Disclaimer: The information provided below is not to be considered legal advice. Songtrust cannot provide legal advice or assistance but does encourage you to do as much research as you can, ask questions, and review all contracts closely. If you require legal assistance, we encourage you to seek out legal counsel.
Collaboration is one of the best ways to improve your songwriting skills, build relationships with other musicians, and create compelling songs, but if all co-writers aren’t on the same page about credit, you can end up in a messy situation.
Even if you trust your co-writers and you have a great experience working together, you need to make sure you lock down writing credits as soon as possible - otherwise, you open yourself up to a conflict or counterclaim if writers disagree about who did what, and who deserves what share of a song. These disagreements can prevent you from earning royalties from a song you’ve put hard work into and can cause unnecessary drama among collaborators.
Fortunately, you can avoid conflicting claims and crediting errors through simple preventive measures, before and after co-writing a song.
What Are Conflicting Claims?
Conflicting claims (also known as counterclaims or duplicate claims) occur when there is a miscommunication or disagreement between co-writers and/or publishers over a musical work’s authorship or ownership. As a result of this dispute, a pay source will receive multiple different claims on a song that may add up to more than the required 100% total shares. Conflicting claims usually lead to pay sources suspending all royalty payouts entirely until the claim is resolved.
The most common forms of conflicting claims are:
- Author share dispute: when writers and/or publishers that are credited in the musical work agree about the authorship but claim different shares.
Authorship dispute: when parties disagree about who the credited writers should be.
Ownership dispute: when authorship and writer shares are agreed upon, but rightsholders, like music publishers, disagree over the ownership of the rights of a musical work, in whole or in part. This may include a reversionary rights claim, which occurs when a songwriter attempts to retrieve control of their compositions from a former publisher due to expiration or a current publisher due to contract dispute.
Administration dispute: Similar to an ownership dispute, but, this dispute is between administrators of the rights, rather than the owners. This occurs when an administrator who does not own, but claims they have the rights to represent the publishing, and another administrator also claims that right. This is particularly common when a writer was represented by one administrator, and then after their deal terminates, is represented by another.
What Are Credit Errors in Songwriting?
Sometimes, in a writing session, a person that did not contribute to the song ends up getting credited as a co-writer just because they were in the room, or a person that wasn’t present and didn’t have any input in the songwriting process, is credited as a writer. This is generally a simple error (perhaps after a late night in the studio or writer room, trying to remember who did what), but there have certainly been instances when one writer has intentionally claimed more than their agreed-upon ownership of a co-written song.
How Do I Know If My Works Are In Conflict?
Conflicts are automatically registered when there are multiple conflicting claims of a musical work with a pay source, such as a PRO. However, songwriters aren’t always automatically notified when their works have conflicting claims - this information is generally communicated first to publishers and administrators, like Songtrust It is the publisher’s job to reach out to the songwriter/client and inform them that there are conflicting claims on one or more of their works. If applicable, the publisher or administrator will reach out to the conflicting publisher to seek more information and resolve the issue either by relinquishing Songtrust’s claim or having them agree to relinquish theirs
For Songtrust clients, we will notify you via your registration email. If you receive an email from our Client Services team about a counterclaim or conflict, it is critical that you read and respond as soon as possible in order to maximize your chances of successfully resolving the claim dispute, as we often need additional documentation or other information from you to resolve the claim.. This could include a signed split sheet confirming shares, a producer agreement confirming shares, or documentation from a prior publisher that your deal has terminated. In addition, counterclaims often have a response deadline, and if the pay source doesn't hear back within that time, we risk losing the claim.
How Do You Avoid Conflicting Claims and Credit Errors?
Some cases of conflicting claims or credit errors can be solved simply by presenting a Counterclaim. However, not all are that easy to resolve, especially if you don’t have supporting documentation.
In the case of ownership disputes, in which the shares and authorship are all agreed upon, conflict resolution will likely be between publishers. Songtrust cannot resolve disputes if they are between writers concerning share percentages.
The best action you can take to avoid these claims, or to be prepared if they do, is to take preventive measures from the start.
Here are some tools you can use:
Most conflicting claims can be solved just by providing the split sheets
Make split sheets a part of your normal routine. Signing a document like a Song Split Sheet is a simple way to make sure all the writers involved in the song creation process are happy with their share of ownership percentages.
In general, there is no rule as to how much of a song is due to each co-writer — these shares are up to the writers in the session. So whatever the criteria you and your co-writers will use to define your splits, make sure everyone is on the same page and signs the document. We always recommend that you sign the split sheet before you leave the studio, the writer’s room, the garage, the Zoom - wherever you’re writing together.
Also, assure that the song is finished and won’t be touched after everyone signs the sheet. If the song goes through further creative changes, you should get a new split sheet, and adjust the shares accordingly.
Song registrations at collection societies
By working with a publishing administrator, like Songtrust, to register your songs with collection societies, like PROs or mechanical rights organizations, you’ll have documentation of your writer’s share percentages, which can be used in a dispute. This also enables you to be notified of any conflicts - when your songs are registered in systems across the world, if an additional claim is put on your song(s), all royalties are put on hold and your music publisher is alerted to resolve. This is an easy tool to secure your rights and highlight conflicting claims.
Always keep your termination documentation from old publishers
If you leave a publisher or administrator after your agreement with them ends, you must keep a record of the email confirming termination or the Letter of Relinquishment (LOR) they provide. Make sure to ask for this documentation if they do not automatically provide it.
Oftentimes a Letter of Direction from a new publisher or administrator as proof of ownership is not enough evidence to move forward with claims if you had a previous publisher and they have not actively relinquished your works at the collecting societies. It is not uncommon to lose claims because publishers cannot provide proof that their client is no longer being administered by their previous publisher. Proving a claim is incumbent on your current publisher, but relies on evidence of termination from your previous publisher. If you are signing up with Songtrust and have an LOR or comparable termination documentation on hand, feel free to submit it via the Support Form, so we have it in the event of an issue.
Technically, copyright registration is not required, as the Intellectual Property (IP) rights over a song are protected from the moment the song is finished and expressed in a tangible form.
However, in situations like conflicting claims or lawsuits involving IP violation rights, a formal copyright registration under your country’s Copyright Office might be useful, as it serves as proof of authorship.
If you want to be proactive instead of reactive, make sure your songs are registered for music publishing AND submit them to your local Copyright Office. To learn the benefits of copyright registration, check out our previous article.
Know your contract
Be careful when signing a publishing agreement. Always engage legal counsel to look at any contracts before you sign them - and ensure you understand the fees they’re charging, the term length you’re agreeing to, and what exact rights they will be assuming. Make sure to get written documentation of this as well to keep for your own records.
More often than not, problems in the music business - including songwriting share disputes - originate out of misunderstandings and communication gaps.
Ask questions, seek confirmation if you’re unsure, and always be as clear as possible when working with other songwriters. Setting a collaboration standard from the beginning will set the overall tone of how you collaborate with others, encourage a positive exchange, and give you confidence to seek out more and diverse collaborators.
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 or, if you’re a current client, please use our Support Form to submit a ticket and reach our Client Services Team. You can find this form by logging into your account and finding the link on your client dashboard.