If you have had a recording studio for more than a few years, you’ve probably had someone take a rough draft mix home before the final payment at one point, never to hear from them again.
It really sucks when someone does this to you, after all of your hard work recording. It’s important to know your rights, what to do, what not to do, and how to prevent this from happening again. The first thing to understand is that this wasn’t your fault, you didn’t steal anything, they did—so don’t let anyone twist things to put the blame back on you.
First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between a PA copyright, and an SR copyright. When someone writes a song, they own the PA copyright even if it has not been filed with the copyright office. Unfortunately, some people think this gives them the right to keep and publish the recording of their own music recorded in your studio without paying for it—they are wrong!
SR Copyright stands for “Sound Recording”. This means that the sound recording belongs to the person with the SR copyright.
Generally, PA trumps SR, because PA includes SR. However, if they have not paid for their recording, YOU own the SR copyright until they do pay for it.
If you need to file a DMCA form to remove material from the internet that was not paid for, it’s easier if you have that SR copyright formally filed with the copyright office. You can do that here. Simply follow the DMCA procedures for the website the audio recording is published on, give them a PDF version of your copyright form, and explain that the client did not pay for the recording.
The only bad news is that they can attempt to claim that you “released” the recording when you gave them the draft before payment. It probably won’t work for them in a court of law, but every judge is different, so you never know what is going to happen. However, you can avoid this as well by simply doing the following.
1. Add a section to your contract (or terms or service) which states that they do not own any recordings until they are paid for, even if you have released them for draft listening.
2. Submit this recording under your name to the copyright office using the SR form (do not use the PA form; that is not your right).
3. If someone does this to you, simply remove the recordings from the website(s they are) published on by filing a DMCA form using the sites protocols.
If you don’t have a contract, make one now, because you are going to need it in the future. If you are overwhelmed by legal stuff like contracts, you can have someone who can handle it help you, or you can search Google for “Recording Studio Contract” or “Recording Studio Contracts” to copy and modify one that is already available online.
After payment is complete and you have given them their final product, the SR copyright is no longer yours. At that point, you’ve been paid for your hard work, and they own the PA & SR.