminate the deal.

Work For Hire. If it is a single song deal, make sure that "employment for hire" and "exclusive writer agreement" phrases are not included. Also, there should be no options for future songs.

Changes To Song. The publisher should only be able to change the title, lyrics or music with the songwriter's consent.

Royalty. The songwriter should receive fifty percent (50%) of all publisher's income from the song(s).

Deductions. The costs of demos should be paid 100% by the publisher. However, it is common for the writer to pay one half of the Harry Fox Agency collection fee (this agency collects mechanical royalties for the publisher).

Statements. Once the song is recorded or printed, the writer is entitled to receive royalty statements at least once every six months. Further, the writer should be allowed to audit the publisher's books to see if royalty calculations were done correctly.

Writer's Credit. The publisher must see to it that the writer receives proper credit on all uses of the song.

Arbitration. In order to avoid large legal fees, it is advisable to include a provision to allow an arbitrator to settle any disputes between the writer and publisher.

Future Uses. Any use not mentioned specifically in the contract should be retained by the writer because it could be a valuable bargaining chip in the future.

Performing Rights Affiliation. The writer must affiliate with either BMI or ASCAP and the contract should read that all writer performance royalties must be paid directly to the writer by the performing rights organization; and, if the publisher should be paid these monies in error, the monies must be immediately sent to the writer.

Because of the length of a publishing relationship, the writer should obtain an experienced person to assist with a contract negotiation. If an attorney is not within the writer's means, The Songwriter's Guild of America is a valuable resource.

Copyright 1998, Ben McLane
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