When someone says anything about the law, many people automatically jump to thoughts of the criminal law process or legislation. But there is a whole section of intellectual property law devoted to entertainment law and the whole industry. When broken down, the entertainment industry essentially revolves around contracts. You hear music everywhere: when you go to mall, sit in the local Starbucks, or when you buy music to add to your iTunes collection. Music is everywhere, but how does that process get streamlined? Believe it or not, every time a song is playing, a pretty penny is getting paid to the huge publishing companies that made the playing of the song possible. Entertainment law attorney Robert A. Celestin gives the rundown in his latest blog.
The role of publishing companies to a songwriter is primarily to “collect mechanical royalties, issue licenses to third parties who want to use your songs, and collect from those third-parties all monies owed to you. In addition, publisher’s will also seek opportunities to place your songs with other artists and in television, films, commercials, etc. “But what exactly are mechanical royalties? Essentially, music publishing. As a songwriter/publisher, you are owed a royalty every time your “song” is reproduced. (In the U.S. the royalty per copy is around 9.1 cents) Putting that into perspective, diymusician.cdbaby.com, gives an example, “If someone covers one of your songs and they manufacture 1000 CDs — they owe you $91, regardless of whether those CDs ever get purchased by customers. If they sell 100 MP3s of your song, they owe you $9.10.”
To get more specific, the co-publishing agreement is probably the most common publishing agreement used by the companies. According to Mr. Celestin, the songwriter and the music publisher are co-owners of the copyright in the musical composition which comes out to the publisher retaining 50% of the publisher’s share of the income which actually equals 25% of the total overall income generated by the songwriter’s ownership in a song. Mr. Celestin uses this example to better understand the agreement, “You write a song (let’s say both lyrics and music) and that song is equal to one hundred (100%) percent. Fifty (50%) percent of that song is considered the writer’s share …and the remaining fifty (50%) percent is considered the publisher’s share…This is the portion of the song that is the subject of a co-publishing agreement negotiation. The language in a co-publishing agreement will ask for fifty (50%) percent of the copyright in return for payment of an upfront advance to you. What that clause really means is that the publisher is asking for fifty (50%) percent of the fifty (50%) percent of the publishing share which is equal to twenty-five (25%) percent.”
Another thing as a songwriter you have to keep in mind is the reversion clause. According to Jerry A. Greene, a composer/singer/songwriter, “Reversion clauses, in the terms of a song contract with a music publisher, refer to the rights of the song “reverting” back to the songwriter, should the song never be recorded, or used in an agreed-upon manner.” An attorney would want to negotiate a timeframe stating that all the songs right would go back to the songwriter if the publishing company fails to accomplish the goal of placing the song with an artist.
Simple things like the music you listen to are the result of contracts made and protected by lawyers. There are so many ways aspects of the law affect your daily life, music being one of them.
Special thanks to Katrina Nicha for writing another great post!