We encounter it time and time again -- a songwriter doesn’t understand why their song isn’t fully registered or they can’t figure out why they aren’t able to finish a song registration in their account. While we’ve worked hard to make song registration as streamlined as possible for creators, there are still parts of the registration process that can trip songwriters up.
Properly registering your songs with your home collection society is one of the most important steps you can take in order to make sure you receive your royalties. A PRO (Performance Rights Organization) or CMO (Collective Management Organization) relies on the song registration information to determine who they need to pay and exactly how much needs to be paid. Any mistakes or omissions during that process put you at risk of having your hard-earned royalties withheld by collection societies, allocated to the wrong parties, or even worse, ending up as black-box income.
Below are seven common mistakes we see songwriters make and how to avoid them when registering your songs:
1. Not including the Interested Party Information (IPI) number and contact information for the songwriter and/or publisher of the song
An IPI (Interested Party Information) is a nine-digit number that is assigned to songwriters and publishers by their collection society in order to identify them as rights holders. Every writer and/or publisher in the world who is affiliated with a collection society is assigned one, and no single IPI number is the same (think of it sort of like a social security number, if you're from the USA, or a passport number).
Your IPI number, and those of your co-writers, is vital in identifying you as the owner of a song, regardless of where in the world your music is played. If you don’t provide your IPI, or if you provide an incorrect one, collection societies won’t be able to identify you as the copyright owner and pay out your royalties.
Make sure you know what your IPI number is (here’s how to find it) so that you have it readily available when it comes time to register your song. Similarly, if you have your own publishing entity set up at your society, you must also use that entity’s name and IPI number in addition to your own name and IPI when registering your works.
Likewise, providing the correct publisher or songwriter contact information will help ensure that your collection society can easily find you and properly allocate your royalties.
2. Not including all your co-writers and/or their shares in the song registration
Incorrect song ownership information is one of the most common reasons copyright owners have their royalties withheld. If the information is wrong (inconsistent with prior registrations) or inaccurate (for example, your shares are over-claimed or add up to more than 100%), collection societies will hold on to the money until they are able to figure out who is entitled to what.
To make sure this doesn't happen to you, the first thing you should do once you’ve finished writing a song is agree on ownership shares for each writer. Once finalized, get it in writing and make sure the splits add up to 100%. One of the best and easiest ways for all parties to know what percentage of a song they own is by completing a split sheet. That way, once it comes time to register the song, you know exactly who to include in the registration as well as what shares to allocate to them.
Including who else worked on a song and their ownership shares helps publishers or societies ensure that the information matches when your co-writers register the same song. Should they not match, the registration will go into conflict at the societies and all payments will stop until the parties resolve the issue. Think of this as a safety net -- it verifies all of that song’s registration information before any royalties are paid out, so you don’t have to worry about a co-writer going rogue and earning more than they should.
Quick note: if you’re with BMI in the US, this number will add up to 200% during song registration because BMI defines the writer’s share and publisher’s share as their own individual units. Basically, they view the writer’s share as a full 100% and the publisher’s share as a full 100%, rather than both shares equaling 100%. Don’t let this confuse you though -- the concept is the same; it’s merely BMI’s format that differs from other collection societies.
3. Not clearing samples or getting permission to claim publishing on derivative works
Anytime you use someone else's intellectual property, whether this use is via a sample, re-recording of someone else's melody (i.e. an interpolation), or a combination of multiple pre-existing works to create a new song (i.e. derivative work), you are legally required to obtain permission from the owners of the composition. Why? Because the copyright holders of those works are entitled to a claim of the new work, even if they are not part of the creative process. In addition, if you are sampling any part of a recorded song, rather than covering it or interpolating the melody, you need additional permission from owners of the master recording.
If you don’t obtain permission before registering the song, you risk being sued for copyright infringement, which often results in you having to pay damages/settlement fees, turning over any and all earnings that your song generated and occasionally also having to give up 100% of your copyright to the other parties. Make sure to always get permission in writing prior to registering any song that uses someone else's intellectual property to avoid having these things happen to you.
4. Not taking the steps to update your contact information and current publisher at your collection society
If something changes, such as your mailing address, phone number or email address, it’s important that you update your collection society -- just as you would any other subscriptions. If you’ve recently switched publishers, you also need to notify your society right away. Forgetting to remove old publishers can cause your society to continue paying them long after they’ve lost the right to collect on royalties generated for your work.
5. Not updating your song registration with new recordings or alternative titles
Not providing new recordings, such as live versions or covers, or alternative titles, makes it harder for your collection society to match those incoming payments to the song you registered with them (i.e. if your song is named “Up 2 No Good Luv,” you should also submit “Up to No Good Love” as an alternative title).
6. Not listing the song’s performers, ISRC and other sound recording metadata
Not providing metadata related to the sound recording of your song, such as the song’s ISRC and a list of all the performers, can cause issues with tracking and collecting your royalties worldwide.
7. Not submitting your setlists from live performances of your song
Songwriters can earn performance royalties when their songs are performed live in public, and submitting setlists to your collection society is key to getting those royalties. Generally, you should submit your setlists within six months of your performance and list the venue name, date, and all the songs performed.
The Key = Staying Organized
This may seem like a lot of information to track and update every time something small changes with your song, but the first step is understanding how important a full and complete registration is for your catalog. We want you to focus on creating, so we’ve put together a handy checklist to help you stay on top of your song registrations.
Take control of your publishing. Maximize Songtrust for your songs and business.
We created this guide to answer a simple question: How do songwriters support themselves?
The answer is not as simple as we’d like, but our goal is to make it as clear, transparent and understandable as we possibly can.
Songtrust is more than just a rights management platform and publishing administrator - we’re a team of experts in the music community who strive to educate, support, and provide thought leadership to creators, representatives, and businesses across the music industry.
Our hope is that you’ll finish this guide with an better understanding of the business behind songwriting and have actionable resources to help you be successful.