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How Do I Know Which Songs I Have Publishing Rights For?

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2 minute read

What makes a song “yours”? This feels like a philosophical question. You probably associate Whitney Houston with “I Will Always Love You,” as her legendary performance will always be the standard. Similarly, Sinead O’Connor probably comes to mind when you think of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” as her rendition was a breakthrough hit. But country music icon Dolly Parton wrote “I Will Always Love You,” and rock legend Prince is responsible for “Nothing Compares 2 U.” 

If we’re talking about copyright ownership - not philosophical “ownership” - the picture is clear. Dolly Parton and Prince (and their publishers) control the copyrights for these hits. So when it comes to publishing royalties, they go to these songwriters and their representatives. Houston’s estate and O’Connor - and their record labels - will receive master-generated royalties for streams and physical purchases, as well as licensing fees for synchronization and digital performance royalties (in the U.S.) and neighbouring rights royalties (outside of the U.S.) for online and other radio broadcast uses.

But what about a song like “Halo”? Anyone who has been brought to tears by the Queen performing it live will credit her with making the song what it is, but the songwriting picture is more complex. The song was co-written by Ryan Tedder, Evan Bogart, and Beyoncé. The song’s copyright is co-owned by these three writers, and they share in the publishing royalties it earns, while Beyoncé and her label keep the master side revenue.

When you’re looking over your catalog of recordings, and determining what to add to your Songtrust account, keep these examples in mind. As a publishing administrator, Songtrust represents your rights as a songwriter - not as a performer. Our collections are on the composition side, not the master side, which your distributor or record label handle. 

This means that you must only register songs with Songtrust for which you have full or partial songwriting ownership. 

  • When you have co-writers: Ideally you and your collaborators will have agreed on the split picture before the song is released, with a signed split sheet or other agreement. Without this agreement in advance, your co-writers could register splits that conflict with your registrations, and until this is resolved, nobody will be paid publishing royalties for the song.

  • Remixes: If you are the remixer, you can only register the song with Songtrust if you have an agreement with the original writers that gives you a songwriting share. Many remix agreements do not include a share of the songwriting, so make sure you are clear on your rights before registering. And though it should go without saying: if you make an unlicensed “unofficial” remix of a song without master and publishing clearance, you cannot release it legally - and you absolutely cannot register it with Songtrust.

  • Public Domain Arrangements: While you can register arrangements of public domain works with Songtrust, you must be sure that the composition is actually in the public domain - you cannot release or register a re-arrangement of a song that is still under copyright without permission from the song’s publisher. If you need to confirm that the work is in the public domain, this is a good resource.

  • Covers: By definition, a cover is your performance of another songwriter’s song, and you, therefore, do not have any songwriting ownership. You cannot and must not register a cover song in your Songtrust account.

Remember these guidelines and only register songs with us for which you have full or partial ownership - and you’ll be on your way to collecting all your global publishing royalties with Songtrust. 

If you still have questions about whether you can register a specific song, and are a current Songtrust client, please use our Support Form to submit a ticket and reach our Client Services Team. You can find this form by logging into your account and finding the link on your client dashboard.


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