Are there any legal issues that might arise from writing a song with another person?
Courts look at whether the parties either expressly or impliedly wanted to be joint authors of a work. Absent any agreement, co-authors of a song are almost certainly joint owners. You can find a comprehensive overview of what that means here
. When it comes to songwriting, ownership issues can get particularly dicey because two songwriting partners can disagree about who has contributed more to the individual song’s success or the success of the partnership. Even though one or both partners may think they’re entitled to more control than the other, the law gives full and equal control over the song to every party (if they don’t have an agreement in place).
For example, you can see the disparity between how some songwriting partnerships function by examining the partnership that researcher Peter DeVries documented between “Tim and Bradley” in his paper The Rise and Fall of a Songwriting Partnership
Bradley (the older, more experienced partner) wanted to terminate the relationship unilaterally. When interviewed separately, the two partners had wildly different views of their partnership, particularly, whether it was collegial (meaning that the two were colleagues) or if it was a case of a mentoring relationship, where a senior author guides a junior one:
Bradley: “It was more of a mentoring thing, what with me being older and a pro. Though sometimes it was equal, particularly when he fixed up my lyrics. But that’s just the lyrics. Musically, I felt like most of it was my contributions, and he benefitted from me.”
Tim: “We were definitely colleagues. I felt like we were equals. But when Bradley called me to break up the partnership, he was really abrupt. So I guess maybe we didn’t get along as well as I thought we did.”
If you are a creator who needs to track down the party that owns the rights to a song, or if you’re a musician with questions about how copyright law affects the ownership of the music you make, feel free to contact New Media Rights via our contact form to find out whether you qualify for free or reduced fee legal services. We also offer competitive full fee legal services on a selective basis. For more information on the services we provide click here.