“Who Owns The Master?”
written by Keron James

One of the most misunderstood areas of the music business across the Caribbean is the question of who owns the master recording (also referred to as the master, recording or sound recording). This article will attempt to clear up some of the misunderstanding about who owns the master.

Let’s first look at some of the main players involved in music production:

(1) The music producer acts as the central player responsible for the creative direction of the recording process. Despite this, music producers here in the Caribbean often serve as recording engineers, musicians, programmers, arrangers and more. They may also be tasked with hiring background vocalists and musicians on behalf of the executive producer.

(2) The executive producer is the financer and usually the intended owner of the master. The executive producer invests in the project (maybe as a single release or part of an album) with the music producer’s fee being only a small part of the investment in addition to musician and vocalist fees, mixing and mastering fees, manufacturing, marketing and distribution costs, and much more. In the larger territories the financer of the master is usually the record label but here in the Caribbean where there are few established record labels, many times the executive producers are the artistes themselves.

(3) The recording artiste is typically the featured artiste on the master. They record vocals usually under the guidance of the music producer. More experienced artistes usually act as co-producers, directing the music producer to ensure they get the final sound they desire.

(4) Mixing and mastering engineers are important persons in the process responsible for bringing the production to a standard and quality that is fit for release.

Sorting Out the Confusion
The copyright laws in most of the English speaking Caribbean, including Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Saint Lucia and Jamaica, describe the owner of the master recording as “the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the making of the recording were undertaken”. As can be seen, this definition does not clearly state that either the executive producer or the music producer are the owners of the master. My own research of case law on the topic suggests that “the person who undertook the arrangements” can only be determined after examining the facts for each case. This is a scary reality for many executive producers here in the Caribbean since it suggests that, unless there is written agreement with the music producer, there is no way to be certain that you are the owner of the master without a court judgment stating this.

Additionally, many executive producers and music producers across the Caribbean wrongly assume that the executive producer is the automatic owner of the master once the production fee is paid to the music producer. This assumption in part seems to stem from the erroneous belief that the relationship between the executive producer and the music producer can be deemed a “work-for-hire”. This is a fatal assumption since “work-for-hire”, which provides that an employer is the first owner of copyright once a so-called “work-for-hire (i.e. employer/employee) relationship” is created, exists only under US law. In the Caribbean ownership between executive producer and music producer is not as simple.

This means that any executive producer engaging the services of a music producer would be wise to secure ownership of the master through a written agreement. Anything short of this is arguably bad and extremely risky business.

Because of this culture of doing business in the Caribbean music industry without written agreements, there are unsurprisingly a number of questionable ownership situations that exist between some of our top artistes/executive producers and music producers. The implications are far reaching and will likely result in the loss of major label, publishing and other deals because of the threat of litigation over ownership.

As the Caribbean music industry moves rapidly into the new digital era, these issues will become more and more apparent. I myself have already begun to see major deals being lost here in the Caribbean because of disputes of ownership. The success of the Caribbean recorded music industry therefore depends on our executive producers (whether labels or artistes) becoming savvy to the intricacies of their business and ensuring that they are legally prepared to take advantage of major deals that may come their way.

Read Interview with Keron @ DancehallSoca

This article is intended to be thought provoking and informative but is not intended to serve as legal advice. KVJ Consulting Ltd recommends that you seek the advice of an experienced attorney whenever you have a question about the legal and business aspects of your music business and music career.

Copyright © 2009 KVJ CONSULTING LTD, all rights reserved.
For further information please contact KVJ Consulting Ltd at keronj@gmail.com or join group



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