MGCK Music

UK Copyright: Advice from the Expert

As a musician who has written and performed lyrics, melodies, parts of compositions and a member of a band:  What are your rights when someone else from the group starts selling the back catalogue?:


The short answer is you need to speak to the bloke who’s selling it,  if nothing else.

You are due royalties as an artist and as a composer, so at the very least you need to settle your share of the proceeds.

Here’s how UK copyright works:

The song is easiest. By writing the lyrics you are a co-creator, and no-one call sell your song without at least settling with your publisher (who is the publisher?). If you elect to be published by the MCPS, they are very hot on people defrauding their members and can injunct the band or individual 'the seller' (and fine him/them) if he’s not paying mechanical royalties (which he probably isn’t).

Now if you don’t like the idea, and it sounds like you don’t, you could shut him down fairly easily, if you wrote, or co-wrote, the material.

Leaving aside the songs, he owns the physical tape / master / cassette / CD, whatever the music is recorded on to, just by  having it.

However, he doesn’t own the musical performances of all the people in the band performing on it, unless he can produce a signed contract saying so.
(You may have signed one in the past.. check your files).

If you have a contract of sorts with him, I doubt whether it would include live tapes off the sound desk, so the issue is how to stop him if you want to.

If you’re really opposed to him doing it, you will have to write to him telling him he has no rights, then invoke the MCPS as above.   

These things are hard to stop, however, so it might be better to ask to get paid in the usual way.

The law covers the Mechanical Royalty. You check out the MCPS / PRS website, but basically all the songs on the CD / whatever would be subject to payment across all of them at a flat rate of (I think) 9% of the Dealer Price.

Therefore if you can establish the dealer price, (or even estimate it at, say, 70% of what he’s selling it at), and if it was, say, £7.00 UKP, and if there were 10 songs on the CD, then the publisher of each song would be due 70 pence. Your share of each song would be between you and your co-writer(s), but usually lyric writers get half.

It may be that the WRITERS take a different views and you have to take a fifth, or whatever, but certainly as above, you, or your publishers, are due some mechanical royalties.  Unless of course you are un-recouped with your publisher, in which case the sum will be due to them, and will count against the un-recouped balance.

Re: your share as recording artist, if you want the sales to go ahead, and get your share, you have to:

  1. establish the Dealer Price

  2. agree an Artist Royalty. Let’s say an average royalty these days would be 15% of the Dealer Price with no packaging deduction.

  3. agree that all the performing artists on the CD / tape / whatever will share the same royalty equally. So if there’s 5 of you in the band, you’d be due 3% of the Dealer price of every  CD sold – or whatever.  

  4. Get an estimate from him of how many CDs he has sold, and add to that the amount he’ll sell in a year. Then ask for an advance in respect of the royalty due.  

Bear in mind that he’s probably sold no more than 500, so the amounts involved due to you are possibly pretty small. NB – if he’s licensed studio tracks legally from Virgin, you’d have to go to Virgin/EMI for your artist’s royalty, but the Mechanicals would still be due from 'the seller' to your publisher.  

Notwithstanding all the above, tell him he has no rights in your performance of the material and you’d like to discuss joint ownership of it. Or reversion of ownership to you if you really want it. (If you can establish he doesn’t have any specific rights to these specific performances, tell him you’re prepared to LEASE him the rights for a period of time – say 5 years – after which time you will retain the rights and no more CDs can be sold unless you negotiate a further term).  

But if there’s 3 or 4 of the band and just one singer, plus they retain the name, it’s arguable that they have more of a moral right to retaining the tapes than you.

However they don’t have ANY right to sell material with your performance on it without striking a deal with you, and paying you royalties on it.

If you just want them to stop selling the material completely, you have to write to them informing them that they have no rights, ordering them to cease and desist, and threatening them to sue for damages.

THEN put the MCPS on them if they don’t stop, THEN hire a music business lawyer to sue them, THEN wait 5 years, THEN pay a large legal bill, THEN.. give up.

Hope this was helpful,

Andy xx
PS – Let me know what you decide to do..
It does seem to me that  you might be better off establishing a friendly relationship with The Band, since the alternative might be for them to slag you off endlessly, which you couldn’t prevent at all..