On the blog Script the other day, I read a post posted earlier this year about protecting your work if you are a screenwriter for television. The blog post had some wonderful advice and things that I thought were helpful, not just for screenwriters, but for literary artists of all genres as well as performance artists who write songs. The take-away from the post was that you can not copyright or protect– in any way– your ideas. Ideas are not copyright-able. Only the execution of an idea is copyright-able. And, that’s when it can get messy.
Excuse, me. That’s me singing.
As a freelance music writer who covers up and coming music artists as well as some pretty well-known names, I have an ear to the pulse a lot of time regarding the woes of artists and the reasons why it may take them some time to come out with new work. Last week I was talking to radio host Stevie Robinson, who also manages singer Gloria Ry’ann, and I got some first-hand testimony on what a copyright mess can look like. Stevie told me that the talented vocalist, who sounds similar to the late Minnie Ripperton with a dose of contemporary panache, was surprised to find that her music and rights to it had been sold without her knowledge.
Stevie candidly shared a current hassle she is dealing with on behalf of Gloria.
“Basically,” Stevie shared, “Gloria’s album producer sold a song Gloria wrote and sung and sold the rights to the song to Tracy Lynn Jewlery.”
Huh? How does that happen?
Well, Stevie explains, there was no written contract prior to Gloria going into the studio and, since the producer had access to her originals and mixes of the song, he had his way with the music he had produced with Gloria Ry’ann. He shopped the song “Sparklin” to the popular jewlery sellers and she found out through Twitter about the transaction, according to Stevie, when a fan tweeted about the song being on the Traci Lynn website. Stevie says that he offered Gloria $2700, a portion of the $6000 he sold the song for– a song that is being sold on iTunes right now by Traci Lynn jewlery. Gloria has no rights to the song anymore and can not, as was intended, include it on her upcoming album.
#1 PITFALL TO AVOID: Failing to Establish a Contractual Agreement
Gloria’s first mistake, Stevie admits, was that she trusted her producer Herb Middleton to do right by her, and, therefore, made assumptions about their working relationship. While this sounds common sense and naive to do otherwise, many artists fall into this category when their producer is also a friend or someone they are used to typically working with in a free-flow, organic atmosphere that isn’t formalized with contracts or rules.
But, if you are on a plan to market your outputs for sale, you have to move away from this mentality.
If you are a singer, a contract is mandatory before crafting tracks in the studio, especially if you are having your original songs produced. As a writer, while an email exchange can develop a paper trail between you and an editor or proofreader, giving proof that you are the original author of a work in question, a contract may be helpful as well in making it clear that the editor does not have the right to use, transmit, sell, etc. your work without your authority and direction.
Music industry expert Heather McDonald for About.com asserts that a few misplaced or missing words could give your producer a piece of the ownership of the finished product as in Gloria’s case. “Avoid this conflict by stating clearly that any finished recordings and masters are owned exclusively by you,” McDonald says in her About.com article “Music Producer Contracts– Before You Sign”.
The contract for both a producer if you’re a singer or an editor if you’re an author should specify exactly what is expected of the producer or editor.
For the producer, the contract should stipulate whether they will be arranging songs or creating beats.
For the author, it’s important to know if the editor will be helping you actually do re-writes or simply act as a creative coach putting you in the right direction or asking the necessary questions to push you? While you may not put this in a formal contract, having it in writing that is notarized on time-stamped is necessary.
“The nature of your relationship with the producer should be decided up front, and it should be spelled out in the contract,” writes Heather McDonald.
Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a writer and editor of several books, including the anthology Liberated Muse Volume I: How I Freed My Soul. She offers editing, proofreading and creative coaching services to authors who self-publish. Contact her at KhadijahOnline@gmail.com for a free consultation.