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The Truth About Legacy Catalogues and How to Avoid the Myths That Harm Them (via Billboard)

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Categories: Articles, Business, Copyright, Legacy, Music Catalogues, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Truth About Legacy Catalogues and How to Avoid the Myths That Harm Them

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This post was originally published on Billboard.com.

Now is the time when many legacy songwriters and their heirs have recaptured or are in the process of recapturing rights to their catalogues. However, the music business is not the same as it was 56 or 35 years ago when these songs were written. Many legacy songwriters and their heirs are misguided on how to proceed with these newly reacquired rights because the original advice they received does not reflect the nature of today’s music marketplace.

In this article, I’ve compiled seven myths that frequently circulate around and potentially harm legacy songwriters and their heirs, and have offered a new perspective based on my experience with making deals in this area and managing legacy catalogues.

Myth 1: All songs that were once famous still earn a lot of money.

Wrong! While some evergreen compositions are fortunate to continue earning substantial incomes, this is more the exception than the rule. Aside from a catalogue like that of The Beatles, there are usually only between one and five songs in a catalogue that still earn money, and in many cases those songs earn only a fraction of the income earned in their heyday. I can quote many examples of songs that hit the top 20 on the Billboard charts, some of which even No. 1, when released, but now earn less than $5,000 per year and are largely forgotten by anyone not around at the time of the song’s release.

Myth 2: Major publishers are the only companies with the power to exploit a catalogue.

This was true in the past, but it no longer the case. Unfortunately, many legacy songwriters and their heirs remain stuck on 30-year old advice from the family’s now-retired music lawyer. In today’s marketplace, major publishers have catalogues so large that they often cannot give personal attention to each individual composition within those catalogues. Because they also have major hits in demand, they tend to wait for licensing and other opportunities to come to them. The problem for older catalogues is twofold: (1) only a small number of these songs are still in the forefront of the public’s mind, and therefore the majority of songs from older catalogues are not requested, and (2) many companies are not willing to invest resources in pitching low-earning compositions. Therefore, these musical gems are neglected and remain lost in a company’s catalogue earning far less than their potential.

On the other hand, independent publishers with smaller catalogs are able to give each composition more personal attention and seek out the right opportunities for it. While an independent company might not be able to give as large of an advance, sale price, or signing bonus as a major, an indie will actively work harder to make its compositions earn more money over the long term because its livelihood depends on it.

Myth 3: A company’s market share will increase the success of a catalogue.

Market share reports look at the percentage of the compositions a company owns in the marketplace, as well as percentage of the top charting hits, and percentage of revenue from that company in relation to total income earned from all compositions in the marketplace. However, market share can be misleading because, top income and charting hits can come from a small percentage of all songs in the marketplace as well as a small percentage of a company’s catalogue. A company’s market share does not guarantee income production for a legacy catalogue because, as explained while debunking Myths 1 and 2, many of these songs are lost in a large catalogue and those forgotten songs will not be actively exploited. Therefore, it is often the case that only a catalogue that already earns substantial income without effort will thrive at a company focused on market share. Further, any bulk funds allocated to major publishers based on market share that the company splits with its songwriters will be allocated to the top earning catalogues, again neglecting under-performing legacy compositions.

Myth 4: A larger company is better at collecting income.

Again, this is not necessarily the case because a larger amount of data to process means more chance for error. I’ve seen countless catalogues at major companies not earning what they should because of mistakes in information that have never been fixed. I’ve seen major publishers not correct information for low-earning compositions because it’s not important to them. I’ve seen companies pay writers and their heirs the wrong royalty rates because no one bothered to look at the original contract rates and the writer’s heirs had to settle for much less than what they should have earned in order to avoid expensive litigation. I’ve also seen companies not take the steps to collect the income — even for high earning songs — because for whatever reason their staff never got around to it. All of these actions hurt the earnings of the compositions and hurt the writers and heirs that benefit from — and sometimes rely on — that income.

Myth 5: It’s too hard to move to an independent publisher from a major.

As explained above, an independent publisher will typically work harder than a large company to make its catalogues earn money. Independent publishers want notable cuts, work the sync market and typically are more diligent about properly collecting income — again, because each dollar matters. The challenge really lies with finding the right independent partner for a catalogue — someone who knows the music, understands the legacy, and has the right connections to exploit the catalogue properly. The right partners are out there, and in this case, it is actually more important to have the right advisors to assist the catalogue owners with making the best decisions for the catalogue.

Myth 6: Writers and heirs can’t self-publish.

Writers and heirs can self-publish if they have the right team in place. Publishing a catalogue with no experience doing so and no connections in the business is not a recipe for success. However, writers and their heirs can maintain ownership of the rights and have the right advisors in place to manage and promote the catalogue. I regularly manage and/or administer catalogues for my clients who have chosen to retain ownership and self-publish.

Myth 7: Heirs will know what to do with a catalogue.

Heirs will not automatically know what to do with the catalogue they have inherited just because their parent/grandparent/aunt/uncle/child was a songwriter. In many cases, these heirs were not exposed to the business side of their relatives’ career and in most cases have no experience with music publishing or managing compositions. Typically, heirs that inherit a catalogue are overwhelmed by the vast amounts of information and don’t know where to start in getting a handle on the catalogue. The heirs that are more adept at navigating the music industry have typically learned over many years and from astute advisors.

Legacy songwriters still living can make arrangements for their catalogues now and clean up the catalogue’s governing information and paperwork so that heirs will inherit an organized packet of information. The right advisors in place can guide legacy songwriters in managing the issues surrounding the catalogue and setting it up to benefit the heirs for the remainder of the copyright term. Many of my living legacy writers will designate me to continue managing the catalogue after their death and I regularly work with heirs to assist them with navigating how to manage the issues regarding their catalogue and maintain and grow what they’ve inherited.

Erin M. Jacobson represents and protects independent, established and legacy songwriters and artists (including their heirs and estates), legacy catalogues, independent music publishers, Grammy and Emmy Award winners, and other music professionals at her law practice based in Beverly Hills, California.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice.

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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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Erin M. Jacobson published in Billboard

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Categories: Articles, Honors and Awards, Legacy, Music Industry, Terminations, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am proud to announce that my most recent article, Attention Legacy Artists: 6 Things You Need to Know to Recapture Your Copyrights, has been published by Billboard!

 

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Attention Legacy Artists: 6 Things You Need to Know to Recapture Your Copyrights

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

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was first published on Billboard.com.

There has been a lot of buzz recently about songwriters and artists (or their heirs) recapturing copyright ownership of their songs – and youcanbelieve the hype.  Copyright law provides a chance for authors (or heirs of authors) to recapture ownership of the copyrights to works granted away many years ago, and the window allowed by the law to recapture those rights is now.[1] Recapturing rights can allow for an author or author’s heirs to negotiate better deals with higher royalty splits in their favor, sell catalogues for large sums of money, or finally regain control of how a catalogue is exploited and increase profits with the right team in place.

However, recapturing rights is a complicated business filled with many requirements and nuances.  Here are six things authors need to know about recapturing rights.

  1. Dates Matter

An author (or author’s heirs) can terminate grants of copyrights made before January 1, 1978 during a window beginning 56 years and ending 61 years from the original copyright date.[2]  However, notice of termination must be served on the current owner anytime between ten and two years before the date the author intends the rights to revert.[3]  For grants made after January 1, 1978, the calculation of when rights can be recaptured is based on the date of the grant, not the original copyright date.   These post-1978 grants may be terminated beginning at 35 or 40 years after the grant date (depending on the language in the grant)[4]with a five-year termination window. Again, notice of termination must be served on the current owner anytime between ten and two years before the date the author intends the rights to revert.[5]

Being proactive is one of the most important factors when it comes to recapturing rights.  As mentioned above, serving notice on the current owners of the copyrights is required to recapture rights.  Because of the additional requirement that this notice must be sent between ten and two years beforethe date the rights will revert, anyone intending to recapture rights must look at leasttwo years ahead.  If someone intending to recapture rights misses the notice window – rights cannotbe recaptured and the opportunity is forever lost. 

  1. Works for Hire Need Not Apply

If an author signed a work for hire agreement for the works in question, don’t bother.  Copyright Law specifically states that works for hire are not eligible for termination.[6]

  1. U.S. Rights Only

The termination provisions that are the subject of this article are part of United
States Copyright Law and therefore only apply to U.S. rights.  That means one can recapture U.S. rights, but not foreign rights.  Also, as of this writing, the chance to recapture is only applicable to U.S. contracts.[7]

  1. Masters are an Uphill Battle

Most discussions around recapture of copyrights refer to composition copyrights because compositions are generally more straightforward to recapture than master recordings.  Most record company contracts say that masters are works made for hire for the record company, and as explained above, works made for hire are not eligible to be terminated.  However, copyright law dictates that works made for hire must meet certain requirements to qualify as a work made for hire:  (a) it must be made by an employee within the scope of their employment, or (b) it must be specially commissioned by the owner of the work for hire, it must be agreed in writing, and the type of work must fall within one of nine categories designated by the law.[8]  “Master recordings” is not one of those nine categories.

While there have been a few instances where labels have quietly relinquished rights to masters and sworn all parties to secrecy, most record labels refuse to release rights to masters and instead negotiate with the artist to increase their royalty rates.  A higher royalty rate does not help artists whose masters are not being exploited and not earning money, but it is all in an effort for the labels to avoid setting a precedent.   Master recordings are record labels’ main assets and businesses cannot give away their assets without also giving away power and profit.

Unfortunately, this is an issue that will only be decided by litigation and/or copyright reform, and neither of those has happened yet.

  1. Relationships Matter

For pre-1978 grants, one author’s share may be terminated, rather than requiring co-writers to terminate together.  However, if an author’s heirs are the ones effecting termination, then a majority of those heirs must terminate together.

Post-1978 grants signed by more than one author require a majority of those authors to terminate the grant together, and if any one of more of those authors is deceased, then a majority of the heirs of each deceased author must sign instead.   However, there are exceptions to this rule if separate grants were signed.

Requiring multiple parties to sign the termination notices can be problematic if co-writers, or heirs fighting about estate issues, no longer speak.  Even if the parties may have lost touch over the years, it benefits everyone involved to coordinate and cooperate to recapture rights.

  1. Don’t Try This at Home, Kids

If not already apparent by reading this article, assessing eligibility for filing terminations and carrying out the proper procedures to recapture rights is extremely complex.  Furthermore, there are numerous nuances and requirements not discussed here that could also affect whether an author or an author’s heirs may recapture rights. Anyone seeking to recapture copyrights needs an attorney specifically focused on the music industry that also has extensive experience with assessing these issues and recapturing rights.  Not all entertainment attorneys understand music and not all music attorneys are experienced with terminations.

I regularly recapture rights for my clients, as well as advise them on protecting and revitalizing their catalogues, as I am in a unique position where I am deeply familiar with both older music and how to navigate those catalogues within today’s marketplace.  Being in this space also means I frequently see legacy artists and their heirs who have been misguided, who have lost their chance to recapture their rights, 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.

There is only one chanceto recapture copyrights, one chanceto regain control of one’s legacy, and one chance to get it right.  Choose wisely.

_____________________________________________________________________

[1]Depending on the circumstances of each individual work, as some works are not yet eligible, no longer eligible, or not eligible at all to recapture.

[2]U.S.C. 17 §304(c)(3) (1992).

[3]U.S.C. 17 §304(c)(4)(A) (1998).

[4]Post-1978 grants are terminable at 35 years after the date of the grant, however, if the grant’s language includes the right of publication for the work, then that five-year period begins either on 35 years after the date of publication, or 40 years after the date of the grant, whichever is earlier.

U.S.C. 17 §203(a)(3) (1998).

[5]U.S.C. 17 §203(a)(4)(A).

[6]U.S.C. 17 §304(c) (1992); U.S.C. 17 §203 (1998).

[7]There have been a couple of high profile disputes on this matter involving U.K. contracts (namely Duran Duran in one instance and Sir Paul McCartney in another), but Duran Duran lost in a U.K. lower court and subsequently settled, and McCartney settled without litigation.  Some other countries do have their own provisions for recapture of rights, but they vary by country and differ from U.S. law.

[8]U.S.C. 17 §101 (1992).

 

Disclaimer:  This article does not constitute legal advice.

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Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. a Top Woman Attorney in Southern California

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Categories: Honors and Awards, Music Industry, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As previously announced, I have been named one of the Top Women Attorneys (Rising Stars) in Southern California for 2018 by Super Lawyers.  The listing for this honor is in this month’s Los Angeles Magazine.

Thanks to my colleagues and Super Lawyers for selecting me.

Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. named one of the Top Women Attorneys in Southern California by Super Lawyers.

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Erin M. Jacobson has been named a 2018 Rising Star and one of the Top Women Attorneys in Southern California by Super Lawyers.

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Categories: Honors and Awards, Press, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Erin M. Jacobson has been named a 2018 Rising Star and one of the Top Women Attorneys in Southern California by Super Lawyers.

Super Lawyers rates outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. This selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.

Erin will be featured in Los Angeles Magazine as a Super Lawyers Rising Star, and again later this year as one of the Top Women Attorneys in Southern California.

Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. in Los Angeles Magazine as 2018 Super Lawyers Rising Star

Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.  Los Angeles Magazine  2018 Super Lawyers Rising Star

Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. in Los Angeles Magazine as 2018 Super Lawyers Rising Star

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Erin M. Jacobson Speaking at Taxi Road Rally

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Categories: Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Libraries, Speaking, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I will be speaking at the 2017 Taxi Road Rally, November 3-4, 2017!

Here is my schedule:

Friday, November 3, 2017 from 2:45-4:15 pm / La Guardia Room (Mezzanine Level / 2nd Floor)

Don’t Get Screwed! How to Protect Yourself as an Independent Musician with Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.  An explanation of the most common types of ways independent musicians and songwriters get screwed and how to protect yourself before it happens. This class will include real examples from artist’s careers, as well as a discussion on what contracts are necessary to prevent these scenarios, along with an opportunity for Q&A with music attorney Erin Jacobson.

(I will also participate in the mentor lunch on Friday.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017 from 4:30-6:00 pm /  La Guardia Room (Mezzanine Level / 2nd Floor)

Understanding Music Library Agreements with Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.  Music attorney, Erin M. Jacobson will talk about the types of deals offered and explain what contract terminology and certain clauses mean. You may bring printouts of particular clauses that have you stumped and Ms. Jacobson will read them and explain what they mean! This class could save you a world of hurt down the road. It’s a Do-Not-Miss session if you’re pitching to music libraries!

Looking forward to seeing you there!

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Want to Get Your Copyrights Back? (Here is What You Need to Know)

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Terminations, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By: Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

There has been a lot of buzz lately about songwriters and artists (and their heirs) reclaiming thei copyrights and striking new deals or self-administering/self-releasing. What many want to know, is who can reclaim copyrights and how?

There are certain provisions in the copyright law where, under certain circumstances, an author or that author’s heirs can reclaim copyrights that have been granted away at some time in the past. It’s a really complicated section of the law, and not all attorneys are well-versed in it, so it is important to make sure whoever you hire really knows the intricacies of filing terminations.

For purposed of this article, I’m going to go over the basics.

There are two main sections of the copyright law that apply to copyright terminations:

  • Section 304c applies to copyrights and grants before January 1, 1978. Termination under this section can be effected between 56 and 61 years after the original date of copyright, and termination may be effected in regards to one author’s share of the work.
  • Section 203 applies to grants made after January 1, 1978, regardless of the original copyright date of the work. Grants falling under this section may be terminated between 35 and 40 years after the grant date. If the grant includes the right of publication for the work, then that five-year period begins either on 35 years after the date of publication, or 40 years after the date of the grant, whichever is earlier.
  • Note that under Section 203, grants signed by more than one author require a majority of those authors or their heirs to terminate the grant. It is not like section 304, where one author’s share can be terminated independently. However, there are exceptions to this rule if separate grants were signed, such was the point at issue in the Victor Willis/ “YMCA” case.

Who can terminate?

  • The author
  • The author’s heirs, if the author is no longer living. (There are only specific people in a specific order of succession that are considered heirs. Again, make sure you have an attorney experienced with terminations advise you.)
  • If the author’s share is being terminated by the author’s heirs, those heirs must make up a majority (at least 50%) of that author’s termination interest.

Some additional points that apply to terminations under both sections:

  • When you want to effect a termination, you actually have to send a notice to the current owner of the copyright in advance of the termination date. This notice must be served not more than ten, but not less than two years before the effective date of termination. If you miss this notice window, you lose your right to terminate.
  • The notice must be recorded with the Copyright Office before the effective date of termination to be valid.
  • Works made for hire or grants by will are not eligible for termination.
  • Termination is a matter of law, so it can be affected regardless of any contract or agreement to the contrary.

Why is the right to terminate important?

Recapturing rights and starting to exploit them again can revive older compositions or catalogs, and help them to start making money again when they’re currently lost and forgotten in the catalogs of large music publishers. Also, this increased exploitation (or an advance in a new deal) would mean more money for the authors or heirs. The decision whether to terminate must be carefully considered based on the catalog at issue as well as the situation of the authors/heirs.

I regularly work with legacy clients and their heirs to determine the best plan for the catalog and filing termination notices, if that is the best choice for the client, so please contact me if I can help you with your catalog.

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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Sync Licenses Explained!

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

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

A synchronization license is a license to use a composition in an audiovisual production. (A master use license is a synchronization license for the master recording.) A placement can be quite lucrative, but it’s important to understand how your music is being used. Here’s a basic overview of the main points in a synchronization license:

  1. Licensor

The licensor is the person who owns the music and giving permission for it to be used in the audiovisual project. The music publisher owns the composition and the record label owns the master recording. Independent musicians might own both.

The licensor’s information will also include the licensor’s ownership share of the composition or master that is the subject of the license. Also, the writers of the composition and their performance rights organization information will be listed.

  1. Licensee

This is the person receiving the permission to use the music in the audiovisual project. This is usually a production company, studio, or network.

  1. Timing

Timing is how much of the song will be used in the audiovisual project; for example, it could be thirty seconds or an entire song.

  1. Type of Use

This is basically how the music will be used. There are many different terms thrown around to designate the type of use, but without using a bunch of industry-specific terms, examples would be playing in the background, with or without people talking over it; a live performance; played on a radio; an opening or closing theme; or in the credits.

  1. Territory

The territory covers where in the world can the music be used within the audiovisual project. This might be worldwide, for a specific country, or even a local area.

  1. Term

The term is for how long can the music be used within the audiovisual project. This might be in perpetuity or only for a specific length of time.

  1. Media

This is a big talking point because it includes the types of media in which the music can be used as part of the audiovisual project. This can include TV (and what types of channels), theatrical (movie theatres), film festivals, the Internet, all of these, or only some of these. The rights section also includes language about whether the music can only be used in the specific project itself, or also whether it can be included in promotions for the projects and if so, what types of promotions.

  1. Money

Everyone’s favorite topic, i.e. the fee you are getting paid for the use of your music!  This is going to be a negotiated fee based on the type of use, popularity of the song, and other factors.

  1. Direct Performance

Direct performance rights are not present in every sync license, but are being seen more frequently. Basically, some licensees want to pay a buy-out fee of your performance royalties in an effort to move away from paying blanket license fees to the performance rights organizations (who would normally collect your performance royalties and pay those to you). One problem with this is that the licensees still have their blanket licenses with the performance rights organizations, so a buyout of performance royalties would leave you out of any income generated from performances over the amount of the buyout.

  1. Some legal language

This is for your attorney to handle!

 

One should always have an experienced attorney look over any license you receive. Contact me if you have a license you need reviewed.

 

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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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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