Music Licensing Scams & Predators
Today’s post is about an ongoing legal matter regarding a publisher/composer I interviewed in 2019 for my podcast and several composers, as well as several music libraries. As this is an ongoing matter, with lawyers involved, and even potentially the FBI, I’ve been advised not to mention any specific names at this point.
This post will serve as more of a cautionary tale about what can potentially happen when you do business with the wrong people and will provide examples of red flags and things to look out for when signing with any new potential libraries, publishers, etc.
Fortunately, in my experience, these types of scams are relatively rare, but like in all industries, there are a few bad apples out there. Composers/artists should always do their due diligence when deciding whether or not to do business with someone.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a composer who had connected with a publisher/composer who I interviewed on my podcast in 2019. In the email I received, this composer claimed that this particular publisher/composer had been essentially stealing his tracks, as well as tracks from other composers, registering himself as the sole writer and selling and placing their songs with a variety of other libraries and sync agencies, all unbeknownst to the original composers of the tracks. The composer wanted me to remove this podcast episode so other artists wouldn’t be exposed and potentially fall victim to this person.
I of course, was disturbed to hear about this and so I offered to get in touch with the publisher/person in question to get their version of events. After all, there are two sides to every story as they say. The person who contacted me didn’t want to be involved any further and asked that I not share their email with the publisher out of “fear of repercussions”. I found this response a little strange. After all, how can I investigate and get to the bottom of something if I’m not allowed to hear from all parties involved? So, at that point I didn’t take any action, since I wasn’t privy to what agreements had been signed and wasn’t really sure exactly what had or hadn’t taken place. An allegation alone isn’t sufficient to prove someone is guilty of anything.
About a week or so went by and I received another email from someone, about the same person, with the same allegations. This email came from the owner of a very established and prominent music licensing agency. This person didn’t want to go into detail via email, so we set up a phone call instead. Over the course of about an hour-long conversation, this person outlined in detail, the extent of the deception of this particular composer/publisher, how many people have been affected and provided documents and email exchanges with the publisher, all indicating guilt.
I was really heartbroken to hear that someone I interviewed and considered a reliable source of information for composers wanting to get started in licensing, would be capable of this sort of deception and outright theft. It’s hard enough to break into the music business as it is, so when I learned that something like this had been going on, well, to say it makes my blood boil would be an under-statement. Utter disgust is what I felt. Especially knowing that I had inadvertently and unknowingly introduced potentially thousands of people to this person via my podcast.
I’ve interviewed well over 200 guests for my site and podcast over the last ten years. I do my best to research and vet everyone I interview and in hindsight there were no red flags or warning signs that I was aware of that would have indicated anything like this was taking place. To this day when I google this person, I don’t see anything that comes up in the search results that would provide any suspicion or red flags about this person. My guess is that only recently have enough people become aware of what’s taking place and are starting to speak out, that only now is the extent of this person’s deception coming to light. Karma has a way of eventually sorting these things out.
Red Flags & Warning Signs
I took a look at the contract that the artists signed and there was nothing explicitly in the contract that would have indicated that what transpired would have transpired. After all, no composer would willingly let someone steal their tracks. However, there were some strange things about this particular contract that should have been seen as red flags that something was amiss.
For starters, the contract itself was clearly cobbled together from several other contracts. Different sections had different fonts and different formats. It looked as if this “publisher” simply copied and pasted parts of several different contracts he had access to into one document that served as his “contract”. I would have been reluctant to sign this particular contract based on that fact alone.
Secondly, the very beginning of the contract states “This is not a legal document but an agreement between…”. What?? Isn’t the whole point of signing a contract to have a legal agreement, in writing, with all the terms of the working relationship spelled out? I’ve never seen language like this in a contract before and to be honest, I’m not quite sure what the point of stating that a signed written agreement is not a “legal” document. To the best of my knowledge, anytime two parties put an agreement in writing and sign it, it becomes a legal document by default.
The whole contract just seemed unprofessional and off. However, I can understand if someone was new to the business and super eager to get involved, they might simply overlook these things and move forward anyway. One of the composers I spoke to about this matter said that’s exactly how he felt. He said that he felt like something wasn’t quite right but that he was new to the business and wanted to do whatever he could to get started.
How To Avoid Falling Victim To Scams And What To Do If Someone Steals Your Tracks
Unfortunately, there was no one thing that would have tipped off composers that something like this was going on. In the same way that in a romantic relationship, if a partner is going to cheat on you, they most likely aren’t going to just outright tell you their plans, if someone plans to steal your tracks, they of course aren’t going to let you know. However, in both cases, there will most likely be red flags and signs that something is not right, as was the case with the contract this publisher used.
When signing any new contracts, be sure to look over everything very carefully. If you have questions about anything, ask for clarification. If you have access to an attorney or someone who is more experienced than you are in the industry, have them look over the contract to make sure everything is on the up and up. I realize this is not always feasible. In my case, when I was first starting out, I had a friend who was an attorney, who looked over the first few contracts I signed, for free, until I was familiar with how the business worked. It’s a good idea to have an attorney or two in your circle of friends!
Music Library Report
It’s also a good idea to do your due diligence in terms of researching new libraries you sign with. Music Library Report is a great resource for researching different libraries and finding out what composers have to say regarding their experiences with a variety of different libraries/publishers. Conversely, Music Library Report is a good place to go to share both positive and negative experiences you’ve had with different libraries you’ve worked with, with other composers. Of course, if you’re going to share negative experiences, make sure you have a legitimate grievance and not simply a misunderstanding.
One of the reasons I’m not naming specific names in this post, as much as I’d like to, is because I don’t have a business relationship with the person in question, so I don’t really feel like it’s my place to publicly call someone out for something that happened to someone else. Based on multiple conversations I’ve had with the parties involved there’s little doubt in my mind that intellectual property theft took place, but it’s probably best that the lawyers and parties directly involved sort it out themselves.
I highly recommend that all composers/artists involved in music licensing create a Tunesat account. Tunesat will monitor when and where your tracks are being used. You can upload and monitor detections for up to 50 of your tracks for free. For catalogs of over 50 tracks you’ll need a premium account.
Tunesat is a great service and it was a result of monitoring his musics' usage via Tunesat that the composer who reached out to me initially discovered his music was being stolen. By detecting where his music was being used, the composer was able to do a bit of detective work to discover what libraries were securing the placements.
Upon further investigation, this composer discovered he had been completely cut out of the song’s registrations with BMI and that the publisher was listing himself as the sole writer of these tracks and collecting 100% of the writer’s royalty. The libraries securing the placements were also mistakenly under the impression that the publisher was the writer of the tracks as well.
Unfortunately, all industries are going to have a few “bad apples”. The music industry is certainly no exception. However, this sort of outright theft of other composers’ music baffles me. It makes no sense to think that one could perpetuate a scam like this for long and I really struggle to understand the mindset of someone who would do something like this. My guess is that over time the damage this person is doing to their own reputation will catch up with them. Like I said, karma has a way of sorting these things out.
[Suffice it to say I’ve removed my podcast with this person and have cut all ties]