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It’s a given that a song can have more than one writer – you only have to look at the collaboration of Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers, one of the most successful writing partnerships of recent years. A thorny issue that can arise for budding (and established) artists is – who owns the copyright to the song if it’s co-written? This post will take a preliminary look at these issues and consider a worked example. We’ll look at the following issues:

  1. What is the law surrounding the issue of co-writing and ownership?
  2. What’s the situation if I’m in a band?
  3. How do I make sure that there are no problems if I’m co-writing a song or an album?

What is the law surrounding the issue of co-writing and ownership?

Under s.9(1) of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 the owner of the copyrighted work is the “author” or creator of the work who recorded the work in a tangible form. It is perfectly possible legally for two people to co-write and therefore co-own property rights in a song (s.10(1) CPDA 1988).

So what’s the situation if I’ve co-written a song?

If two artists have co-written a song then it must be made explicitly clear that they have co-written the song and what shares they own in it. The details of the collaboration (i.e. who did what) and the proportion of the ownership is recorded on a Joint Registration Form. It is extremely important that this form is filled out and filed with the relevant body, the PRS for Music. It can cause severe problems later if this form isn’t filled out properly or at all. It’s always better to cross the t’s and dot the i’s at an early stage to avoid conflict later.

What’s the situation if I’m in a band?

If you’re a member of a band then there is normally an assumption that all band members have contributed to the creation of the songs (in the publishing agreement) if they are all deemed co-writers. However, this may not necessarily be the case. The publishing agreement should therefore be carefully checked by both the band members and their legal team to make sure it reflects the reality of the situation and the desires of the band members. Again, these issues should be sorted out an early stage as it has the potential to not only cause legal problems but also friction between band members.

How do I make sure that there are no problems if I’m co-writing a song or an album?

The best way to do this is by taking independent legal advice. The law is fairly transparent relating to these issues but the practicalities and the individual facts can cause problems. The thoughts of other potential co-writers should be sought on the issues and the co-writers / band should hammer out the practicalities and reality of the ownership situation at an early stage.

About Chris Hadrill

Chris is a specialist employment lawyer at Redmans. He specialises in contentious and non-contentious employment matters, including breach of contract claims, compromise agreements and Employment Tribunal cases. He writes on employment law matters on a variety of websites, including Direct 2 Lawyers, Lawontheweb.co.uk, LegalVoice, the Justice Gap and his own blog. Contact Chris by emailing him at chadrill@redmans.co.uk

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One Response to Co-writers and the ownership of copyright in a song

  1. Paul says:

    Nice & clear!
    ……. but if one person writes the music and another writes the lyrics with the intention of creating a song and that song is then recorded, are both writers co-writers of the song? or are there separate copyrights in the music and lyrics each owned by the respective writer?

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