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5 Things to Do If You’ve Inherited a Music Catalogue

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Legacy, Legal Issues, Music, Music Catalogues, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Royalties, Terminations, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

  1.  Call Me.

Seriously.  Call me.  I regularly work with legacy artists/songwriters/composers, heirs, and estates to protect and revitalize their catalogues.  I assess what they own, what the current state of the catalogue is, and the various options for the catalogue to increase income while protecting the legacy of the creator and the works.

  1. Assess What is There.

Decisions involving how to move forward with a catalogue can’t be made if one doesn’t know what (s)he has to work with.  The first step is to know what compositions are in the catalogue, what agreements are in place, and who is collecting the income.

If the details are fuzzy, don’t worry.  Most heirs and estates do not have previous experience with music catalogues and start with a vague idea.  It’s my job to assist in making those fuzzy details become clear so that my clients know what they have, what options are available, and implement a plan to move forward.

  1. Clean It Up.

Not only are the details of most inherited catalogues fuzzy, but the money is too.  Most older catalogues have a lot of mistakes in the maintenance and management of the catalogue which prevents the catalogue from reaching its earning potential.  I’ve worked on catalogues with 50-year old mistakes not corrected by the current owner, problems with chain of title, improperly handled derivative works, and more.  I fix the problems and get income flowing again.

  1. Terminate.

Copyright law provides a valuable gift to authors and heirs, which is the right to recapture ownership of copyrights.  That’s right — authors and their heirs can reclaim ownership and control over their rights and how they are exploited.  However, this gift comes with strict requirements as to when and how rights can be recaptured.  (See articles with more information hereand here.)  An attorney with extensive experience in copyright terminations is essential here, because there is only one chance to recapture rights – and that chance is lost if deadlines are missed or the procedure isn’t followed correctly.

  1. Decide a Plan of Action.

I frequently see legacy artists and songwriters, and their heirs, who have been misguided in the management of their catalogues, who have lost rights to recapture, who don’t realize their catalogues are under-earning, and who don’t know where to start.   The right advisors are tantamount to a successful recapture process and future for the catalogue.  Each catalogue is unique and each client has different goals for the catalogue, its income, and the preservation of its legacy.  Some options include negotiating a new deal for the catalogue, selling the catalogue, or self-publishing the catalogue.  I work specifically to achieve what is best for each catalogue and each owner of that catalogue, and the results most often include clarity of mind and increased income for beneficiaries of the catalogue.*

There is only one chance to reclaim ownership of a catalogue and revitalize it – and the catalogue deserves it.

Please contact me to assist you in taking care of your legacy catalogue.

 

*  Information stated is based on past experiences.  Results are not guaranteed.

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You’ve Inherited a Song Catalogue, Now What? (What Heirs Need to Know)

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By: Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.


I see many spouses or children that inherit a song catalogue from a songwriter relative, and are not familiar with the music business or how to administer intellectual property rights of music.

Here is the first thing to do: Hire a music attorney experienced with managing catalogues and music publishing.

When I work with heirs on how to manage a catalogue they’ve inherited:

  • I assess the catalogue. I work with my client to know exactly what they have in the catalogue. I find out whether the heir owns the copyrights to the songs – either because the original writer never granted them away or recaptured them at a certain point before inheritance. If the heir doesn’t own the songs, I determine who does have ownership and the terms of the deals with those owners.
  • I review the old contracts and assess whether the current publisher or administrator is doing the best job for the catalogue or if the catalogue might be better at a new home.
  • I assist with inventory of all the titles, copyright years, and registration numbers (if possible); and determine all sources from which the heir receives statements and royalties. Keeping everything organized is essential to either managing or selling the catalogue.
  • I assess whether certain provisions of the copyright law apply so that an heir who doesn’t own the catalogue may be able to reclaim ownership of those copyrights, after which I can negotiate a new deal with the best publisher to manage the catalogue.
  • I coordinate a valuation appraisal of the catalogue for potential sale.

Selling the catalogue is a personal decision, it depends on whether one would rather receive royalty checks or instead receive a lump sum upfront in exchange for the catalogue. This depends the circumstances of each individual situation, both from a financial standpoint and whether the heir wants to have a continuing relationship to the catalogue.

Inherited catalogues are special for family legacy reasons, but also because they come with their own set of decisions. Many heirs have not had previous experience with the music publishing business, and either miss important milestones that would put the catalogue in a better position, or they rely on existing deals with companies that are no longer looking out for the best interests of the catalogue. Banks and other trustees often complicate matters, as well as representatives not experienced in music publishing and copyright management. Many of these personnel only look at the numbers. I personally love older music and understand the sentimental value of a catalogue beyond the income it brings in each year, as well as whether and how it can be profitable in today’s market.

Again, the first step in dealing with a catalogue you have inherited is hiring a music attorney experienced with music catalogues and who can make the right plan for your catalogue.

 

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state. 

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Is It Ever Worth It to Give Up Copyright Ownership of Your Songs? A Music Lawyer Explains.

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Categories: Articles, Business, Copyright, Legal Issues, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ESQ-givingupownershipRetaining ownership of the copyrights may be one of the most important decisions in an artist or writer’s music career. The person who owns the copyrights is the one with the control over how those works are used and also the one entitled to the money earned from those uses.  However, sometimes holding on too tightly to copyright ownership may prevent an artist or writer from taking advantage of opportunities to grow his or her career. The age-old adage that sometimes you have to give a little to get a little is true, but one needs to look at the opportunity cost and decide if giving something in a specific situation is worth what will potentially be gained.

Here are a few instances when giving up copyright ownership may be permissible.

1.  When it will make you a lot of money.

I’m not suggesting one should sell out just for a hefty paycheck, as sometimes dollar signs can’t substitute for artistic integrity.  I’ve also seen a lot of deals (especially in music library situations) where an artist or writer is being offered just a few hundred to a few thousand dollars in exchange for full or partial copyright ownership of a song that is really valuable to the artist or writer’s catalogue and career.  In this instance, such a small amount of money may not be worth the control and potential revenues lost later if the song does well in the marketplace.

On the other hand, I have some clients that write consistently and don’t care about giving up ownership as long these songs will churn out money, especially for placements.  They feel they can always write another song and are more concerned with making their music earn money for them over crafting songs to define their careers.

2.  When it will give you opportunities you wouldn’t get otherwise.

This is a situation where working with a certain company, or in many cases a certain producer, will be able to propel an artist’s career forward and help that artist achieve notoriety that wouldn’t be achieved otherwise.  As mentioned, a typical example of this is working with a big producer who is considered to be a hit-maker in the industry.  Often these producers don’t even co-write on the compositions, but granting them a percentage of songwriting ownership is mandatory for being able to work with them. After all, one could retain 100% of a song that most people will never hear, or one could give up 20% and have the song hit top ten, make a lot of money, garner name recognition, and bring the artist more opportunities than the artist would have gotten otherwise. In this case, it seems like a small trade-off and can be used as a means to an end – one might have to give up some ownership in the beginning of a career, but that could lead to a level of status in the industry where one can retain ownership and call the shots on future projects.

3.  When it is in line with your goals.

A new artist seeking a label deal, especially a major label deal, will not own their masters.  An up-and-coming writer wanting a publishing deal will have to give up all or part of songwriter ownership.  This is what comes with the territory of growing one’s career via the traditional industry structures.  It also makes sense from a business standpoint because a label or a publisher is not going to invest time and money into an artist or writer without getting something in return , and part of their return on investment is ownership of intellectual property.

However, if an artist has a vision of making a living off of music in a completely DIY structure, or that the freedom of complete control is more important than working with others more established in the industry, then sharing ownership might not be the right choice.

Longevity and sustainability in the music business, especially in its current state, comes with catalogue ownership.   Giving up ownership comes with some loss of control, but that loss of control may lead to notoriety and other opportunities putting one in a position of control higher than would have ever been achieved otherwise.

Whether to give up copyright ownership is a big decision, and it is one that should be discussed with the artist’s advisors. The choice right for one artist may not be right for another.  The decision will come down to what is right for each artist’s career.

If you need help deciding whether to give up copyright ownership in a deal you’ve been offered, book a consultation now.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.

If this article is considered an advertisement, it is general in nature and not directed towards any particular person or entity.

This article was previously published on Sonicbids.com.