Protecting Your Songs & Yourself
The Songwriter's Legal Guide
Kent J. Klavens
Writer's Digest Books $15.95

Reviewed by Paul Moffett

As the president of a local songwriter organization, I often get calls from songwriters who are just beginning to explore the business. Almost without exception, the first question I am asked is "How do I get my songs copyrighted?" I have developed a shorthand speech that I deliver, but I have a touch of the "impostor syndrome" - who am I to tell anyone about this?

Well, at last there is a better response I can give, one that also will save me from the worry that somehow, someday, I'll misinform someone and get sued for my trouble. From now on, I'll tell them to go and buy this book.

Kent J. Klavens, a practicing music industry attorney in Los Angeles, has written a short, readable work that focuses exactly on the questions that songwriters have and for which they cannot readily find answers. He manages to make hard-to-understand topics understandable, while not "writing down" to the reader. Klavens modeled his book after a home health guide. It should help the songwriter realize when he/she should call the attorney and when not to bother.

Beginning with the copyright question, which he describes as "The Primary Source of Your Rights," he covers music publishing agreements (both exclusive and single-song contracts), songsharks, song contests, self-publishing, song pluggers and even how to manage "spec" demos with little or no cash. Klavens discusses the most secret information in the songwriting business - how much money various deals might make, how much things cost, who should or shouldn't pay for them, and how not to sell your soul for a hit.

In the second chapter, he handles cutting-edge questions about the legal limits to creating songs and demos, with particular reference to sampling. Songwriters interested in using sampling technology to make music for money should definitely read this section, although the legal questions raised by several ongoing lawsuits have not yet been settled.

The chapter on co-writing was also very enlightening and deserves careful perusal by songwriters. This is particularly true because songwriter organizations and industry professionals frequently urge songwriters to collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Klavens' advice is not that songwriter should not collaborate, but that they should know, going in, what their rights and responsibilities are.

For the truly serious writer, there is a chapter on tax laws that is most informative in view of the recent changes in the capitalization requirements for songwriters. You say you don't know a thing about capitalization? Then you really need to read this book.

At a hundred and eight pages, this might seem to be a less than serious work, considering that the bible of the industry, This Business Of Music, is six hundred plus pages long. But don't be fooled - there is a wealth of well-presented information here for songwriters. This book should be on every songwriter's desk - even ahead of The Songwriter's Market and Sheila Davis' The Craft of Lyric Writing.

Go buy it, and then you won't have to call me and ask those questions. And please don't ask to borrow my copy.