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Music Publishing


Often the process of registering a copyright is what comes to mind when people hear the term copyright. However, songs are automatically copyrighted as soon as they are in tangible form, even recorded at home or simply written down. Copyrighted songs have to be original (not copies of another piece) and significant enough to constitute a work. Copyrighting work (getting it in tangible form) not only protects it from being copied or used by unauthorized parties but also is the first step to publishing material and ultimately being paid for it.

Once a work is copyrighted the owner has the exclusive rights to: 1. Reproduce the work, 2. Distribute copies of the work,3. Perform the work publicly, 4. Make a derivative work. It also means no one else can do these things without express consent.

It's a fairly common practice among independent artists to mail their work to themselves then keep the unopened letter with its dated postmark as proof of the date the copyright became effective.

Songs registered with the Copyright Office at The Library of Congress will have the maximum protection under copyright law should a dispute arise. Songs should be registered prior to being available to the general public (posting them on Myspace for example) or commercialization of the work.

Once an artist is signed by a label the sound recordings are often times copyrighted by the record company and the song copyrights are often held by the music publishers.

Publishing Companies

There are two general rights covered in a music copyright: the authorship of a song and the ownership of a song. According to Copyright Law, the writer is the natural owner of every song they write until ownership is assigned to someone else. Every song is made up of two equal parts; not the lyrics and the melody but the writer share and the publisher share.

The writer share is semi-sacred. It represents the authorship of the song. While a copyright can change hands many times; the writer share remains the property of the author.

The other fifty percent, the publisher share, is the equitable share. It is what you can sell or buy. In this context it is known as the "copyright". When a publisher acquires a copyright, it is acquiring the publisher share.


The Publisher controls the writers share. The publisher licenses mechanical , print and synch rights on behalf of itself and the writer. These royalties and fees are collected by the publisher (the owner of the copyright) for both the publisher share and the writer share. It is the publisher's responsibility to pay the writer. Performance royalties are the only royalty type where the writer can collect his writer royalties directly from the performing rights organization. Control means the publisher has the right to negotiate and execute all licenses.


In music publishing, exploitation is a good term. Writers want their songs exploited. Landing a song in a film or television show is an exploitation; somebody recording your song is an exploitation; releasing a record is an exploitation. When a writer's song becomes part of a greatest hits package down the line - that's an exploitation. An exploited song that is licensed and registered opens revenue streams.

Royalties don't just magically show up in your mailbox; It is the result of the publisher executing licenses and filing the proper registrations.


The writer or their music publisher registers their songs with a performing rights organization (ASCAP, BMI or SESAC) to get the song details in their database so the correct percentages of performance royalties can be attributed and paid to the correct party.

The music publisher registers their writer's songs with a "local" publisher in a foreign territory so they can, in turn, register the songs with their local mechanical and performing rights societies (society being a fancy term for foreign mechanical and performing rights organizations) so the correct percentages of foreign mechanical royalties and the publishers side of performance royalties are attributed and paid to the correct party.


The music publisher doesn't sell songs to another artist to record or to be used on a TV show or film- they license it. There are four primary licenses: Mechanical Licenses, Public Performance Licenses, Synchronization Licenses, and Print Licenses (Read Previous articles for more info on Licenses).

Functions of a Music Publisher


Secures copyrights, controls copyrights, executes a variety of licenses, causes songs to be registered with a variety of organizations and societies world-wide, collects royalties, disburses royalties, and more.

Creative Services

The Creative exploitation of copyrights or causing songs to be exploited by pitching songs to other artists and securing placements in Film, TV and commercials; networking and promoting its writers (further explanation invites a whole blog topic in itself)

Publishers are often able to provide critical funding in the form of advances against your future royalties and by covering the costs of recording demos of your songs.

Self Publishing

Some songwriters elect to keep their publishing rights and royalties by setting up their own publishing company. It is possible for an artist to keep their publishing rights and simply hire a third party to handle the publishing related administration. If an artist decides to set up their own publishing company they will need to register their affiliation with ASCAP , BMI or SESAC .