Performance Rights Disputes: What They Are, What Causes Them
For as long as recorded music has existed, so too have wrongful claims of ownership. Either as the result of ignorance or confusion, disputed claims continue to crop up in the recording industry again and again. Here we look at what causes the disputes, and what systems exist to resolve or avoid them.
By Associate Director, Rights Management at The Orchard, Matthew Hermalyn from The Daily Rind
What is a Disputed Claim?
For as long as recorded music has been around, there have been those who have claimed wrongful ownership, either by mistake or being unaware of the rights they control. The good news is, in today’s music landscape there are checks and balances in place to help stem the flow of human error, technical limitations and in some cases, plagiarism. These disputes are an important line of defense for the master owner. Without them, anyone could claim any song and collect those royalties.
In its simplest form, a disputed claim occurs when two or more parties claim they have rights to collect income for usage of the recording.* If Label A is claiming ownership of a track at SoundExchange and Label B submits a claim of ownership on that same track, then they are in conflict and it generates a dispute. Other performance rights organizations may call these overlaps, double-claims, conflicts, or a variation of these.
Receiving a dispute notification may seem alarming. The collections society informs you that payment has stopped and that unless one of you concedes your rights, you will remain unpaid. On top of this, if you control a large number of master recordings, then this happens pretty often and is likely to keep happening.
What causes a Disputed Claim?
When a dispute email enters your inbox, a common reaction is to blame the other party for claiming what you believe to be legally yours. Rarely are these third party claims malicious or due to someone blindly claiming material in the hopes that they will make a few bucks. It is not always easy to identify the true cause of a dispute, but it could be due to a number of reasons:
- Metadata matching errors due to missing or incorrect metadata (see blog on metadata challenges here)
- Rights owners asking multiple parties to collect for them in one territory
- Misunderstanding of rights (Publishing vs. Master Rights)
- Human error or bad actors over-delivering material
- Music companies merging, assets sold without all background and context communicated
- Parties transferring rights to one another and communicating competing transfer dates to the society
These societies do not deal in publishing or copyright, they instead care about the audio component of the song. Who owns the master, who produced it, and who performed on it, that is who gets paid.
How are disputes resolved and how can they be avoided?
Dispute resolution is dependent on the collections society. While some may only require an
email relinquishing one’s claim, another may require legal proof of ownership. Regardless of their requirements, parties in dispute must communicate with one another. This communication not only resolves the dispute, but may also lead to its origination. Knowing the cause can help resolve other disputes or even stop future ones from occurring.
In the end, the best way to avoid future disputes is to stay educated on this ever-changing landscape. Understand why they happen and what you can do to be as dispute-free as possible.
*Not to be confused with YouTube’s disputed claims, which are a result of a YouTube user contesting a claim made by a rightsholder on that user’s video.