Songwriter Protection Laws: What if Royalty Checks are Stolen?

by annbailey on April 25, 2013

There are nearly an infinite number of occupations that a person can have, but there’s no doubt that being a songwriter is right near the top. Songwriters have the ability to share their thoughts, feelings and words with the multitudes. In addition to the awe inspiring benefit of being recognized, payments, usually in the form of royalties, can be splendid too. Unfortunately, receiving royalties opens a sometimes easy doorway for criminals to steal earnings and commit other crimes.

Royalties Basics

When a person, whether it be an author or songwriter, comes up with amazing intellectual property, the only way for them to earn money from it is by marketing the product to a mass audience. Since most people don’t have the resources to do this, they turn to larger businesses who will assist in exchange for the right to earn money off of these creations. And the practice of royalties begins.The larger business, usually a record label in the case of songwriters, shares that creation with a much larger public than the original creator could ever have hoped to do. As money accumulates from the sale of this intellectual property, the company that published or released it will take a percentage and send the rest to the creator. These percentages, or royalties, are a form of personal property under U.S. law, and just like every other type of property in the world, may potentially be lost or stolen.

Can Payment to Wrong Person Occur?

Royalties management is not necessarily a paradigm of organizational exactitude. The current state of affairs, in fact, actually makes it possible for royalty checks to be written to and cashed by individuals who did not actually create the content. While this does not represent a person’s intellectual property itself being stolen, it does still constitute property theft.

One major example of royalty theft has occurred in the last decade involving rapper Ja Rule’s album “Pain is Love” (released 2001). An  undeserving company actually received $57,000 in royalty payments intended for the rapper by fraudulently acting as if they were the owner of compositions off of the record. Exemplifying what has been observed by the U.S. embezzlement and fraud attorney group at Powers McCartan, PLLC, thieves’ “challenges, combined with opportunity, can become an overwhelming temptation.” Obviously, if this type of theft can happen to an accomplished rapper who’s made millions, just about any songwriter can be affected.

It would seem as if Broadcast Music Inc. would still owe royalties to the affected victim of this theft since they wrote the check to the fraudulent party, but a complex legal matter is in place here. Any songwriter who has their intellectual property or royalties stolen in this manner would benefit from legal help.

Is it Identity Theft?

There are several ways that a scam artist can get a hold of a songwriter’s royalties, and some of them involve identity theft. If a criminal secures a check from the record company in the songwriter’s name, for instance, and can fake some form of identification, they have effectively committed check fraud and identity theft.

In the above mentioned Ja Rule fraud case, it wasn’t even necessary for the accused individuals to fake an identity. They simply pretended that they were the owners of specific compositions, and the royalties started coming their way. Sadly, it being this easy to commit royalty theft, every songwriter may one day need an attorney to ensure payment from their publisher.

Most people in the business of it absolutely love being songwriters. However, when a songwriter loses royalties to scams or neglect, they may benefit from speaking with a fraud or identity theft lawyer immediately. Regardless of how miniscule a royalty check may be, allowing for its theft will probably ensure that a perpetrator will continue to steal money, and maybe even a songwriter’s identity, in the future.

Former news reporter Ann Bailey presents these issues for lyricists and songwriter royalty concerns. The North Carolina based Powers McCartan, PLLC law group has years of dedicated fraud defense experience to share with any songwriter who may want legal advice about preventing possible royalty payment issues or discrepancies.

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