FAQ - What is the best song ownership arrangement for a band in which only one member writes the songs?
Obviously, the best arrangement is for the person who writes the songs to have it clearly stated that they wrote the songs. Consult an attorney with specific knowledge about intellectual property. You need to get a clear agreement as to who owns what.
Songs are ‘product’ someone has to ‘sell’. Who has the ‘right’ to sell the product?
As soon as you put a composition into ‘Fixed Form’ you own the ‘right’ to ‘copy’ that product for commercial use. You own the ‘Copyright’. http://www.copyright.gov can explain it for you.
Band members who perceive themselves as having no stake in the success of the Song may not give it their best attention. A Songwriter COULD engender more dedication from band members to the ‘sale’ of the product, performing it, taking care of the commercial considerations of the image of the band, the level of studiousness in their contribution to the ‘Arrangement’, their personal instrumental and vocal contributions to the execution of the works, if he shared the ownership with them.
But band members often come and go. It is difficult to get 3 or 5 or 7 people whose heads are all in the same place at the same time for pursuing a commercial venture. If they are co-owners of the Copyright, they take that ownership with them when they go. They will forever be ‘partners’ whose agreement YOU need in marketing YOUR product, and who continue to have Royalty rights.
Or it COULD just be a show-stopping, contract-blocking entanglement. All these ‘owners’ would be required to agree and sign on any contracts for use of the Song, a Publishing Contract, a Synchronization License, simply performing the work, unless your contract with them specified something different. Whatever language they agree to in the signed contract is legally binding. A clause saying they had Royalty Rights as long as they were in YOUR band, and those Rights were negated if they left the band, could give you the benefit of their dedication to successful marketing as long as they had a share in the potential profits.
When you Register a Copyright (Form PA) with the Library of Congress Register of Copyrights what you are Registering is the Lyric and the Melody to which the words are sung. All else is ‘Arrangement’. You CAN register a Sound Recording (Form SR) for a specific recording of a Song. So this means that the guitar player who came up with a riff that enhances your Song does not automatically become a co-writer. However, a conflict may mean that he could sue to prohibit you from using his ‘Fixed Form’ riff, or ‘claim’ Copyright and require a share of Royalties.
If you’re the only Songwriter, I suggest careful contracting, to keep control of your product in your hands. If you trust a person well enough to enter into a ‘Partnership’ remember that inherent in any Partnership is potential for an Adversarial relationship. Contracts, signed by adults, are legally binding, and can protect the signatories from conflicts that make it hard to do business.