Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Songwriting Credit Removed From Album

Dear Rich: These are strange times. Are we sinking to new lows? Just this week, I discovered, quite by accident, that songs I had co-written in the mid 1970s are now being sold on the Internet. The person I co-wrote them with, was a famous artist, but is now deceased. His name appears (apparently to help them sell), but my name is missing, I made contact with the record company who is selling one of these songs, as part of an album of featured artists. After a couple of emails back and forth, it appears I am now being ignored. Also, the person I corresponded with, never once provided their name. My impression is that the original publishing company may have sold all or part of the song catalog to this record company, who may now own the publishing rights. Why my name was dropped from the credits doesn't make much sense. I would think the famous artist's surviving widow is receiving some royalties. If they were simply split in half, it seems to me that the royalty payout would be the same. There were other songs I co-wrote as well, which could appear. This is worrisome, if not downright sickening. Is this a dirty new twist in the music industry? Yes, it's sickening; No, it's not new. The history of the music biz is peppered with stories about how songwriting credits have "gone missing" or have, on occasion, been deliberately or negligently misrepresented by publishers and record companies. Actually, it was easier to get away with this practice in the old days because today anyone with an Internet connection can check up on how songs are credited using online databases. 
Gather info and check your status. Whether you handle this on your own or you get a lawyer, you need to start by gathering information. You need to review these websites and plug in your song titles: HFALimelight,BMI, and ASCAP. You should find out who is listed as publisher of the song and who is listed as songwriter. You should also search the Copyright Office website to see if the songs have been registered and whether you are listed as co-writer.
  • If you're not listed as co-songwriter ...  then you're going to need to prove ownership. That will require documentation from the past -- either publishing contracts if you have them or circumstantial evidence (vinyl recordings listing you as a co-writer, credits listing you at other websites, previous payments for the songs, etc.). 
  • If you are listed as co-songwriter ... then you will have an easier time proving your case and hopefully recovering royalties (and if you are listed as a co-writer at BMI or ASCAP then you should be receiving quarterly payments directly for radio and certain digital performances -- unless your contact information is outdated).
Get a lawyer. Once you've gathered this evidence, we think it's time to contact a lawyer. We know it may cost you money but if the recording artist was well-known and the songs are generating thousands in revenue per year, it could be worth your while to get an attorney involved. If you live near a volunteer lawyers for the arts organization, you may be able to find an ideal attorney. Otherwise, you will need to look for a copyright attorney who might hopefully be willing to take your case on a contingent fee basis.