Hall And Oates Get Chewed Up

Lucas Jensen | November 20, 2008 11:30 am

Over at Eric Beall’s Berkleemusic.com blog, there’s some discussion of Hall and Oates’ suit against their publishing company, Warner/Chappell Music, which they claim has failed to protect “Maneater” from emulation and copying by other artists. If that sounds like a strange charge to you, well, it is, and it’s presumably directed at Nelly Furtado, whose song “Maneater” (hmmm) bears some similarities to a certain Hall and Oates track. What makes the whole thing interesting is why Daryl and John are getting litigious:

Warner Chappell failed and refused to take action based upon a conflict of interest of its own making,” says the Hall and Oates suit. “Warner Chappell publishes and/or administers the copyright interests of two of the infringers.

You see, Warner/Chappell also represents Timbaland and Nate “Danja” Hills, the composers of the Furtado track. So, basically, H&O are suing Warner/Chappell for failing to protect Warner/Chappell artists from other Warner/Chappell artists. As Beall notes, these kinds of relationships are convoluted, of questionable ethics, and par for the course. Who is protecting whose interests in this situation?

As it turns out, songwriters get kinda screwed.

Beall relates a fascinating, if unfortunately bathed in anonymity, story of two songwriters writing a hit song for a Very Big Pop Star:

Given that there were only two writers involved in the song, the initial split of the composition between the writers was an even fifty-fifty, with each writer owning one-half of the composition. So far, so good. But before the song demo was finished, the writers had decided to add a sample—with that, 20% of the song was gone.

Then, once the song was chosen as a single contender, the president of the label decided that the song needed additional production and a remix. He sent it down to his A&R Vice-President, who, not too surprisingly, decided that he should be the one to do that new production—and he did, adding a second sample in the process. Unfortunately, that sample was a bigger one, and took up 50% of the composition. Now the original two writers no longer owned 50% each of their song. Thanks to two samples, they each owned 15% of their song. It gets worse.

Not content with grabbing a production credit, the A&R person then decided that he too should have a portion of the writer’s share, for selecting the sample that would run throughout the track. That meant the writers could say goodbye to another 10%. Now each original writer owned only 10% of the song.

But of course, there was one person still left to accommodate. That Very Big Pop Star was not accustomed to singing songs in which she did not have a hand in writing. Cost? 10%. After all was said and done, the original writers of the song were left with only 5% each of the song they wrote together—a song that did become a big hit. Ouch. This is the kind of thing that can leave writers, and publishers, very bitter.

So the people who wrote the song get the smallest cut, but can they turn to their publisher for protection? Nope! You see, every single person here, from the A&R person to the songwriters to the Very Big Pop Star, were all under the rubric of that same publisher, so according to Beall, the songwriters’ interest isn’t really being served by the publishing company. In a sense, that’s what Hall and Oates are arguing. Nobody fought for their rights because the people doing the stealing were protected by the organization supposedly protecting their publishing! You have these hegemonic publishing houses, like Eurasia, Oceania, and Eastasia in 1984, lobbing bombs at each other while keeping their own people kowtowed.

So while the two writers seem to have gotten shafted, the publisher actually came out in much the same position as when the process started. The publisher simply collected on behalf of seven or eight different writers, rather than two.

And they say the music biz is corrupt!

Trust But Verify, Part 2 [Eric Beall at Berkleemusicblogs.com]