Performance Rights Organizations and Publishing

Performance Rights Organizations and Publishing


Publishing can be a major source of income for songwriters. A song is considered published whenever it is available for public sale. This applies to any medium — sheet music, vinyl, CDs, digital files, etc. A songwriter may sign with an established publishing company or may form his or her own music publishing company. Songwriters should also have a basic understanding of how the three major performance rights societies, ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC work.

Performing Rights Organizations
• They are not music publishers.
• They negotiate blanket license agreements on behalf of songwriters and publishers for all public performances (in clubs, at live concerts, on the radio, and on television).
• They collect money from these licenses and distribute performance royalties to their members.
• Distribution of royalties is based on the frequency of play.
• Membership is open to both writers and publishers.
ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC are the two major agencies. Each has its own eligibility requirements and each uses different formulas to calculate royalty payments.

Publishing Companies
• A music publisher is a company that owns or administers song copyrights.
• Publishing companies find artists, record companies, film and television producers, and advertisers to make use of a song.
• They negotiate royalties and makes sure the royalties are paid.
• They monitor a song's public usage to make sure it is accurately reported to the performance rights society.

If you sign with an established publishing company:
• You may earn considerably more royalties.
• You may increase your contacts within the industry.
• You do not have deal with the administrative matters.

Do not sign with a publishing company without seeking the assistance of an attorney.

Starting your own publishing company
• Makes the most sense when a record is released on an independent label that is financed by the composer.
• Performance royalties are paid to both the composer and publisher.
• By forming your own company, you will receive all of the royalties.
• May provide leverage in negotiations with record, film and TV producers.

If you decide to start your own publishing company you will need to:
• Prepare publishing agreements for songwriters.
• Affiliate with ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. Because these organizations will not let you register a duplicate name, you must provide three potential names for your publishing company. If you are a songwriter and have not yet affiliated, you should affiliate with one of these at the same time (you cannot affiliate with more than one). You will have to affiliate as a publisher with the same organization that you affiliate with as a songwriter. Once your company has registered its name, put it on everything you publish. This signals to others that you have established your rights as a publisher and writer.
• Create a business entity
and/or file a DBA registration.
• Register your songs with the Copyright Office in the name of your publishing company. If you have previously copyrighted the songs in your name, you will need to file an assignment transferring them to the publisher's name.
• Register your songs with your performing rights organizations.

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