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What constitutes co-writing?

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What constitutes co-writing?

Postby jdthom » Wed Jan 23, 2019 3:59 pm

Hey guys.

A few years back, I had a jam with a former band mate that led to an 'idea' for a song.

He came up with a chord structure and I wrote a topline and lyrics over the top. Essentially, we had a verse and a pre.

Recently, I was messing around on guitar and came up with some chords that I liked. I started humming a topline and found myself using the same melody and lyrics that I had written with my band mate.

The chords are different to those that he played originally although the rhythm is similar. I've since gone on to develop the lyrics, added a bridge and a chorus and essentially finish the song.

In this situation, would the song be considered a co-write? I understand that melody and lyrics are generally given the most weight in songwriting and that a chord sequence can't be copyrighted, but would my band mate be entitled to a credit?

Any thoughts would be much appreciated.
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Re: What constitutes co-writing?

Postby Eddy Deegan » Wed Jan 23, 2019 4:17 pm

In the absence of any up-front agreement on collaborative creativity within a band, I'd say this is something of a grey area.

Not all chord sequences are equal - some may be complex enough to strongly infer a melody or distinctive enough to stand apart from the usual, in which case the composer of that sequence may understandably take umbrage at no credit.

Personally, I'd be inclined to acknowledge the contribution or original idea from which the song was developed, even if a full 'co-writer' tag may not seem justified.

If there are significant financial implications then one hopes there's enough revenue to share around, in whatever proportions are agreeable to all concerned. If there are no significant financial implications then really, what does one stand to lose from acknowledging a bit of collaboration?

It's easy to overthink these things. I'd just apply a bit of common sense. After all, the presence of multiple musicians in the same space often results in something greater than the sum of its parts and that's not to be dismissed.

An additional thought is that if such conversations cause tension or discord within the band then the damage resulting from not acknowledging the muse who sparked an idea that you then developed further may exceed any benefit you get from retaining sole claim on the work (though this last point may well not apply to you in your particular example if you are ex-band members already).
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Re: What constitutes co-writing?

Postby jdthom » Wed Jan 23, 2019 4:46 pm

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Eddy - some good points in there.

I wouldn't say the chords are particularly distinctive - in fact there are only two in the verse.

I see it as a grey area too. If the song was ever to be released for profit (most likely by another artist), I can see how there would be financial implications.

In such an instance, would you suggest that it's best to acknowledge the contribution up front during promotion/pitching? At what point should said band member be made aware of the recording?

It is easy to overthink these things.

I'm no longer in contact with the person either, which is why I need to be diligent.



Eddy Deegan wrote:In the absence of any up-front agreement on collaborative creativity within a band, I'd say this is something of a grey area.

Not all chord sequences are equal - some may be complex enough to strongly infer a melody or distinctive enough to stand apart from the usual, in which case the composer of that sequence may understandably take umbrage at no credit.

Personally, I'd be inclined to acknowledge the contribution or original idea from which the song was developed, even if a full 'co-writer' tag may not seem justified.

If there are significant financial implications then one hopes there's enough revenue to share around, in whatever proportions are agreeable to all concerned. If there are no significant financial implications then really, what does one stand to lose from acknowledging a bit of collaboration?

It's easy to overthink these things. I'd just apply a bit of common sense. After all, the presence of multiple musicians in the same space often results in something greater than the sum of its parts and that's not to be dismissed.

An additional thought is that if such conversations cause tension or discord within the band then the damage resulting from not acknowledging the muse who sparked an idea that you then developed further may exceed any benefit you get from retaining sole claim on the work (though this last point may well not apply to you in your particular example if you are ex-band members already).
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Re: What constitutes co-writing?

Postby Still Vibrations » Thu Jan 24, 2019 3:44 pm

Unless the interpretation of the law has changed a chord sequence cannot contain a copyright element, no matter how unusual. As far as I can see, if you considered the other person a cowriter then, he is still a cowriter. Otherwise it is yours alone.
However did he/she suggest lyrics or melodic ideas? It's complicated as Eddy has already said.
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Re: What constitutes co-writing?

Postby jdthom » Thu Jan 24, 2019 7:08 pm

Still Vibrations wrote:Unless the interpretation of the law has changed a chord sequence cannot contain a copyright element, no matter how unusual. As far as I can see, if you considered the other person a cowriter then, he is still a cowriter. Otherwise it is yours alone.
However did he/she suggest lyrics or melodic ideas? It's complicated as Eddy has already said.

Yeah, it's a tricky one. There wasn't any discussion about splits etc. at the time seeing as it was just a jam session. I didn't really consider him as a co-writer (of lyrics and melody anyway) and he only contributed the initial chord sequence - no lyrics or top line ideas.
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Re: What constitutes co-writing?

Postby Steve A » Thu Jan 24, 2019 8:37 pm

Thinking about this from a purely practical perspective, was this session ever recorded? How certain are you that he will remember? It strikes me that the key issue here is whether or not he can actually demonstrate that this session took place and that you 'borrowed' from it. If not, I can't help thinking that you are unlikely to face any realistic legal comeback. Otherwise, what's to stop anyone who at some point has jammed with someone to pop out of woodwork at some future point claiming authorship if a song emerges that is successful for their former jamming partner? Surely the burden of proof lies with the person making the claim?

However, it further strikes me that posting the details of saga in a public forum like this might just provide the evidence they need in a situation where otherwise they might not have any!
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