Songwriters Who Did Not Write their Songs

It’s no secret in the music business that the bigger star you are, the more song royalties you get by claiming “authorship” of a hit song written by a committee of lyricists and composers. You can force yourself into an author share of the profits because, by recording a song, you can make it popular enough that everyone will get paid.  Giving you a little something for something you did not write — instead of guaranteeing an even split of nothing for the actual authors — is one surefire way to win in any business dyad.

Chuck Berry has been accused of not writing his own hit songs that he claims ownership of — because, some argue, the songs are written in chords that are more common on a piano than a guitar.  If you don’t write a lot of music to begin with, having to transpose musical keys from one instrument to another in your head during composition of a song is nigh impossible.  You’d write the song in the familiar, and easier to play, key signatures of the instrument you use to perform.

Johnnie Johnson, one of Chuck Berry’s longtime sidemen and the man who inspired Berry’s classic “Johnnie B. Goode,” filed suit against Berry in a St. Louis Federal District Court on Nov. 29.

The multi-count suit alleges that Johnson and Berry were equal collaborators on early rock classics like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “No Particular Place to Go” and “Sweet Little Sixteen,” to name a few. Johnson claims that Berry registered the copyrights to the songs in his name alone, and therefore was the sole recipient of royalties from those songs. Johnson’s suit also seeks public recognition for his songwriting role on the fifty songs he claims to have written with Berry.

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The New Writer’s Ruse: The Bemused Will Not Work for Hire

The bane of any hopeful professional author — one who writes for money to feed a family and a future fortunate — is the old “Work for Hire” kludge-as-cudgel and it is wielded against unwitting amateur authors, and even published, working, authors, by publishing houses as a “proper payment system” that is both fair to each side and an early warning windfall for the writer.  Unfortunately, none of that is true.

Publishers love to force writers into Work for Hire contracts because the benefit is all on their side of the dyad, and while initial risks are shared, the goal of good fortune tomorrow is not.

I warned of this impending trend way back on September 7, 2007 in my article: “Work For Hire is a Bad Idea” —

If you get royalties you are in partnership with your publisher.  If you are “Work For Hire” you’re used up when you’re done writing.

Publishers live to exploit that hungry author desire for fast money now — and in the process of the “Work For Hire” hiring — the author not only loses a potential profit bonanza, but also sells out their self-respect, self-worth, and fellow authors.

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Here is a McGraw-Hill Warning for Authors and Content Providers

In this WordPunk blog, we bluntly talk about the publishing industry, and on being an author, and how to value your work and why you must get paid on time.  Publishers don’t like authors and content providers to talk about contractual specifics because they prefer boilerplate contracts where everybody is paid the same — and nobody should ever blindly sign a boilerplate contract “as is” because there are always protections you need to ask for, and enforce, as an author and content provider that are not included in a boilerplate publisher’s contract.

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Amazon Sells Stolen Gutenberg Books

I remember when I first read about the Gutenberg Project and the many free books that they were giving away. People volunteer for tasks ranging from recording audio versions of the public domain books, entering the text from scans of the books as well as proofreading the books.

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Pink Floyd Royalties Fight Reflection

Pink Floyd won a tremendous victory in court this week against EMI, their record company.  The trouble at issue was EMI’s “unbundling” of Pink Floyd albums to sell individual album tracks on services like iTunes instead of requiring consumers to purchase the entire album as required by their contract with the band. 

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Rising Scale Payouts

I have been wondering a lot lately about why “hot” books don’t cost more than ordinary books and also how a Rising Scale Payout might work in our new eReader world of direct book distribution:

I can also see a rising scale that, as a text becomes more popular, the price will rise 1 percent of a penny or so for each one sold — so hot texts will become hotter faster as readers will want to jump on the train before the price becomes too high.  Then, as the text begins to die, a sliding scale tips in that will more quickly reduce the price of the text down to nearly free — unless it gets hot again!

I’ve never understood why hot “books” are discounted so deeply and ordinary books have such a high price.  I understand the thinking that a hot book will sell more at a lower price — but what makes a hot book?  A low price?  I don’t think people care about price when they want to really read a book.

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When Publishers are Slow to Pay

Writers can have a hard time getting paid.

Agents can help you get paid, but that isn’t always a reliable remedy.

You not getting paid means those downstream of you don’t get paid and that causes a lot of trouble for you as an author trying to eke out a living in a world that demands upfront money.

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