Jay Z, Chauncey Mahan and a copyright ownership dispute

November 2014

Recorded music, artistes


This from the IPKat.


In July this year, Grammy award winner producer and sound engineer Chauncey Mahan launched legal proceedings in the Court of Judge Schofield (District Court of New York, case 14-cv-5075 LGS) against Shawn Corey Carter known by his stage name Jay Z, an American rapper, and Roc-A-Fella records under the Copyright Act 1976.  Mahan claimed that he should be named a joint author and hence a joint owner of the copyright of six Jay Z albums (45 published sound recordings) including 1999’s “Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter” and 2000’s “The Dynasty: Roc La Familia” on which he worked from August 1999 to October 2000. Mahan said he was instrumental in creating the sounds of the releases since all of them were tracked, recorded, edited, arranged and mixed by him at Sony Studios — where he rendered his technical and aesthetic talents without direct or indirect supervision of other putative joint authors. Mahan brought his own digital audio workstation, i.e, pro-tools system, into Sony Music Studios and interfaced his then state-of-the-art equipment with Sony’s built-in technology. However, Jay Z’s stand on this is that Chauncey is “attempting to use the federal courts as part of his shakedown scheme”.

While we wait and watch to see what happens to this case in the US, we can speculate as to what might have happened, had this case arisen across the Atlantic.  In the UK, it would have been determined under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, section 10(1) of which states:

“a work of joint authorship means a work produced by the collaboration of two or more authors in which the contribution of each author is not distinct from that of the other author or authors”.

In the case of a sound recording, the producer, i.e, the person by whom arrangements necessary for the making of the recording are undertaken is considered to be the author of the work. In light of this case Chauncey’s claims might succeed in that, although in rap the words are of greater importance than in many other music forms, the sound engineer may be deemed to have contributed sufficient skill and judgment to the output to make him a co-author. Although Chauncey’s contribution would obviously be less than that of Jay Z, UK law does not require that the individual contributions of the joint authors be equal in terms of quality, quantity or originality.

Whatever the 1988 Act states, its provisions, and hence any claim to authorship based on them, can be overridden by any contractual agreement to the contrary.  According to his petition, Mahan stated that he did not sign any written agreement with Jay Z or any third party concerning his contributions to the recordings, having merely made an oral agreement to work together with Jay Z as creators in completing the songs for his new album. This case yet again extols the virtue of having clear contractual agreements in place, such as an assignment of exclusive copyright which should be obtained from an actual or alleged joint author, or an appropriate licence which covers all required forms of exploitation so as to scupper the difficulties that tend to arise later. At the end of the day, the devil is in the detail and it is the contractual terms which determine to what extent royalties will accrue to the joint author or whether he transferred all exclusive rights to the record company against a single fee [the IPKat thanks Shalini Bengani for supplying this item].



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