How to approach them and improve your chances of winning claims
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 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 collection 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!
TYPES OF CLAIMS
There are three main types of claims you should be aware of:
Claiming Author Share for a Work
In an "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.*
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY WORKS ARE IN CONFLICT?
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, the collection society at which the dispute occurred at will only notify the publishers involved (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: "CONFLICT - (song title)" 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 collection society does not hear back within that time we risk losing the claim.
PREVENTATIVE MEASURES ARE THE KEY TO WINNING CLAIMS
The best way to guarantee you win a claim is to take preventative measures. In order to resolve a claim, we are often required to provide documentation to support your claim of the work in dispute. 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 :
- Always document and sign split sheets - We cannot express how important it is to document and sign song splits between co-writers. The easiest way for us to resolve the most common types of conflicting claims is by providing the split sheets we receive from our clients. If a PRO has proof of splits as well as the signatures confirming them from all the writers, it is almost guaranteed we will win this claim.
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 (LOD) as proof of ownership is not enough evidence to move forward with our claims. Rather, we are required to prove that the LOD date surpasses the termination date with the previous 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 previous 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.
Interested in learning more? Check out our blog post covering Counterclaims and what to do if you have one.
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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.