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Last updated 12/13/07

Songwriters Guild of America: Champion for Writers That Pen Lyrics and Music

One of the important organizations representing the creative community in music is The Songwriters Guild of America (SGA). The organization was originally formed in 1931 as The Songwriters Protective Association, and for many years it was called The American Guild of Authors and Composers (AGAC); it changed to its current name in the 1980s. Whatever the name it has always championed the cause to secure the future of the writers who pen music lyrics and song lyrics. With networking, education, pitch and recognition opportunities for the new songwriter and protection, royalty collection and auditing available to the established songwriter, the SGA has made itself the home for songwriters looking to build, advance and protect their careers and work.

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The organization provides a number of valuable services to its members, including:

(a) offers a standard writers' publishing contract;
(b) collects royalties, charging 5.75% to a ceiling of $1,750, with no charge thereafter;
(c) reviews members' publishing contracts, free of charge;
(d) audits publishers;
(e) maintains a copyright renewal service;
(f) administers writer-publisher catalogs (CAP, the Catalog Administration Plan);
(g) provides a collaboration service;
(h) maintains the Songwriters Guild Foundation;
(i) operates an Estates Administration Service;
(j) provides financial evaluation of songs and catalogs (to members and nonmembers);
(k) offers workshops for writers;
(l) lobbies actively in Washington, D.C., on behalf of songwriters.

The Songwriters Guild of America Contract

The Guild normally urges its members to attempt to negotiate music deals with terms of its "Popular Songwriters Contract." These terms are heavily weighted in favor of the writer, and so many music publishers often refuse to sign it. But writers can use it at least use it as a starting point or as a negotiating document.

The agreement's main features include (check the website for the most uptodate terms):

1. The writer shares 50-50 with the publisher on income derived from all other sources, for example, mechanical royalties, synchronization rights, transcriptions, and block licenses. The music publisher may discount any payments made to a collecting agent, such as Harry Fox, Inc.

2. Royalties on printed editions are based on the wholesale selling prices and are 10% on the first 200,000 copies sold in the United States and Canada, 12% on sales in excess of 200,000, and 15% when sales reach 500,000.

3. The writer warrants that the composition is "his sole, exclusive and original work" and that he has the right and power to make the contract and that "there exists no adverse claim to or in the composition."

4. The term (length) of the contract may be for any number of years but not more than 40 "or 35 years from the date of first release of a commercial sound recording of the composition, whichever term ends earlier, unless this contract is sooner terminated in accordance with the provisions hereof."

5. The music publisher pays at least some advances, deductible from the writer's royalties.

6. The publisher pays the writer 50% of the publisher's receipts from all sources outside the United States and Canada.

7. The publisher must obtain the writer's consent before granting use of the composition in a movie, broadcast commercial, or dramatico-musical presentation.

8. The writer's royalties must be held in trust by the publisher and not used for any other purpose.

9. If the music publisher fails to get a commercial recording of the composition within 1 year, the contract terminates. But the writer may grant an extension of 6 months, providing the publisher pays the writer $250.

10. The publisher must print and offer for sale regular piano copies or provide such copies or leadsheets to the writer.

11. The publisher must pay the writer 80% of foreign advances received by the publisher on a single song or a group of songs by the same writer.

12. When the contract terminates, the publisher re-vests in the writer all rights in the composition.

13. The publisher supplies a royalty statement at least every 6 months. The writer may demand an audit of the publisher's books upon supplying appropriate notice.

14. All disputes between the parties are to be submitted to the American Arbitration Association, and the parties agree "to be bound by and perform any award rendered in such arbitration."

15. The publisher may not assign (turn over to another publisher) the contract without the writer's consent (except on a sale of a full catalog).

16. The writer and publisher must agree on future use -- the exploitation of a composition in a manner not yet contemplated and therefore not specifically covered by the contract.

Contract Reassignment Or Default

Though a writer and publisher may negotiate at length and with good intentions to shape a contract that is equitable, and even embark onto a relationship that turns out to be mutually profitable, a notable tendency of the business is that writers and publishers frequently want to terminate contracts. This does not mean the songs under contract then fade away for lack of promotion. Instead, the copyrights can be reassigned. Reassignments are common and can be to the advantage of the songwriter. From the writer's point of view, a reassignment may be even advantageous if the songs are included in a bona fide sale of the first publisher's catalog, or in the event of a merger, or if the assignment is to a subsidiary or affiliated company. In each of these circumstances, the writer should demand from the first music publisher a written instrument that states that the assignee-publisher assumes all obligations of the original (first) publisher.

The songwriter must continually monitor the contract to make sure that its terms are being carried out. Default is a common occurrence. It may not involve unfairness or dishonesty or fraud at all. Instead, a publisher defaults if unable to get the song recorded, or royalty statements are incorrect or incomplete, or the publisher just can't come up with royalty payments when they are due or becomes too burdened working on other properties. If the writer believes the publisher is guilty of default, and if the publisher has been given the chance to "cure" the default if such cure was stipulated in the contract, whatever the reasons, there are some options.

First can be to break the contract unilaterally, although courts take a dim view of unilateral action of this nature. It is the court that must determine if a contract breach is "material" and whether the publisher has flagrantly disregarded appeals from the writer for remedy. Second, a lawsuit can be filed asking to be released from the contract. Third, a letter of termination can be sent to the publisher, stating that the publisher is in default and that henceforth the rights to any songs that have not yet been delivered to the publisher (known as future rights) will go to another publisher. Prudently, before embarking on any legal actions it is best to consult qualified legal help (such as Volunteer Lawyers for The Arts) for the most up-to-date rules, regulations and proceedings concerning these actions.

Contact information for the Songwriters Guild of America is:

SGA East Coast (New York)
1560 Broadway, Suite 408
New York, NY 10036
Phone: 212-768-7902
Email: ny@songwritersguild.com
East Coast Project Manager: Mark Saxon

SGA West Coast (Los Angeles)
6430 Sunset Boulevard, Suite #705
Hollywood, CA 90028
Phone: 323-462-1108; Fax: (323) 462-5430
Email: la@songwritersguild.com

SGA Central (Nashville)
209 10th Avenue South, Suite 321
Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-742-9945; Fax: 615-742-9948.
Email: nash@songwritersguild.com

SGA Administration (Nashville)
209 10th Avenue South, Suite 321
Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-742-9945; Fax: 615-742-9948
Email: corporate@songwritersguild.com
Email: membership@songwritersguild.com
Email: royalties@songwritersguild.com
Email: copyright@songwritersguild.com
Email: licensing@songwritersguild.com

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