5 Top Tips for Songwriters


Written by Mary Woodcock

06 November 2014

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Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the difficulties regarding global royalty collection in a digital age, where songwriters, publishers and even the collection societies themselves are struggling to follow exactly where music is played. The Global Repertoire Database didn’t work out (again), which means we’re unlikely to see any form of global collection society any time soon. However, as the internet continues to become even more instrumental in everyday life, it is crucial that songwriters are aware of what their copyrights are and what they are able to do with them. Copyright and intellectual property are likely to become more valuable than ever, so it important that songwriters know how and where they can make money.

1. Your copyright is automatic. As soon as you have a “fixed” form of your work, i.e. you’ve written it down or actually recorded it, you have complete control of that piece of work. In the UK, you do not have to register your copyright with any official body for it to be considered legal ownership. Registration of songs with organisations such as PRS or PPL is only necessary in order to easily earn a living from your works when they are broadcast, be that in a live capacity, or as a recording.

2. You have to right to make money from your work. Copyright gives you the ability to permit or prohibit the use of your work for economic benefit. In other words, you’re meant to make money from it! You can earn money from your copyrights through a number of different avenues, including: performance rights, which earns you money through public broadcast and performance; mechanical rights, which can earn you income through the sale of musical product; synchronisation rights give can earn you a fee for granting permission for your work to be used alongside a moving visual image; and print rights, which can earn you money through printed lyrics or music. Print rights are most important for classical composers, but can also make pop writers money if they decide to print lyric books.

3. You have moral rights. An element of copyright that is somewhat unique to the UK, writers of copyrighted work are entitled to moral rights that protect their personal interests. These include giving you the right to have your name associated with a piece of work (or not if the case may be); the right to object to derogatory treatment of your work, i.e. somebody making a parody of your song, or having it synched with something you don’t agree with; and the right to object to false attribution, which occurs when somebody names somebody as the author when they are not. For example, if I was to say that Paul McCartney helped write my music, he would have the right to object to false attribution and possibly sue me.

4. You can assign or license your music. It isn’t always a requirement for you to completely hand over the ownership of your copyright to a publisher. An assignment is a complete transfer of ownership, but when you sign this type of publishing contract, you transfer that ownership based on the negotiated terms which are there to benefit you. A license means that you still own your copyrights, but the publisher has the ability to use your copyrights for a defined period of time, in defined territories for a desired remuneration (monetary return for a provided work or service). It is a good idea to see a lawyer before you sign any publishing contract so that you can get the best deal possible, and understand what exactly is going to happen to your copyrights.

5. Publishers are there to help you. Or at least the good ones are. As you grow as a songwriter and your repertoire increases, it becomes more difficult to keep track of your music and where it is being played, meaning it is harder to know how much money you should be earning. In addition, as your work load increases, it can be hard to maintain a flow of creativity and you may lose a certain love for your music. Publishers can offer you not only administration services which involves registering songs so you can earn royalties, but also creative services. These creative services include introducing you to other writers, seeking out other media to include your music in, and actually working with you on your music and on-stage performance. Especially in recent years, publishing contracts have started favouring songwriters much more, often offering them better terms. If it gets to the point where you need some extra support or feel you could be pushed even further as an artist both commercially and creatively, publishers will be beneficial to you.

As a songwriter, it is important that you know what copyright is and what rights you have. These five tips will enable to you to gain an understanding of those rights and who out there can help you. If it gets to the stage where you’re considering signing a contract, it’s best to get a lawyer involved as well, so that you get the best deal available, whilst gaining a full understanding of the terms of your contract. 

This article was written by Ryan Ottley-Booth @ Music Gateway

Follow Ryan on Twitter @R_Ottley_B


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