Wale is a music producer. Recently he composed music for a hit track which enjoyed substantial airplay for over 6 months. Consequent upon the success of his track, he was approached by an international music corporation, who requested him to transfer his copyright in the music to the company in return for a one off payment of $200,000 and royalties capped at 5% of global sales for the next 2 years. They assured him that he would enjoy more concert appearances with the allied revenue streams. Wale is confused and requires advice on his legal rights.
Of all the forms of copyright protected works, music is perhaps the most restricted and licensed. Since music was first broadcast on radio, a vast mechanism for licensing music has emerged from the opposing forces of the recording industry and the radio and TV broadcasting industries.
Copyright ownership can be transferred like any other form of property. Copyright is transmissible by assignment, by testamentary disposition, operation of law, as personal or moveable property. however, to give legal effect to that transmission there must be a written agreement signed by the assignor. Any grant by the copyright owner binds every successor in title except a bona-fide purchaser for value without notice (actual or constructive).
This doesn’t however mean that a copyright cannot be transferred verbally, as it is trite law that a verbal agreement to which both parties have agreed all the terms (i.e. has reached completion) is legally binding. It follows then that a verbal agreement to assign, provided there is no dispute as to the terms of the assignment between the assignor and assignee, is valid and copyright is transmissible by operation of basic contract. It is however advisable that the parties sign a confirmatory assignment agreement which refers retrospectively to the earlier assignment.
The transfer could be partial or total, where the rights owner can transfer all of the exclusive rights his or her grants. In partial assignment, a music author may transfer his reproduction, translation and adaptation rights to a publisher. He may also decide to split his rights between different persons.
Copyright assignment agreements can be limited in terms of duration or territory. The author of a literary work could, for example, assign their right to reproduce it in the UK, Nigeria, Ghana and the Gambia for 4 years.
Copyright assignment agreements can be reversionary, in other words, the rights can revert back to the assignor on the occurrence of an uncertain event, such as an unremedied breach of contract. This protects the assignor from the loss of their rights in the event of the occurrence of certain events which may be vitiate the transfer contract.
The transfer of copyrights contains some knotty issues, which could become highly problematic if not properly managed. When faced with a decision on copyrights, it is best that you seek advice from a qualified legal practitioner, so as to ensure that you take the best steps in the circumstances.
Milton & Cross Solicitors provides advice to entertainers, rights owners, rights administrators and merchandisers. We help them make informed decisions that facilitate high value transactions. Contact us for a free consultation.