Recently, social media has been filled with news over the controversy surrounding the ownership rights of Machala. Machala is a single that was jointly released by Carter Efe and Berri Tiga and which eventually became a hit. However, a dispute regarding the ownership percentage of the song recently arose between the parties. According to the parties, the song was written and recorded by Berri Tiga while Carter Efe actually owns the song. The parties are also said to have accepted a 70/30 split of the record.[i] However, Berri Tiga has made claims that Carter’s team tried to pay him off and also presented him with an agreement relinquishing him of his rights to perform the song. Although, he refused to sign the agreement and has insisted that parties maintain their initial agreement. In this article, we are going to discuss the ownership rights of parties in a musical work under the Copyright Act and also the ways in which parties can protect their interests in such arrangements.
OWNERSHIP OF A MUSICAL WORK
Looking at the case under review, it is important to distinguish between authorship and ownership of the copyright in Nigeria. Under the Nigerian Copyright Act,[ii] an author is presumed to be the creator of a work and by virtue of which ownership of the copyright is conferred on him while an owner of the copyright is one who enjoys the benefit of the copyrighted work. It is understandable that the author in most cases is the owner of the copyright in a work. However, there are instances where a work’s author differs from the copyright owner. Such instances are seen where the author was commissioned to do the work for a fee. In this case, the person who commissioned the work to be done will be deemed the author of the work and enjoy the full benefit of being the copyright owner unless otherwise agreed by the parties.
It is important to note that this type of arrangement is subject to whatever the parties agree because they may decide to share ownership in the copyright of the song and become co-owners thereby sharing the benefits in ownership. The Act defines co-owners as persons who share a joint interest in the whole or any part of a copyright.[iii] We have seen a lot of these arrangements in the music industry where a person other than the artiste who recorded the song is credited as the owner of the song. Meanwhile, the artiste who recorded the song is listed as a feature on a song despite being the writer and performer of the song. We have seen the likes of Dj Khalid, Dj Neptune, Basketmouth being in this type of arrangement and more recently the collaboration between Carter Efe and Berri Tiga.
In the case of Machala, by default authorship of the song will be vested in Berri Tiga while ownership will be deemed to belong to Carter Efe. It was also noted that the ownership of the song was never in dispute.[iv] It was simply an issue of percentage rights between the parties. This could have been avoided if the parties had made a formal arrangement to cover it. Where the parties decide to share the benefits accruing from the ownership of a song they are usually advised to write it down in an agreement and this is where the Split Sheet comes into play.
SPLIT SHEET AGREEMENT
Most of the time, creatives are easily carried away by the prospect of making music and forget the important part, securing their interests in the process. This could be because they find the commercial aspect of the music business tedious. However, it is essential that they understand the commercial value and monetary opportunities that their music avails them.[v] While the business side of the music industry may not be as much fun as the creative side, it is important to understand the paperwork and contract they will be seeing in the foreseeable future.[vi]
In order to prevent disputes, like in the case under reference, collaborators are usually advised to draw up explicit agreements carefully highlighting their individual rights, obligations and ownership percentages in the song. One of such documents that can be used to achieve this is a Split Sheet Agreement. A split sheet agreement is a shared document that states each songwriter’s ownership of a copyrighted work. This ownership is determined by an agreement between the writers, often based on how much each writer contributed to the overall songwriting. The split sheet, outlining the exact percentage owned by each songwriter is agreed to and signed by all parties, and it should be created for every song before it is used commercially in any way – whether it is being released through a distribution platform or a third-party license.[vii] A split sheet basically ensures everyone involved in the creation process receives credit and compensation for their work.[viii]
Songwriting splits can be negotiated by any party involved with a song, including co-writers, producers and band members. If you are the only writer, you automatically own 100% of the copyright. Deciding who gets what percentage of a song is completely negotiable between writers. Sometimes co-writers will split works evenly regardless of who wrote which part of the song. Other times they will assign percentages based on each individual’s proportionate contribution to the final product. Either way, it is best to get splits in writing as soon as you have finished a song as negotiations may get messy the longer you wait.[ix]
While we understand that discussing ownership shares during or after collaborations can be difficult and, in most cases, overlooked, it needs to be done. This is because it helps to avoid difficult situations like this. There seems to be a lack of awareness amongst artistes on how to protect their copyright as we have seen a lot of these controversies in the music industry. Therefore, creatives are advised to engage the services of lawyers to advise them on the most effective way to protect their interests as well as maximize their economic and moral rights while also preventing any form of future dispute.
[i] Adeayo Adebiyi “Carter Efe & Berri Tiga disagree over split sheet of hit single Machala” (16 September 2022) available on https://www.pulse.ng/entertainment/music/carter-efe-and-berri-tiga-disagree-over-split-sheet-of-hit-single-machala/h0e8pv9 accessed on 18th September 2022
[ii] C28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004
[iii] Section 11(6)a of the Copyright Act
[v] Francis Ololuo “Understanding Split Sheets and Collaboration Agreements in the Music Business” (15 September 2020) available on https://www.mondaq.com/nigeria/copyright/984592/understanding-split-sheets-and-collaboration-agreements-in-the-music-business accessed on 17th September, 2022
[vi] Henry Schoonmaker “Understanding Split and Lyric Sheets” (17 March 2022) available on https://blog.songtrust.com/understanding-split-sheets-and-lyric-sheets accessed on 17th September, 2022
[vii] Gameli Hamelo “Music Publishing in the Real World: Co-writing & Split Sheets” (22 June 2022) available on https://blog.songtrust.com/music-publishing-in-the-real-world-co-writing-split-sheets accessed on 18th September, 2022
[viii] Rory Pq “Everything you need to know about a split sheet” (4 May 2020) available on https://iconcollective.edu/songwriter-split-sheet/ accessed on 18th September 2022
Written by Chiamaka Anyanwu for The Trusted Advisors
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