About Music Publishing and Music Copyright

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Music publishing is a relationship between the creator of a song and the owner of the music copyright of that song

Music Publishing and music copyright can be a tricky business, as all the news of contract disputes between artists and publishing companies can attest to.  The intricacies of music publishing and music copyright protection are too complex to cover in one page, so it is recommended that you speak with an experienced music copyright attorney to get the best possible advice and ensure that your rights are protected.

Music publishing is a relationship between the creator of a song and the owner of the music copyright of that song.  In some cases the owner of the music copyright may be the songwriter.  But, in most cases, the songwriter transfers ownership of the music copyright to the publisher of the music.  This conveyance is usually in exchange for the publisher agreeing to promote the song to the best of their efforts, assist the songwriter in developing their skills and craft as an artist, and managing the payment of royalties to the songwriter.  The publisher will also often perform administrative duties for the artists.  In most cases, this agreement is for the life of the music copyright.  Handling the control of your copyright can get complicated and this is where the guidance of an experienced music copyright attorney can be beneficial.

There are also music administration companies.  Music administration companies do not claim ownership of the music copyright.  Typically, the agreement between the music administrator and the music copyright owner is for a set number of years, during which the administrator is paid a percentage of the income generated by the song.  In most cases, the administrator will handle negotiating and securing mechanical, performance, print, and synchronization licenses.

There are several agencies that handling the licensing and protection of copyrighted material.  The Harry Fox Agency is the largest agency that handles mechanical licenses for music copyright holders and publishers.  Similarly, ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC are agencies that license the public performance of copyrighted material and help ensure that songwriters receive the royalties that they are due when their material is performed in public.

As has been mentioned in previous paragraphs, there are several different types of licensing for copyrighted material.

  • Synchronization License – covers the use of a copyrighted song in timed relation to visual images
  • Public Performance License – covers the public performance of a copyrighted song to a substantial number of persons.  This can include playing a song in a store or cover songs.
  • Print License – this covers the printing of sheet music and lyrics
  • Mechanical License – this permits the reproduction of the copyrighted song in a form that can be heard with the use of a mechanical device, including CDs and MP3s
  • Master Use License – this is a license from the owner of the master recording to allow the reproduction and distribution of the master recording
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If you are considering having music that you created published, you should speak with an experienced music copyright attorney.

Advantages of Working with a Music Copyright Attorney

Infringements of the rights of the music publisher can be very complicated and are a very hot topic right now.  They can stem from having a song for which you own the music copyright played in a restaurant without your permission to having your song used in a video without your authorization to having a cover band perform your material in a public venue.  And, as publishing companies continue to evolve into this digital age, the conditions and terms of these rights are simultaneously being strengthened and questioned.

If you are considering having music that you created published or if you find that music that you own the music copyright for has been misappropriated, you should speak with an experienced music copyright attorney to help protect your music copyright.