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Decoding the Differences Between Reciprocal Agreements and Direct Affiliations in Music Publishing

Picture of Andrew Parks
3 minute read

A crucial part of music publishing is how pay sources, collection societies, and publishers work together to ensure songwriters receive what they earned. Reciprocal agreements (which we’ll expand upon below) are a big reason why songwriters with a global reach should affiliate with more than just their home collection society.

Let’s say a U.S. songwriter writes a song for a British band that gets played in the U.K. as well as back home in the States. Since the band has a loyal following in a few German cities, they go on tour there to promote the single. A DJ from neighboring Poland happens to attend one of the performances, fall in love with the song, and play it on his Warsaw station. 

Polish listeners start streaming the single so much it lands on a Spotify playlist that is popular in eight other Eastern European countries. Then, an up-and-coming Australian singer stumbles upon it and does an acoustic cover version on YouTube that racks up hundreds of thousands of views throughout Asia. 

In this example, a composition controlled by a U.S. songwriter has been performed and streamed in not only multiple countries, but multiple continents. This means it’s subject to the collection organizations in each of those territories. 

Wondering what happens behind the scenes to ensure this songwriter receives all the publishing royalties they’ve earned? Let’s dive in.

What is a Reciprocal Agreement?

A reciprocal agreement is a contract typically between two Collective Management Organizations (CMOs) or Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) in different territories, collecting for the same right type(s) on behalf of each other’s members. In the example above, the songwriter’s home society — let’s say ASCAP — for collecting performance rights could have a reciprocal relationship with a U.K. society like PRS when the songs are performed overseas, and vice versa.

While these deals help creators collect song royalties for uses in other countries, nothing is guaranteed. From the songwriter’s perspective, reciprocal agreements can be insufficient because societies don’t always proactively register your songs directly with each other. 

In other words, becoming a member of a single PRO or CMO is a more passive approach to global publishing than dealing directly with an established publisher or publishing administrator who can actively register your work with PROs and CMOs worldwide. Always ask your publisher or publishing administrator if they have direct relationships with CMOs/PROs and make sure you know the meaning of “reciprocal rights” when potential deals surface. 

What Does "Direct Affiliation" Mean?

Direct affiliations are working agreements that allow a publisher to collect royalties for their songwriters from a specific source or society (For example, Songtrust direct affiliation with PRS for Music, GEMA, ZAIKS and APRA AMCOS). A lot of time and effort goes into establishing and maintaining these relationships, but it’s often worth it in the end for all parties involved. 

Without a publisher or publishing administrator, songwriters rely on their home collection society’s reciprocal agreement (and the songwriters’ proactive alerts) to make sure royalties are being collected in the places their music is being played globally. A publishing administrator with direct affiliations will register your songs with that pay source or collection society to ensure any earned royalties in that territory are tracked and collected. 

So I Can’t Just Collect My Royalties on My Own?

To bring things back around to the example above, every time a hit song is played, performed, downloaded, or streamed in another country, it generates royalties. Depending on where the use occurred, each revenue stream is tracked and collected by either a CMO (e.g., GEMA in Germany and SUISA in Switzerland), Performing Rights Organization (e.g., ASCAP and BMI in North America), Digital Streaming Platform (e.g., Spotify and Apple Music), Mechanical Rights Organization (e.g., AMCOS in Australia, CAPASSO in South Africa), or Rights Administration Entity (e.g., Music Reports in the U.S.). They’re supposed to then pay the original songwriter, assuming the songwriter’s work was registered before it was played or at distribution. The pay source will only know who to pay if they have the correct song details in their databases; in an ideal situation, those copyright details would come from the songwriter. 

Let’s be real though. Registering the copyrights of every song at every collection society around the world that owes a writer royalties — dozens of organizations in some cases — is both time-consuming and tricky. After all, how can a songwriter tell if overseas royalties are due when they’re based in another country?

The short answer is that you can try doing things on your own, but you don’t have to. An easy way to ensure your copyrights are protected, every song is properly registered, and that you’re set up for global royalty collection is to use a publishing administrator, like Songtrust. They maintain direct relationships with pay sources around the world to make registration and royalty collection quick and easy. Not only are they actively developing these relationships, but they also focus their energy on the timely work that goes into administering your copyrights, which lets you focus on what you do best — writing songs. 

Songtrust has relationships with 65 collection societies and pay sources worldwide, covering 215 countries and territories to ensure that our clients’ songs are properly registered and monetized whenever they are used. Want to learn more? Drop us a line.



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