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The 25 Most Important Provisions in a Songwriter-Publisher Contract- Part 1 of 3

February 16, 2021 General

Part of getting music produced is songwriters selling their compositions to publishers (such as those found here- This 3 part blog series will explore the most important clauses in contracts between songwriters and publishers.

Sale of the Musical Composition:

In nearly every publishing contract, the songwriter is selling his or her musical composition to a music publisher. These sales not only include the copyright of the composition, but are also generally unconditional and unqualified- meaning even if the publisher is unable to secure a recording- they still own the composition. This means it is crucial for a songwriter and his or her advisors to know and trust the publisher to which they are selling the composition.

Return of the Songs to the Writer:

Sometimes, publishers will return songs to the writer. This is not what generally happens, however, since the publisher has likely spent money on a demo and on promoting the song. The prevalent practice in the industry with concern to writers who are not recording artists is for the publisher to retain ownership of any songs transferred to it by the writer. If the writer is a successful recording artist with a guaranteed contract with a major record label, reversion clauses are commonly included. The reversion clauses typically are negotiated so that the publisher owns the song(s) for a period of time. Sometimes these clauses restrict reversion if the publisher has not gotten back their expenses and/or if the composition(s) have not been commercially exploited by the publisher.

The Term:

The term of an exclusive agreement is generally for an initial period of one year with up to six additional option years at the election of the music publisher. If the writer is a recording artist, the publisher may have a coextensive term clause with the artist’s current agreement with a record company, or with the agreement that is finally signed.

Rights Granted to the Publisher:

In addition to the copyright ownership of the composition, a writer also transfers the following rights to a publisher:

  • The right to license performances on the Internet, television, radio, or other media.
  • The right to make arrangements of the composition and translations for non-English-speaking countries.
  • The right to dramatize the music, title, and lyric plot of the composition for use in television programs or movies.
  • The right to license the composition for DVDs, subscription services, home video, CDs, records, and downloads.
  • The right to license uses of the composition in live theatrical stage productions, commercials, motion pictures, television, etc.
  • The right to license the composition as ringbacks, ringtones, or for use in video games.
  • The right to print the lyrics and composition for use in sheet music, books, folios, magazines, and websites and to license others to do so as well.
  • The right to license the title of the composition as the title of a motion picture, video game, television series, or episode in a series.
  • The right to exercise any and all other rights in the composition that may now or in the future exist.
  • The right to negotiate licenses for the use of compositions in current and future technology.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog, and if you need a music contract reviewed or written, contact Nicole at Yellow Dog Legal.