Custom Work Legal Question

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  • #23515 Reply

    Hi, looking for some legal advice if anyone can help.

    I did a lot of music for a client’s project a few years ago. No agreements from them and no discussion of ownership of music. I sent my standard non-exclusive royalty-free-type license to my client’s lawyer after finishing, was paid, and went on to other things.

    Fast forward to now and they have found some of the tracks I did for that project in a royalty free library. This threw them into a fury and they are threatening to sue me if I don’t pay them back.

    They have no documentation that they own the music or have exclusive right to it (I would never have gone along with that) and their only claim is that they didn’t sign the license I sent over. My non-ex license is the only thing I’ve ever signed in regards to them.

    Do they need to sign a non-exclusive license? If they don’t accept the license, then doesn’t the situation fall into an implied non-ex license anyway? I feel that they have no leg to stand on here, but just wondering if I’m missing something as they are talking tough. Should I lawyer up?

    #23516 Reply

    Vizzahh — I suppose the correct answer depends on what country you live in.

    First, this is not legal advice from me to you. It is my opinion. I would strongly recommend hiring a lawyer if for no other reason than to speak to their lawyer with authority.

    No agreements from them and no discussion of ownership of music. I sent my standard non-exclusive royalty-free-type license to my client’s lawyer after finishing, was paid, and went on to other things.

    1. You should have presented your RF non-exclusive license at the outset of negotiations, not after completing the job.

    2. That said, in the US simply paying for someone’s work does not constitute a “work for hire” agreement. Any transfer of copyrights / ownership MUST be done in writing and signed by both parties.

    3. The fact that you sent a copy of your agreement to your client’s attorney has a number of implications:
    a) He should have used due diligence, read the agreement and raised any issues with it at the time.
    b) Depending on when this work was completed, the statue of limitations for breach of any implied contract may have run. But, there are a number of complicating factors.

    4. If you are in the US, because there is no formal WFH agreement, courts have held that your client has a “perpetual non-exclusive license.”

    Maybe your client is naive, or hoping that you’d rather give their money back than hire a lawyer because everyone’s afraid of being sued.

    Hire a good lawyer, who’s familiar with IP law to send them a letter and / or make a phone call.

    #23517 Reply

    Thanks for the detailed and informative response, Michael. I’ve PM’d you an additional question.

    I should have mentioned that I am indeed in the US.

    You’re right, I should have presented my license at the start, although it appears that they never even read the document so not sure it would have changed the situation at all.

    Their stance at the moment is that I need to prove that they signed something saying that they don’t own the music.. which i know is completely backwards. So I guess I will have to call out the big guns and let them know I won’t be pushed around;)

    #23518 Reply

    Hi, Vizzahh. I responded to your PM. I can’t help you until I move back to my home state or, at least, open an office there. In the meantime, I sent you the name of someone that I know in your state.

    I discovered some PMs from other writers looking for representation. Sorry that I didn’t respond sooner. For some reason, I didn’t get notifications of your messages.



    #23519 Reply

    Well I think we’re all hoping you move or set up shop soon!

    I know I’d feel more comfortable hiring you to rep me on this…

    I’ll look into your recommendation and also hit up some colleagues to see who they use.


    #23522 Reply

    Hey, Vizzahh — Thanks for the kind words! We’re working on making it happen! Everything just takes longer than you think!

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