Must I pay former band members when I solo-produce a cowritten song?

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Question:

I was in a band with a friend. We cowrote three songs together and had them copyrighted. Since then, we broke up. I am now going to put our songs on my CD, and she says I will owe her money for the songs when I sell the CDs. Also, she says that I can't modify the songs now. Is that true?

Answer:

Your friend is right that the songwriters are entitled to payment when the song is reproduced on compact disc. The legal rate in 2007 is 9.1 cents per song per CD.

For example, if one song is reproduced on 1,000 CDs, the songwriters are owed $91. This money must be paid by the person or business that is paying for the manufacture of the CDs. The songwriters can also agree to a lower rate or they can agree to forgo the payments for a period of time. The rate can be higher for extremely long songs. For the current rates, check the official royalty rates at the U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov/carp/m200a.html.

However, your friend is wrong about modifying the song. Any cowriter can revise the song -- creating what is known as a derivative work. Again, the other cowriters must be reimbursed for the money that the song earns.

There is another possible hitch in your case: All songwriters must consent to the first release of the song to the public. If it has already been released to the public on a tape or CD, this will not be an issue and you can release it without your friend's consent. But if this is the first appearance of the song in the marketplace, you will need your friend's permission -- and it does not sound as if she is in an agreeable mood these days.

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