Song writing credits copyright splits? The Touch Sensitive Case

Song writing credits copyright splits?

Song writing credits copyright splits where recently clarified by the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court in the Touch Sensitive Case. About a month ago, on the 20 May 2015, Miss Recorder Amanda Michaels sitting as deputy enterprise judge at the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court handed down judgment in yet another dispute issued in the IPEC regarding song writing credits and royalty splits. The case is called (1) Minder Music Limited (2) Julia Adamson -and- Steven Sharples [2015] EWHC 1454 Minder Music Limited was the first claimant, Julia Adamson the second and Steven Sharples the defendant.

In brief, the case concerned a dispute over the defendant’s rights, if any, to the song “Touch Sensitive” recorded by “The Fall” in 1999 featuring Mark Smith (MS) on vocals, and released by Artful Records on “The Marshall Suite” album in the same year. Julia Adamson (JA) composed the original music of the song. Steven Sharples (SS) produced the album containing the song “The Marshall Suite”.

The full facts were as follows.

In 1998 MS and JA wrote the original song “Touch Sensitive” together. MS wrote the lyrics and JA the music. MS assigned his performance/publishing rights in the original version of the song to Minder Music Limited (MML). MS, MML and JA agreed a rights split of 33.34% to MS for the lyrics and 66.66% to JA for the music. There were subsequently different versions of the original song as the band sought to create a more fully orchestrated composition.

In 1999 the band agreed to release an album through Artful Records Limited and this is when SS stepped in as a producer. SS knew his stuff as a producer, he was a musician and composer with his own recording studio. Producers are paid to create the vision for the label to create and improved sound.

According to SS he was approached by Bernard McMahon who he alleged was the band manager to produce the recorded version of the song for the album. He alleged that he had an agreement with McMahon that he would have a one-third interest in the song along with JA and MS. All this was denied by JA and MML. In any event, the album was released with the following credits – MS, JA and SS writers of the album version; SS as the sole or joint author of other tracks on the album. MS was credited for vocal, keyboard and guitar, JA for keyboards, guitar and programming and SS for string arrangements. SS was credited for production along with MS and McMahon as associate producer and Lennard who owned Artful Records as executive producer.

SS tried to register his interest with PRS in the album version in 1999. In 2005 PRS put ownership of the album version of the song into dispute as a result of a claim by SS’s publishing company Universal. In light of the dispute PRS suspended royalty payments.

In 2011 JA entered into an agreement with SS dated 13 August 2013 to settle the matter. It provided that the album version should be registered with PRS in the following shares: MS 33.34%, JA 33.33% and SS 33.33%.

MML however were not happy with that and applied in 2014 joining JA as the second claimant claiming that MML owned 33.34% and JA owned 66.66% and other relief.

The matters interesting to musicians, producers and lawyers about this case are:

1. Apparently credits on albums can be misleading.

2. There are potential dangers when the parties themselves try to manage the evidence. MML did not instruct solicitors. There were issues about the difference between various recorded versions of the song. Expert evidence from Peter Oxendale had been adduced in an “unusual” way.

3. The significant contribution test set by Deputy Judge Williamson QC in Bangboye v Reed and what the share of royalties should be in such cases was followed.

4. Are settlement agreements of the sort entered into between JA and SS unconscionable?

The recorder concluded that SS (the D) had made a small contribution to the album version of the song. A 20% share would properly reflect the Ds share in the copyright in the music in the album version.

If you like this article on song writing credits and copyright splits you might like our articles on:

Copyright infringement on You Tube

To book a face to face consultation for legal advice about digital downloads and streaming websites, contact a specialist digital music lawyer (charge rates may apply and may vary).

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