Publishing can be lucrative for musicians who write their own songs. Such artists own the copyright in the lyrics and music they write and publishing money (a.k.a. royalties) can be earned by the copyright owner of the songs. [Note: Publishing does not come from the copyright ownership in a sound recording, just copyright ownership in lyrics and music.]
The copyright owner of a song is entitled to certain exclusive rights in the song under the U.S. Copyright Act. Therefore, only the copyright owner of a song can use the song unless someone pays him to use it. When a copyright owner allows someone else to use his music, the owner is really granting a license in the copyright. A license is a legal agreement between two or more parties that allows one party to use something that another party owns, but does not transfer ownership from one party to the other. The money from these licenses is called publishing.
Publishers – Before we talk about the sources of publishing income, we should probably discuss publishers. It can be very difficult to keep track of how much money you may be owed from your publishing, and many songwriters hire a publisher for this very reason. A publisher’s job is to find users for your music, issue licenses to such users, collect all of your publishing money, and pay you…also known as “administering” your copyrights. They will also have a better idea of the going rate for the various licenses you will want to grant (for example, how much would you charge for someone to use your song in a commercial?). The standard (although not only) arrangement for most publishers is to keep half of your publishing money as the fee for their services. When a songwriter signs a publishing agreement, the writer will actually sign over (assign) the copyright to the publishing company in exchange for half of the publishing revenues generated. The reason for this is because the Copyright Act requires the copyright owner to sue to enforce a copyright, so you pay the publisher to enforce your copyrights.
While most record contracts will attempt to have songwriters give their publishing to the label’s publishing company, you may want to avoid this. If you decide to sign a publishing agreement, make sure it is with a reputable company, as a good publisher will make you money. You can also administer your own publishing and set up your own publishing company for your songs.
Public Performance Royalties – The copyright owner of a song has the exclusive right to perform his song in public. Therefore, no one can play your song in public (such as in clubs, at live concerts, on the radio, and on television) unless you give them permission to do so and they pay you. Performing rights societies such as ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) and SESAC are responsible for issuing licenses to and collecting money from people who want to play your music. For example, every time your music is played on the radio, you are entitled to performance license money which ASCAP, BMI or SESAC collects for you if you belong to their organization. These organizations are involved only in the public performance aspect of the publishing industry are not traditional music publishers.
Mechanical Rights – To use a copyrighted work, one must usually obtain a license that is negotiated with the copyright owner. The Copyright Act provides for six major exceptions to the copyright monopoly that are known as compulsory licenses. These exceptions require the copyright owner to issue a license to someone else whether the owner wants to or not. The six exceptions relate to cable TV rebroadcast, PBS, jukeboxes, digital performance and distribution or records, and phonorecords of non-dramatic musical compositions.
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