Music business

Understanding Ownership and Split Sheets in the Music Business: A Look at the Caterefe vs. Berri Tiga Controversy –

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Recently, social media has been filled with news about the controversy surrounding Machala’s ownership rights. Machala is a joint single released by Carter Efe and Berri Tiga that eventually became a hit. However, a dispute regarding percentage ownership of the song recently arose between the parties. According to the parties, the song was written and recorded by Berri Tiga while Carter Efe actually owns the song. The parties would also have agreed to a 70/30 split of the file.1 However, Berri Tiga claimed that Carter’s team tried to pay him and also presented him with an agreement giving up his rights to perform the song. However, he refused to sign the agreement and insisted that the parties maintain their original agreement. In this article, we will discuss the ownership rights of parties to a musical work under the Copyright Act as well as ways in which parties can protect their interests in such arrangements.


In considering the case under consideration, it is important to distinguish between authorship and copyright ownership in Nigeria. Under Nigerian copyright law,2 an author is presumed to be the creator of a work and by virtue of which copyright ownership is vested in him while a copyright owner is one who enjoys the benefit of the copyrighted work. It is understandable that the author is, in most cases, the owner of the copyright in a work. However, there are cases where the author of a work differs from the copyright owner. Such cases are seen where the author has been commissioned to do the work for a fee. In this case, the person who ordered the work to be performed will be considered the author of the work and will fully benefit from the status of copyright holder, unless otherwise agreed by the parties.

It is important to note that this type of arrangement is subject to the parties agreeing, as they can decide to share copyright ownership of the song and become co-owners, thus sharing the benefits of ownership. The Act defines co-owners as persons who share a joint interest in all or part of a copyright.3 We have seen many such arrangements in the music industry where someone other than the artist who recorded the song is credited as the owner of the song. Meanwhile, the artist who recorded the song is listed as a feature on a song despite being the songwriter and performer. We have seen Dj Khalid, Dj Neptune, Basketmouth being in this type of arrangement and more recently the collaboration between Carter Efe and Berri Tiga.

In the case of Machala, by default, authorship of the song will vest in Berri Tiga while ownership will be deemed to belong to Carter Efe. It has also been noted that ownership of the song has never been disputed.4 It was simply a matter of percentage rights between the parties. This could have been avoided if the parties had entered into a formal agreement to cover it. When the parties decide to share the benefits arising from the ownership of a song, they are usually advised to write it out in an agreement and this is where the split sheet comes into play.


Most of the time, creatives are easily swept away by the prospect of making music and forget about the important part, securing their interests in the process. Maybe it’s because they find the business side of the music industry tedious. However, it is essential that they understand the commercial value and monetary opportunities that their music offers them.5 While the business side of the music business may not be as fun as the creative side, it’s important to understand the paperwork and contract they will see for the foreseeable future.6

In order to avoid litigation, as in the case under reference, collaborators are generally advised to draw up explicit agreements carefully outlining their individual rights, obligations and ownership percentages in the song. One such document that can be used to achieve this is a split sheet agreement. A split-sheet agreement is a shared document that indicates each songwriter’s ownership of a copyrighted work. This ownership is determined by agreement between the writers, often based on each writer’s contribution to the song’s overall writing. The separate sheet, describing the exact percentage owned by each songwriter, is accepted and signed by all parties, and must be created for each song before it is used commercially in any way – whether either disseminated via a distribution platform or a third-party A separate sheet essentially ensures that everyone involved in the creative process receives credit and compensation for their work.8

Songwriting splits can be negotiated by any party involved in a song, including co-writers, producers, and band members. If you are the sole author, you automatically own 100% of the copyright. Deciding who gets what percentage of a song is entirely negotiable between songwriters. Sometimes co-writers divide works equally, regardless of who wrote which part of the song. Other times they will award percentages based on each individual’s proportionate contribution to the final product. Either way, it’s best to get the shares in writing as soon as you finish a song, as negotiations can get messy the longer you wait.9


While we understand that discussing ownership shares during or after collaborations can be difficult and in most cases overlooked, it needs to be done. This is because it helps to avoid difficult situations like this. There seems to be a lack of awareness among artists on how to protect their copyright, as we have seen a lot of these controversies in the music industry. Therefore, creatives are advised to engage the services of attorneys to advise them on the most effective way to protect their interests as well as maximize their economic and moral rights while preventing any form of future litigation.


1. Adeayo Adebiyi “Carter Efe & Berri Tiga Disagree on Machala Hit Single Separate Sheet” (September 16, 2022) available at on 18e September 2022

2. C28 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004

3. Article 11(6)a of the Copyright Act

4. above

5. Francis Ololuo “Understanding Split Sheets and Collaboration Agreements in the Music Business” (September 15, 2020) available at -in-the-music-business accessed 17e September 2022

6. Henry Schoonmaker “Understanding Split and Lyric Sheets” (March 17, 2022) available at on 17e September 2022

7. Gameli Hamelo “Music publishing in the real world: co-writing and split sheets” (June 22, 2022) available on on 18e September 2022

8. Rory Pq “Everything you need to know about a split sheet” (May 4, 2020) available on on 18e September 2022

9. ditto

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.

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