Conflicting claims (also known as counterclaims or duplicate claims) occur when there is a miscommunication between co-writers and/or publishers about the correct song writing splits and/or ownership. As a result of this dispute, the registered song has unclear, differing claims that often add up to more than the required 100% total shares.
As a songwriter this poses a problem because it prevents the correct publisher for being able to claim and collect royalties on your behalf. In addition to this, some societies will go on to prevent publishers from registering new works for their clients if they believe an old publisher still has a general agreement with the client in question. For example, if we, Songtrust, get notified that Sony Music is also claiming the entire catalog on behalf of one of our clients, we won't be able to register any new songs for this client until the dispute is resolved. In worst case scenarios, this can sometimes result in the wrong people being paid!
There are three main types of claims you should be aware of:
Claiming Author Share for a Work
In a "author share dispute", there is an agreement between the claimants (writers and/or publishers) about the authorship of the musical work, however, there is a disagreement about the shares attributable to each writer.
Claiming Authorship for a Work
In a 'claiming authorship dispute', there is a disagreement over the authorship (or original writers) of the musical work.
Claiming Ownership for a Work
In a 'claiming ownership dispute,' the claimants agree on the correct authorship (or writers) and splits of a musical work, however there is a disagreement as to who currently owns and/or controls any share of the work, and often involves a Reversionary Rights Claim.*
Claims are automatically registered when there are dual registrations/conflicting claims of a musical work. However, clients are not automatically notified when their works have conflicting claims. Rather, Societies will only notify publishers (ex. Songtrust). It is then the publisher’s job to reach out to the client and inform them that there are conflicting claims on one or more of their works.
For Songtrust clients, we will notify you via the email you have provided us when registering. Our emails are always labelled as follows: "Conflicting Claim..." If you receive an email with this subject line, it is critical that you read and respond to it as promptly as possible in order to maximize your chances of winning the claim dispute. This is because in order to resolve disputes, we often need to include information that our clients provide us directly. In addition, Counterclaims often have a response deadline, and if the PRO doesn't hear back within that time we risk losing the claim.
The best way to guarantee you win a claim is to take preventative measures. In order to resolve a claim, we are required to provide documentation supporting our claim. Without this documentation, we often will lose, especially if the other other claimant is able to provide documentation supporting their claim.
As a songwriter and/or publisher, here are the steps we recommend taking in order to maximize your chances of winning disputes :
Below is an example of what a split sheet could look like. As you can see it asks that you clearly list song titles and splits, as well as have each member date and sign the sheet. Feel free to reach out to use if you need one, and we will be more than happy to email you this template!
2. Always keep a copy of your Proof of Termination from old publishers. For example, if you are registered with publisher and then leave that publisher, you need to keep a record of the email or Letter of Relinquishment (LOR) you receive from them after your termination. If they do not provide you with this automatically, make sure to ask for one. Even an email confirming the termination will suffice! Often times a Letter of Direction as proof of ownership is not enough evidence to move forward with our claims. Rather, we are required to prove that the Letter of Direction date surpasses the termination date with the pervious publisher. It is not uncommon for us to lose claims because we cannot provide proof that our client is no longer being administered by their pervious publisher.
Below is an example of what a LOR might look like -
3. Always make sure you fully understand what you are signing. Be careful when signing into a publishing agreement. Always make sure to ask if you maintain your publishing or if you are signing it over and for how long. Make sure to get written documentation of this as well to keep for your own records.
*Reversionary Rights Claim refers to when an author/composer/recording artist attempts to retrieve control of their intellectual property back from Publishers and/or record labels.