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Ownership disputes

4 min read

What is an ownership dispute?

This type of dispute is when two or more parties, creators, or other rights holders disagree on who owns part or all of a song.

It's important to understand the concepts of ownership before reading more about ownership disputes.

Who owns musical works and sound recordings?

Each who makes an contribution to the is a and under they are called an and can own a share of its .

The owner of the is the person or company that made and usually paid for the recording. This can be companies or individuals responsible for the recording, sometimes called , who can be , or independent .

We recommend you read our topics on Songwriting and Recording to learn more about ownership.

What is an ownership dispute and when would it occur? 

An ownership dispute is a disagreement about who owns a musical work or sound recording. It can arise in a few different ways, but some common ways a creator might be involved in such a dispute are:

  • When a songwriter contributes to a musical work and isn't acknowledged as having any ownership of the musical work.

  • If a band breaks up, bringing into question who owns the musical works and sound recordings they created together.

Some ownership disputes may also raise an case. For example, if another creator claims to be the owner of a musical work, which is a copy of your work, and therefore infringes on your rights. We have a separate page on Infringement Disputes with more information on this.

If you weren’t credited and given ownership rights

If you make an contribution to a musical work but are not and given any ownership rights or , you can take action against the other of the musical work.

How can such disputes be resolved? 

To resolve this dispute, you would need to provide evidence of your contribution to the songwriting of the musical work. Evidence could include, for example, , voice memos, lyrics, videos from songwriting sessions, or demo versions of the sound recording. This evidence can then be presented to the other rights holders or a with a request to update the registration with a credit and ownership split of your contribution. When a CMO receives this request, they usually notify the other rights holders, asking them to respond to your . The CMO may stop paying any income to all the rights holders until the dispute is resolved.

If all parties involved don't accept the request, you may need to consult a lawyer to help with a . If that too is unsuccessful, you can consider , , other options, or perhaps as a last resort, court proceedings.

If a band breaks up 

If you are in a band and share ownership of the musical works and sound recordings you created as a band, ownership shares or splits agreed amongst you will stay in place even when the band breaks up unless all band members agree otherwise.

But if such shares or splits were not agreed upon and documented before the band broke up, it is likely that you and other former members of the band will disagree on who owns what, which can lead to disputes.

How can such disputes be resolved?

Ideally, all band members would reach a voluntary agreement, perhaps with the help of a copyright lawyer or their CMO. Once an agreement has been reached, it's important you register your splits with your CMO.

If band members can't agree, they can consider alternative dispute resolution or court proceedings.

We have more information on all these resolution types further on in this topic.

Best practice is to always agree on ownership in advance and to document this in writing so that it's clear who owns what. Visit our topics, Songwriting, and Recording, to learn more about splits.

Image credit: Martin Fabricius Rasmussen