Can I claim money from recordings I played on but did not write?

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Question:

Years ago I played in a band that released over 10 albums. I recently discovered that the albums are selling well to this day. I have not received a dime in 25 years. I did not write any tunes, therefore cannot seek help from ASCAP. Do I have any rights to redeem past royalties?

Answer:

There are three possible ways that you'd be entitled to payments as a performer on the recordings:

  • You wrote or cowrote one of the compositions or you are entitled to song payments under a band publishing agreement.
  • You signed a contract with the band or recording company providing for ongoing royalties.
  • You were a member of a musician's union or organization and are entitled to payment under a collective bargaining or related agreement.

By your account, the first method of payment would not apply to you.

However, you likely signed a written agreement for your performance. Try to get your hands on that agreement and review it to see whether it provides for ongoing royalties. Then contact the record company or entity that's current selling the recordings and seek to enforce the agreement. If the record company is fair-minded, you can work out a payment system. If not, you'll probably have to hire a lawyer and chase the back royalties.

If you were a sideman -- that is, a hired musician and not a member of the band -- you may be entitled to payments under a union or related arrangement.

Union musicians in the United States and United Kingdom are entitled to payments if they performed on recordings distributed by major label and some independent label recordings. In the U.K., there's an organization known as Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL) that distributes money to performers who have played on recordings released by British record companies. Its website is www.ppluk.com.

If the albums were recorded under a union arrangement and the album is released by a U.S. record company, contact the American Federation of Musicians in the U.S. at www.afm.org.

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