Legal Question in Intellectual Property in Florida

Two authors of a song (words and music)/ copyrights

My friend and I have co-written a song (music and words). We obtained a copyright registration using form PA. Other than the copyright, we have no other written agreement or contract. We are both listed as authors of this song.

If someone wanted permission to use this song, would that person need both authors' permission, or is the permission of one author enough?

What if I, as one of the authors, would like to use the song on my own, as a solo performer... does my co-author have a legal say in how I chose to use this song?

Since I am co-author, do I need his permission before I use the song?

The co-author is saying that he will not allow me or anyone to ever use that song. Since I am co-owner, does he have that right?

Since we are both owners of the song, can't we both use the song as we please?

Thank you.

Asked on 10/29/07, 2:48 pm

2 Answers from Attorneys

Alan Wagner Wagner McLaughlin, P.A.

Re: Two authors of a song (words and music)/ copyrights

I think that you would need a permission from the copyrite owner -- thyat is the two of you. You need to sit down with your friend and work out an agreement anout who can use it when and how permission will or will not be granted. Draw up a separate agreement to cover these items.

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Answered on 10/30/07, 7:53 am

David K. Staub Staub Anderson LLC

Re: Two authors of a song (words and music)/ copyrights

I wouldn't be quick to jump to any conclusions here. I don't claim to have a definite answer but at least two sources that I quickly came across come to exactly the opposite conclusion that Mr. Wagner gave.

In a recent blog, William Patry (Senior Copyright Counsel, Google Inc. Formerly copyright counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, formerly Policy Planning Advisor to the Register of Copyrights, formerly Law Professor, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; author of numerous treatises and articles (including one on fair use with Judge Richard Posner), including the new 7 volume treatise on "Patry on Copyright") says:

"Federal law says that one co-owner can non-exclusively license without the others' permission."

In her May 25, 2000 statement before the Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property Committee on the Judiciary, Marybeth Peters,

The Register of Copyrights, stated:

"Typically, a commercial sound recording will be a work of joint authorship by a number of contributors. Section 101 of the Copyright Act defines a joint work as "a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole." Section 201, on ownership of copyright, states that "authors of a joint work are co-owners of copyright in the work." Legislative history elaborates: "Under the bill, as under the present law, coowners of a copyright would be treated generally as tenants in common, with each coowner having an independent right to use or license the use of a work, subject to a duty of accounting to the other coowners for any profits."(fn 12)"

"Although joint owners of a copyright may independently and concurrently license any of their rights in the work, such licences are necessarily nonexclusive unless all of the joint owners join in the grant. Thus, in the absence of contractual restrictions, each of the joint authors of a sound recording could grant a different record company the right to distribute the sound recording, subject only to a duty to account to the other joint authors for their share of the profits."

These sources clearly disagree with Mr. Wagner. If you really want an answer you can rely on, I suggest you talk to an attorney who can look at the legal authority behind these statements and give you advice based on your own situation.

David K. Staub

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Answered on 10/30/07, 10:03 am

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