The Basics of Music Copyright and Publishing

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The Basics of Music Copyright and Publishing

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Okay, so this tutorial is going to be about

Copyright is sort of a complicated idea.

It’s something that a lot of people are a
little confused on or don’t know much about,

and I think it’s really important that we
all have a basic understanding of what it


I’m going to preface this by saying, I’m not
a lawyer, I’m just someone who’s dealt with

this stuff pretty often and knows it pretty

So anytime you’re negotiating anything that
really involves copyright, I really do recommend

getting somebody who specializes in the legality
of the music business and making sure that

it’s done right, even if it’s a little bit
of extra money on the front end, it could

end up being a lot of money on the back end.


So all of that being said, what is copyright?

Well, the copyright is like the deed to a
property, like if you buy a home.

Except for it’s the deed to intellectual property,
which is sort of a unique concept, but it’s

basically the idea that if I create something
out of my imagination, legally speaking, it

is property and I own it.

I have the right to produce copy.

That’s a copyright.

And I own it.

Kind of cool.

The only little asterisk there is that it
has to be in some tangible medium.

So if I come up with lyrics for a song for
example, as long as I write it down on a piece

of paper or record it into my phone, or type
it into an email, as long as it exists in

a tangible form, that is my copyright that
I am protecting.

Oh, so how do we get copyright ownership?

Well, it turns out we start with it.

As soon as we create something that is creative,
whether it’s a lyric or a melody, or whatever

it may be, we own that copyright.

The real cornerstone here is that we then
might have to be able to defend and prove

our ownership of copyright if somebody rips
us off.

This is where things like what some people
call the Poor Man’s Copyright comes into play,

what registering a claim with the department
of copyright at comes into play,

you don’t have to do any of those things,
but it helps when it comes time if you need

to settle something legally.

So the way that works is you just need to
basically formulate your proof of ownership.

I really recommend that you do this.

So if you, for example, write song lyrics
for example, recorded it into your phone,

and send the recording to yourself through
email, or put it onto some form of hard copy

like a CD or a flash drive or something like
that, and send it through the mail so that

it becomes post dated and then don’t open
the mail, these are all things that can help

provide evidence if you need to go to court.

You don’t gain your ownership by doing this,
you help prove it, and that’s what’s important.

Okay, so why is copyright important at all?

Well, copyright is to say that nobody can
come in and take your intellectual property

just as assuredly as nobody can legally walk
into my home and take this microphone, unless

maybe I want something out of it.

Maybe somebody wants to rent my microphone?

Well in that case, I can give them permission
to do it for a fee.

When we collect revenue on our intellectual
property, it’s called a royalty.

So there’s three main departments of royalties
that come through these various streams.

The first one is called a mechanical royalty.

This is something that’s regulated by federal

Right now I think it’s about 9 cents per sale
of a unit.

So if I write a song and I am the copyright
owner, then legally speaking, whoever put

that song out is required to give me 9 cents
every time it sells, and that is strictly

from the mechanical sale of the music, so
like, a download off of iTunes, or an in-store

purchase if it happens to be on CD, something
like that.

The second place where it comes from is a
performance royalty.

A performance royalty is any public use of
my copyrighted material.

So that might be, say, something like a radio

If the song plays on the radio, I’m supposed
to get approximately two cents for that.

While that doesn’t seem like a lot of money,
if we’re talking about something that’s getting

like, 10 spins a day on 800 different radio
stations and plays out for a month, well,

I haven’t done the math, but you can see that
it would add up.

This doesn’t just mean radio, it also means
streaming on Spotify, it also means technically

any time a coffee shop plays the song in a
mixtape, although sometimes, that is kind

of hard to keep track of, but the bottom line
is we have these performance royalties, and

those are managed by what’s called a performance
rights organization.

Probably heard of that.

If you’re a musician, you probably have one.

You might not even know why.

BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, those are the organizations
that manage performance rights, and make sure

that you get paid royalties every time your
music is played.

Then the third place is a little bit unique,
it’s called a sync licensing fee.

It’s not a royalty, it’s a fee, and it’s when
somebody wants to use your copyrighted material

in say, a movie or an advertisement or a television

This is actually up to negotiation.

This is something where somebody says, “Okay,
I have a budget, I would like to use your

song as the opening theme to my TV show, and
I have $10,000 to do it.”

And you might say, “$10,000, that’s great,
I’ll take it,” or you might say, “You’re

going to probably have to make it closer to
$40,000, then we can talk.”

It’s really up to you, and usually in this
negotiation, you are consulted and represented

by your publisher, which I’m going to get
into in a second.

So those are our main streams of collecting
revenue off of your copyright.

So now, we have to talk about the logistics
of all of that.


This is already a little complicated, but
now it’s going to get even a little more complicated.

This is fairly straight forward when we are
exclusively the singer, and performer, and

writer on a record, but more often than not,
a lot of records are a meeting of the minds,

where maybe one person writes the music for
the bed of the record, and another person

comes in and then writes all the words that
go on top of that, in which case, you might

say, “Okay, for all of this copyright, I’m
going to take 50%, because I did all of the

music, and you’re going to have 50%, because
you did all of the lyric writing, and those

are valued equally.”

That’s a fairly standard negotiation.

Things do tend to get a little bit dicey if
there’s multiple writers on a record, or maybe

one of them is more established or has better
representation, maybe there’s an instrumentalist

who comes in and writes just one part for
the musical bed, and maybe they’re entitled

to a little piece of the pie, all those things
need to be negotiated, and they’re negotiated

on something called a split sheet.

I highly recommend you download a split sheet,
make sure you keep split sheets on hand.

You want to get this stuff all out of the
way, come to terms when everybody is in a

friendly situation and just looking to create.

Be fair to yourself, be fair to the other
people you’re working with, everything will

go smoothly.

But you get it down on a split sheet, and
that determines where all of the royalty revenues

and sync fees go once they’ve been collected
into a pool, and they get distributed out

based on who owns what percentage of the publishing.

Now, the second side of the logistics is that
your bit of that publishing needs to be represented,

because the fact is we’re not legal experts,
we are people who make music.

We write songs, we record songs, we produce

We don’t go around chasing people to make
sure that we are getting paid for our publishing.

That is the job of our publishing house, and
so we get a representative that we assign

to represent the right of our copyright.

So when we do a deal with a publishing group,
you know, whether it’s BMG, or Pulse, or whatever

it might be, we still own our copyright, but
they represent it, and for doing that job,

they are going to collect a service fee, which
is fair, because it is a lot of work, and

a lot of times, these publishing houses also
will actively seek to sell the intellectual

property usage, which helps us, because it
then nets us more revenue, so even if they’re

taking a little piece of it, ultimately, the
pie is bigger, and so we’re getting more money

in that regard.

But wait, there’s more!

There’s a few other little things that I want
to touch on about copyright that are pretty

important to know.

They’re little nuanced things that can show
up in particular but very important situations.

The first is that much like actual property,
you can transfer the ownership to somebody


This is something that should be done with
caution, it’s something that should be done

when consulting a management company that
will represent your best interests, but you

can sell off part or all of your publishing
to another party, and then they would own

your copyright.

The second thing is that in the United States
of America specifically, and some countries

abroad, though not all, we use a system of
licensing called fractional licensing, and

this is to say that as long as there is a
copyright owner, as long as they have something

to do with what’s being licensed, they have
say over whether or not the license takes


So what that means is, let’s say I’m self
publishing, and I write a song with somebody


Maybe they do the music and I do the lyrics.

So we together own 50% of this entire work.

Let’s say a TV show or an advertising firm
— let’s say an advertising firm — wants

to then take our song and use the recorded
version of the song in their advertisement.

They’re going to offer a certain amount of
money, or we’re going to ask for a certain

amount of money, whatever it may be.

I own part of that complete work.

So I have to say yes.

The other person also owns part of that complete
work, so in order for this licensing deal

to take place, they have to also say yes.

That’s extremely important.

Now, where that exception works is let’s say,
in this scenario, that person wrote the music,

I wrote the lyrics.

Let’s say they make the offer, I’m not with
it, I say no, the person who wrote the music

is with it, they say yes, what the advertisement
firm can say then is, “Well, since the person

who owns the lyrics is saying no, can we get
just the instrumental version, which they

have no claim to ownership over, and license
it from you?”

Well in that case, because the other person
wrote all the music, they can say, “Yeah,

100% of the music is mine, so yes, you can
use the music, you just can’t use the words.”

But, for that complete work, the music and
the lyrics, both people have to say it’s okay.

That’s fractional licensing, it’s important
to know that.

The third thing is something called Fair Use.

There are times where our copyright ownership
does not extend to the use of our material,

and those are very nuanced situations, I think
a lot of people don’t really understand Fair

Use, and Fair Use has been — it’s negotiable.

It comes up particularly with YouTube reaction
videos, for example.

Filming somebody reacting to a song has been
declared Fair Use.

It’s also being rejected by court that it’s
not fair use.

People just usually don’t really sue over
it, but there’s a lot of nuance to that.

Fair Use generally extends to educational
purposes, stands toward research purposes,

archiving purposes, basically anything that
doesn’t inhibit the innovation process, and

inhibit the use of the material.

So there are certain particular circumstances
where just because you own the copyright,

doesn’t mean somebody else can’t use it.

That’s important to know as well.

Anyway, that basically sums up the overview
of how copyright works, this is an extremely

detailed subject, but that’s basically what
you need to know, so once again, if you liked

this video, if you dig what I’m doing here,
please hit that like button, please hit that

subscribe button, and I will catch you next

The Basics of Music Copyright and Publishing

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