How Copyright Works: Co-Writing & Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) | ASCAP BMI SESAC

How Copyright Works: Co-Writing & Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) | ASCAP BMI SESAC

In this video, we will discuss co-writing. What that mean is to write music with someone else, how you make the business arrangement of it and as well as what can go right and wrong. We’ll also discuss the performance rights organizations. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, songwriters belong to one of them and these performance rights organizations pay the songwriter for performances of the music, so that’s very important. To begin with co-writing, it is assumed that if you don’t state otherwise and there are two names on a copyright registration, that the agreement is 50-50. If I wrote all the music and a person over here wrote all the words, then we’re 50-50 owners. I own half the words even though I wrote none of them. She owns half the music even though she didn’t write any of the music. But it’s a 50-50 split and that’s if you didn’t say anything and there are two names on it. What’s very common though is for people to say, “We’re going to work as a team and let’s write a few songs, or let’s write one song and see how it goes.” The issue that comes up is did both people contribute equally and how do they feel about this? This can get into sensitive issues as well, it can be feelings. You can’t exactly quantize when two people contributed music and lyrics. You can’t literally say that was 49.6 percent and this is 51.4. You can’t get into that perfectly so you have to give an estimate. What most people will say is they all agree that we’re going to be co-writers, The Beetles are great example, Lennon and McCartney realized that they’re going to be, let’s just say, we’re co-writing, 50-50 on everything. Paul song, Getting Better, great song from Sgt Pepper. He wrote it completely John Lennon inserted one line, it was grey, it’s very sarcastic. When Paul says, “It’s getting better all the time” and Lennon just says, “Couldn’t get much worse.” In terms of the number of words, that’s not 50 percent of the words but it was just a really cool line. The Doors, famous American group from the 60’s, the first three albums, all music in all compositions was by The Doors, so the four of them shared in the music. But later on this had to become issues where look, we’re not all equal. From their fourth album and on, they decided to break it up and say, “No, okay, these two wrote this song, this one person wrote that song.” But these are the issues you have to understand and know how you’re going to go about, are you going to have a formal written document saying that’s how this works? There are a lot of things that can go right and wrong with this. It could be you again, do it after the song you say, “Well, okay, just count me for 10 percent, I didn’t do much.” But that’s one of the things that can happen with co-writing. When it comes to co-writing, another thing to consider is well, how long is the copyright term? How long does copyright last? It lasts for your lifetime plus 70 years after you’re deceased. So, if you write with someone, you’re work is going to go for a long time and a lot of things can take place with it. Also, you reap the rewards, the benefits and the disadvantages, some problems can come from it. I’ll give you an example without mentioning names. Four songwriters who are very well-known, have a pretty very well-known song. The four of them are interesting people live in different places. One of the writers started not making intelligent choices in his life and started doing some foolish things. He through the influence of his partner started saying, “These people stole our song.” The other three listened and said, “They didn’t steal our songs, these songs aren’t close, what are you doing? ” But, as one of the four writers, he had the right to go sue, to initiate a copyright infringement lawsuit against these other writers and he did and they lost quickly in a motion for summary judgment. What happens is the other three writers who had nothing to do with it said, “Don’t do this.” They ended up having to pay a significant court costs because of the action of one. Is just something that goes to show it could occur, that’s kind of rare but it can happen. Another thing that can happen is say you go on to be come co-writer with someone else and that first-person you co-wrote with, might think, “Hey, that new song of yours is like the one we wrote 10 years ago.” So, you could also potentially be sued for infringing what you did earlier. It can get that complicated. Those are the worse case scenarios but it’s very helpful to know about them. When it comes to Performance Rights Organizations, there is three in the United States, three primary ones. ASCAP is one of the oldest. It’s been around since around 1909. It was formed by Broadway composers to make sure their music was being whenever it was played that there would be paid for it. ASCAP was the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, is what the acronym stands for. But it was created for that kind of music and they excluded a lot of music. They excluded jazz, blues, country, they didn’t care, they were more the Broadway the higher-paid composers. BMI came in 1939, it’s Broadcast Music Incorporated. It was put together by radio companies. They had a much different approach, they thought let’s do the music that ASCAP doesn’t do. So, they were more likely to get into Country, folk, blues, jazz and the music that ASCAP had ignored. In between those in 1930, came SESAC as European company and it’s for profit. ASCAP and BMI are non-profit. So, everything about them becomes public, the money they’re making. SESAC is for profit, it always has been and they escaped to this country just to police copyrights. They were first saying, the Americans were just dealing, they were paying royalties on music from European so, that’s what they started. But now all three ASCAP, BMI and SESAC have so much in common. They’re just trying to look out for their members and trying to get them paid. So, if you’re an ASCAP writer and you want to write with a BMI writer, I definitely give this advice is something to try. If your song has some success, whatever the level success is, one of you is ASCAP and one of you is BMI. Well, when the checks come in, see what they are, they won’t be the same. Because ASCAP, and BMI, and SESAC, they are very proprietary and secretive about how they calculate payments. If you’re the ASCAP person working with the BMI person and the BMI person made a good amount the more money than you did, then you as the ASCAP person need to go to ASCAP and say, “Hey, look at this. We are co-writers it’s 50-50.” Then ASCAP would likely raise the money so it’s the same, or tell you, “Well, okay, but we do this kind of performance differently, so when the music gets here we’ll pay more.” They may pay more for television, they may pay more for certain radio stations. I mean nothing to understand is the way the PROs work is, if your music is played on New York radio on a Friday, that’s better than New York City Radio Tuesday at four in the morning. That’s better than the city of Boston which is smaller than New York and then you take the Moines Iowa which is smaller than Boston and you go on and on. So, they have different rates for what part of the country music is being played, how long it’s being played and so forth. So in conclusion, it’s very important to think before you get into co-writing to realize it is legal whether you want to have a written document that establishes the relationship and the songwriting splits, that’s a good idea. But whether you do or not it is legal and there’s so many advantages to co-writing, but it’s good to know all round what the good things they can lead to and the mistakes that could occur from it.

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  1. can a person kill the chances of obtaining copyright because they did not realize they had wrien a song or several. And if it happens still, what can you do. if u r poor?

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