Nick M


by Nick Matzukis
Advocate of the High Court
Lecturer in Music Law and Business
Academy of Sound Engineering

PART 1 of 3
Music Publishers are executives or organizations that acquire assignment of the copyright in your compositions (as opposed to the copyright in your recordings – a different copyright) and exploit them on your behalf. In other words, they represent composers and ‘exploit’ (license, sell, etc) their compositions. They do so for a percentage of the proceeds that can vary from 25% up to 60% (in some cases), and should therefore be very well-connected in the industry in order to be successful and useful to the composer.

Composers sometimes sign full publishing agreements, or sometimes variants thereof, like “Administration Agreements”, which deal with the administration/royalty collection side of the business only, and leave out other responsibilities. Let us deal with the full publishing agreement in this article. This agreement is sometimes also called the “Exclusive Songwriter Agreement”.

The most immediate income in the music industry does not in fact come from recording - it comes from publishing.

Put another way, the mechanical and performance royalties that attach to the copyright in the composition, if you are the songwriter, are far more likely to earn you money early on than the artist royalties that you will receive from the record company (as well as the needletime) if you are a recording artist as well. (For example, the composer will be paid mechanical royalties from the time that CD’s containing his/her compositions are manufactured, while the recording artist will only receive sales royalties once sales take place [if at all, because of possible record label recoupments.])

It is not possible to understand music publishing agreements without understanding how copyright works. This is a long and detailed topic which cannot be covered here, and I suggest you do a course that analyses and explains the different copyrights. However, I will attempt to give you a broad introduction to the implications of publishing agreements in this article.

The first and most important point to understand is that, when a piece of music is written and recorded, not one, but two  copyrights come into existence. The first is the Copyright in the Composition (ie the origination and creation of the music) and the second is the Copyright in the Recording, an entirely separate and distinct copyright. These two copyrights can, and often are, owned by different parties. However, if they have not been contractually assigned to someone else (usually a publisher for the Composition and a record label for the recording), it may well be the artist who owns both. There are companies that seek to acquire assignment of both copyrights from you (especially the major record labels, all of whom have recording and publishing companies), and there are independent firms that are also now seeking to acquire 360 deals (the topic of another article), which would include both these copyrights (as well as touring and merchandising). But nevertheless, the fact remains that these are two separate copyrights that must be considered separately. They therefore give rise to separate earning streams (mechanical and performance royalties and synchronization of the composition in the case of the first, and sales royalties, needle-time and synchronization of the recording in the case of the second.) In the purest sense, the publisher is only interested in, and involved in, the first. Let us presume, for the purposes of this article, that we are dealing with a ‘pure’ publisher, and therefore that it is only the Copyright in the Composition that is being discussed here.

More in PART 2 of this article.



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