A frequently asked question we get is about conflicting claims (also known as counterclaims or duplicate claims) which occur when there is a miscommunication between co-writers and/or publishers about the correct songwriting splits and/or ownership. As a result of this dispute, the registered song has unclear, differing claims that often add up to more than the required 100% total shares.
As a songwriter this poses a problem because it prevents the correct publisher from being able to claim and collect royalties on your behalf. In addition, some societies will prevent publishers from registering new works for their clients if they believe an old publisher still has a general agreement with the client in question. For example, if we, Songtrust, get notified that Sony Music is also claiming the entire catalog on behalf of one of our clients, we won't be able to register any new songs for this client until the dispute is resolved. In worst case scenarios, this can sometimes result in the wrong people being paid! Here is an overview of the types of claims and how you can avoid them:
TYPES OF CLAIMS
Here are a few types of claims that we interact with frequently:
Claiming Author Share for a Work - In a "author share dispute", there is an agreement between the writers and/or publishers about the authorship of the musical work, however, there is a disagreement about the shares attributable to each writer.
Claiming Authorship for a Work - In a 'claiming authorship dispute', there is a disagreement over the authorship (or original writers) of the musical work.
Claiming Ownership for a Work - In a 'claiming ownership dispute,' the claimants agree on the correct authorship (or writers) and splits of a musical work, however there is a disagreement as to who currently owns and/or controls any share of the work, and often involves a Reversionary Rights Claim.*
How do I know if my works are in conflict?
Claims are automatically registered when there are dual registrations/conflicting claims of a musical work. However, clients are not automatically notified when their works have conflicting claims. Rather, societies will only notify publishers (ex. Songtrust). It is then the publisher’s job to reach out to the client and inform them that there are conflicting claims on one or more of their works.
For Songtrust clients, we will notify you via your registration email. Our emails, labelled as "Conflicting Claim...", means it is critical that you read and respond as promptly as possible in order to maximize your chances of winning the claim dispute. This is because in order to resolve disputes, we often need to include direct information from our clients. In addition, counterclaims often have a response deadline, and if the PRO doesn't hear back within that time we risk losing the claim.
Preventative Measures are Key to Winning Claims
The best way to guarantee you win a claim is to take preventative measures. In order to resolve a claim, we are required to provide documentation supporting our claim. Without this documentation, we often will lose, especially if the other other claimant is able to provide documentation supporting their claim.
As a songwriter and/or publisher, here are the steps we recommend taking in order to maximize your chances of winning disputes:
- Always document and sign split sheets. We cannot express how important it is to document and sign song splits between co-writers. The easiest way for us to resolve the most common types of conflicting claims is by providing the split sheets we receive from our clients. If a PRO has proof of splits as well as the signatures confirming them from all the writers, it is almost guaranteed we will win this claim.
- Always keep a copy of your Proof of Termination from old publishers. For example, if you are registered with a publisher and then leave that publisher, you need to keep a record of the email or Letter of Relinquishment (LOR) you receive from them after your termination. If they do not provide you with this automatically, make sure to ask for one. Even an email confirming the termination will suffice! Often times a Letter of Direction as proof of ownership is not enough evidence to move forward with our claims. Rather, we are required to prove that the Letter of Direction date surpasses the termination date with the previous publisher. It is not uncommon for us to lose claims because we cannot provide proof that our client is no longer being administered by their previous publisher.
- Always make sure you fully understand what you are signing. Be careful when signing into a publishing agreement. Always make sure to ask if you maintain your publishing or if you are signing it over and for how long. Make sure to get written documentation of this as well to keep for your own records.
Knowing what counterclaims are and how to prevent them is the biggest step in avoiding being in a situation where your song ends up being disputed. If you do end up with a counterclaim, don’t worry! Utilize the steps above and talk with your publisher, or our Client Success Team, to help you through the claim dispute.
To make sure all your splits are recorded correctly, that any dispute claims are handled correctly, and that you’re collecting all of your mechanical and performance royalties globally, register for Songtrust today.
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We created this guide to answer a simple question: How do songwriters support themselves?
The answer is not as simple as we’d like, but our goal is to make it as clear, transparent and understandable as we possibly can.
Songtrust is more than just a rights management platform and publishing administrator - we’re a team of experts in the music community who strive to educate, support, and provide thought leadership to creators, representatives, and businesses across the music industry.
Our hope is that you’ll finish this guide with an better understanding of the business behind songwriting and have actionable resources to help you be successful.