Songwriters hoping to get their big break selling a song NBC’s upcoming competition reality series “Songland” may have just given away their best material for free.
Entertainment lawyer Wallace Collins issued an “urgent warning” to songwriters on Friday, the deadline to submit a song and audition video for the series produced by Adam Levine. In a LinkedIn blog post, Collins stated, “NBC will own all rights to use and exploit all of your songs involved in the show including the songs you submit in the initial application.”
According to contract language in a submission agreement obtained by TheWrap, he’s right. Read the excerpt in question below:
I represent and warrant that I own all rights to such Music and that no third party has any right, title or interest in and/or to the Music, and I grant Producer the right to record, reproduce and publicly perform any such music in and in connection with the Program or any other work. Without in any way limiting the waivers and releases set forth herein, I waive any claims to royalties of any kind, whether accruing now or in the future, from Producer and NBCUniversal for the use of any such Music or any other music, including, without limitation, any applicable copyright, public performance, mechanical and synchronization royalties.
“I don’t know what they really want to do. I’m just pointing out what it says,” Collins told TheWrap on Saturday. “I’m a lawyer. I’m reading the language and I’m explaining what that language says. It just says that.”
Reps for NBC and Levine declined to comment.
The language in the submission agreement may be particularly troubling given that the show’s pitch to undiscovered songwriters promises that potential contestants “will keep intact all Trademark, copyright, and other intellectual property notices,” according to the “Songland” casting website.
Collins was alerted of the fishy contract language when several of his clients who were considering applying for the show reached out to him with concerns.
In his blog post, he called the agreement songwriters must sign in order to participate in the show “by far one of the most onerous such television contest submission agreements” he has ever encountered.
While speaking to TheWrap, he compared it to similar agreements for people enter to audition for shows like “American Idol” or “The Voice.”
“The difference here is when you’re just going to perform on a show, you give a performance and they capture it, and so they can use it, but you can perform again tomorrow the same song, not for them, and you’re free to do it,” Collins explained. “When you write a song, it’s almost like it’s an additional piece of property that you don’t want them to have and be able to use for free, because you want to go use it again. It would be kind of like saying, if you perform on the show, you can never perform the song again anywhere else. But wait a minute, [writing] a song is different. I’ll perform for you and when you film it, you can own that, but the song? No.”
Still, Collins is advising songwriters not to panic since he suspects “people running the show probably don’t know the legal language is broader” than it should be for a songwriting competition.
“I don’t know that they really are thinking, ‘Yeah, we’re going to get a million songs submitted so we’ll own all these songs,'” he said. “It’s just, that that’s what it says.”
“Legal department probably drafted the language and they were trying to be over inclusive and protect NBCUniversal and the other production companies from any liability,” he added. “But they went a little too far, and maybe they didn’t understand that by saying, ‘We get everything and we never have to pay you for it,’ when it comes to songs it’s a different copyright and you have to treat it differently.”
But there is still room for concern. A comparison of the submission form available to download and review before starting the application process and the one that songwriters actually sign before they submit their application reveals significant discrepancies.
One contract states that songwriters grant the producer the rights to the music only “if I am selected to be a participant on the Program,” and specifies the music must be used in “connection with the Program.”
However, the submission form Collins reviewed for one of his clients does not include the language “if I am selected to be a participant on the Program,” and instead simply states “I grant Producer the right to record, reproduce and publicly perform any such music in and in connection with the Program or any other work.”
That change suggests the original contract was altered to include language that would allow the producers of the show to claim the rights to “record, reproduce and publicly perform,” as well as collect any royalties on any song submitted, regardless of whether the writer was selected as a contestant.
Collins made sure to stress, “They may not intend to enforce it, but again, I’m just doing a legal analysis and you can read for yourself, that’s what it says.”
That site also states that aspiring songwriters who are selected to appear on air will “enter into further agreements or sign other documents” for rights to the songs the show’s producers may use.