Explaining Reciprocal Agreements vs Direct Affiliations in Music Publishing

At first glance, you might be scratching your head trying to understand the title of this article -- and that’s absolutely okay. In the world of music publishing, there are a lot of different processes and organizations involved in getting those royalties earned for the use of a composition into the pockets of the songwriter or rights-holder of that song. A crucial part of this larger system is the way in which pay sources, collection societies, and publishers work together. Another equally important and complementary part is that songwriters understand why it simply isn’t enough for them to affiliate and register their songs with their home collection society only, if they have any activity elsewhere in the world.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves though, so to better understand, let’s set a scene:

Let’s say a US songwriter writes a song for a British band, and the song gets airplay in the UK and US. The band has a loyal cult following in a few German cities so they go on tour there to promote the single. A DJ from neighboring Poland happens to attend one of the performances, falls in love with the song and starts to play it on his station in Warsaw. Polish people eventually start streaming the single so much that it makes its way onto 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 eventually racks up hundreds of thousands of views across Asia. So now a song controlled by a US songwriter has been performed and streamed in not only multiple countries, but multiple continents, and is subject to the collection organizations in each of those different territories.

What are reciprocal agreements?

A reciprocal agreement is a contract, usually between two collective management organizations (CMOs) in different territories that collect for the same right type(s), to collect on behalf of each other’s members. In the example above, that would mean that the US songwriter’s home society, we’ll say ASCAP, who collects for performing rights in the USA, might have a reciprocal relationship with a society in the UK, for example PRS, to collect the performance royalties the songwriter earned when their songs are performed in the UK, and vice versa.

While these deals are useful in ensuring that a songwriter’s songs could potentially collect royalties for uses in other countries, this is not guaranteed. From the songwriter’s perspective, reciprocal agreements between societies are insufficient because societies don’t proactively register your songs directly with other societies. In essence, being a member of a single CMO is a more passive approach to global publishing than if you were to deal directly with an established publisher or publishing administrator who has the ability to actively register your works directly with CMOs worldwide. So make sure you ask your publisher or publishing administrator if they have direct relationships with CMOs around the world.

What does ‘direct affiliation’ mean?

Direct affiliations, or direct relationships, are working agreements that allow a publisher to directly collect royalties for their songwriters from that society or pay source. A lot of time and effort goes into establishing and maintaining these relationships, but are worth it in the end for all parties involved. Whereas without a publisher or publishing administrator, songwriters would be relying on their home collection society’s reciprocal agreement to make sure royalties are being collected, a publishing administrator with direct affiliations will ensure your songs are also being registered with that pay source or collection society to ensure any royalties you earn in that territory are tracked and collected. 

Most publishing administrators, including Songtrust, dedicate time to creating these relationships around the world, ensuring that their songwriter’s songs are properly registered, tracked, and collecting all earned royalties.

So, can’t I just do this on my own?

Let’s look at that earlier example we presented. In each country where the song from our example was played, performed, downloaded or streamed, it generated royalties. Remember, those royalties are generally tracked and collected by a Collective Management Organization (aka CMO, like GEMA in Germany), Performing Rights Organization (aka PRO, like ASCAP in North America), Digital Streaming Platform (aka DSP, like Spotify), Mechanical Rights Organization (aka MRO, like AMCOS in Australia), or Rights Administration Entity (aka RAE, like Music Reports in the US) whose job it is to then pay the songwriter, assuming the original songwriter(s) registered the song once it was distributed. The pay source will only know who to pay if they have the correct copyright details of the song registered in their databases, and in theory the copyright details should come from the songwriter. 

But, here’s the twist: How is a songwriter supposed to register the copyright details of each song at each collection society around the world that owes him royalties - potentially multiple dozens of organizations? Even more, how can a songwriter tell if overseas royalties are due, when they’re based in another country?

The short answer is that songwriters can’t effectively do it all on their own, but they also don’t have to. An easy way to ensure your copyrights are protected, your songs are properly registered, and that you’re set up for global royalty collection is to use a music publishing administrator, like Songtrust. These publishing administrators maintain direct relationships with pay sources around the world to make registration and royalty collection quicker and easier. 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 over 50 organizations worldwide that cover 150+ territories to ensure that our clients’ songs are properly registered and monetized whenever they are used. Want to learn more? Drop us a line at contact@songtrust.com 

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