Beginner’s Guide to Music Publishing

by Suroshree Dasgupta | Music Publishing and Licensing at JioSaavn

The world of music publishing in India has largely been an urban legend for a long time. Arguably, this is in part due to an industry that is still in its developmental stage, the lack of proper knowledge about the various rights involved, coupled with a Copyright Act that some might suggest is vaguely written. Music publishing can certainly seem confusing to not only emerging artists but also to seasoned musicians who may have been in the record business for years.

With this beginners guide, we will try to unravel some of the mystery surrounding music publishing, the royalties you can expect and how you can collect the monies owed to you.

About 2 Copyrights:

The word “publish” simply means to prepare and issue (a book, journal, piece of music, etc.) for public sale, distribution, or readership. The words’ music publishing’ most simply refers to the business of song copyrights. Specifically, the ‘exploitation’, ‘monetization’ and ‘accounting’ of the underlying musical works in a song. To fully understand how this comes into play, let’s review the two copyrights that make up recorded music.

Each recording includes two distinct copyrights:

Underlying musical works or the musical composition embedded in the song, specifically the lyrics and melody Sound recording, also known as the Master. 

For quick reference, take a look at the flowchart below

Fig 1. The breakup of copyright in a song

Who owns the copyright?

For the reference of this blog, we are going to focus on the left side of the chart. However, it is important to clarify the right side of the chart as well, the Master. The copyright to the Master is generally owned by the artist who created the song or the record label (that produced the song) to which the artist may be signed. For example, let’s take a look at “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. The copyright owner to the master recording of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is EMI Records (owned by Universal Music), which is the record label.

The copyright owner of the publishing in a song is typically always the songwriter and/or the composer of the underlying composition. Since ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was written and composed by Freddie Mercury, he is the owner of the composition. However, Freddie Mercury also assigned his publishing rights to Sony Music Publishing, that may have an ownership interest in the publishing for Bohemian Rhapsody.

What royalties should I expect from the usage?

All income generated from the commercial ‘exploitation’ of your composition, no matter its sources, is “publishing” income. Whether it is a cover or a master usage, or even simply using the lyrics or the composition to create a derivative work, the copyright owner of the publishing will earn royalties from such usage.

There are two main types of royalties that are generated from the usage of a song each time:

Public Performance RoyaltiesMechanical Royalties

You can also earn Synchronization and Micro-Sync royalties (if your song/composition gets synced to video) and Print royalties that a songwriter can claim on the usage of lyrics or sheet music. Still, we will delve into that in the next blog post.

  • Public Performance Royalties:

Every time a song is ‘publicly performed’, a public performance license is invoked. Here, ‘publicly performed’ is not limited to the traditional meaning of performance; rather, it implies the broadcast or usage of a song on a public platform including radio, TV, DSPs, clubs, events etc. (recorded or live performance).

  • Mechanical Royalties:

Every time a copy of a song is created, it invokes a mechanical license. Historically, it dates back to the early 1900s with the introduction of ‘Player Piano Rolls’. Essentially, a mechanical license is required every time a recorded composition is released on a vinyl record, on a CD, used as a ringtone, sold as a permanent digital download (“DPD”) (e.g., iTunes download), or played in an interactive music stream.

How are these royalties divided?

The sources of income generated by the usage/exploitation of the copyright, has expanded greatly in the last few years. While the types of royalties from such usage have remained the same, the sources can be anything from apps, digital downloads, samples, use in ads, remixes etc. 

It is important to understand what type of royalty you are entitled to, based on your ownership and how these royalties are broken down at the collection level.

Fig. 2: Publishing for a song divided into two main components

The above image illustrates two halves within the composition of a song. Each half represents a 50% share, totalling up to 100%. These halves are divided into the “Songwriter share” and “Publisher share”. At any given time, the publisher share or the writer share cannot exceed 50%.

How will these royalties be collected?

Although there are many sources of revenue and it can be challenging to collect royalties from all, there are a few things to keep in mind that may help you:

  • Songwriter Share: 
    • As a songwriter, you must first register with a PRO or a Performing Rights Organization of your choice at the earliest. Most countries and territories have a government-mandated PRO that collects and distributes performance royalties to registered songwriters. IPRS (Indian Performing Rights Society) in India is one such example.
    • Most PROs also have a reciprocal agreement with other international PROs that collect and distribute royalties from usage in their respective territories. For example, ASCAP in the U.S. will receive royalties from PRS in the U.K. for any royalties the ASCAP writers may have generated in the U.K. territory.
  • Publisher Share:
    • Unlike collecting the songwriter share of royalties, the process is slightly more complicated for the publisher share of the composition. As a registered songwriter with a PRO, you will be unable to claim or collect the publisher share and can only claim the songwriter share.
    • However, you can consider signing with a publishing administrator or a publisher. They will administer and collect any publisher’s share of royalties that may be due to you from all sources. Much like songwriters, they too can affiliate with PROs and collect directly from them.
    • If you do not have a publishing administrator, you can also consider creating a separate “publishing entity” of your own, which can be done by registering with relevant societies and PROs.

Registering with a PRO will also allow you to seamlessly collect any performance royalties that may be generated from synchronization of your composition. If you’re a songwriter, make sure you register yourself with a PRO before you commercially release your music. However, in order to receive mechanical and the publisher share of performance royalties, you could consider looking into a publishing administrator that can help you do that.

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