Everyone’s written a song worth $1,000,000

He was passionate, I’ll give him that. The way he gesticulated to repeatedly make his points over again. “It’s a matter of principle! She stole my melody!” I had some sympathy for him. A world famous artist had sampled a melody line from a song that he wrote for another artist in the early 1980s and used it once in a live performance just the one time – and that just happened to be broadcast.

Had they cleared the sample, there would have been a few bucks from it, maybe something from the performance royalties in some parts of the world. Enough anyway to cut a cheque, but in no way was this worth the $1,000,000 he was demanding with each slammed fist on the desk. It also wasn’t worth spending the money on lawyers to pursue the matter, there wasn’t enough upside to cover the expense.

That day was a lesson in the gulf between creativity and getting paid which I distilled into this simple rule of thumb: no one cares about the copyright until it’s worth $1,000,000.

Once a copyright starts earning enough money to make you sit up and pay attention is the same day that anyone who had a creative nod towards its creation will arrive on your doorstep to demand their rights (aka money).

Some are opportunist, some genuinely should have participated from the beginning but didn’t. The reason I hear time again is that “I didn’t want to have the conversation about ownership” at the time creativity was peaking. It’s awkward to talk about money and contribution. I get that.

Truth is that most songs don’t and won’t go on to earn loads of money but some will and do. If you had a crystal ball you could know which would and ensure that you settled your contribution at the outset.

In absence of that, have the awkward conversation with co-writers upfront. Outline the contributions today. It will save you having to bang my desk in despair years later, while your co-writer lounges on a yacht.

Published by Brett

Brett is an experienced lawyer and business executive who focuses on commercial outcomes. He has worked across three sectors in England & Australia advising and leading initiatives in digital, media and technology

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