Unless they’re part of the public domain, nearly every song in existence follows the same formula when it comes to copyright law. Namely a split between two distinct halves: a one-of-a-kind recording and the composition at its core, a.k.a. the underlying music and lyrics that power its publishing royalties.
Since we’re a publishing administrator, we talk about how the latter works quite often, but what we haven’t covered yet is…
Who Is Not Eligible to Collect Publishing Royalties?
The following creators are not typically entitled to compositional royalties:
Producers who sell their beats for a flat fee
Composers or producers who submit their songs to royalty-free sites like Epidemic Sound, Pond5 and Soundstripe
Lyricists who are not credited as the co-writer of a song
While the creators in each of these examples may have composed or co-piloted a song on paper, they usually give up their publishing copyright in exchange for another form of compensation. Often one that’s upfront and doesn’t involve waiting for royalties to be collected and processed by a publisher or publishing administrator.
In that way, they’re a lot like freelance writers, filmmakers, or photographers — independent contractors who agree to a one-time payment, knowing full well that the person or company that is commissioning their work (a publisher, for instance) may generate more revenue down the road due to their words or imagery.
Who Is Eligible to Collect Publishing Royalties?
If you need a quick recap on whether you have publishing rights to a song, check out this breakdown, but the takeaway here is that you need to own some percentage of a song’s composition, aka the publishing copyright. As we discussed in our detail-oriented Copyright 101 post, “Copyright protection begins immediately after a work of sufficient originality is fixed in a tangible medium…. As soon as that is done, the author (the legal term for the creator) now has a copyright in that creative work.”
Registering and retaining said copyright on the composition side means being able to earn and collect publishing royalties. As long as a publisher — or a publishing administrator like Songtrust — is tracking the peaks and valleys of your play counts, sales, and usages, it’s as simple as that.
Why Does It Matter If You Aren’t Eligible to Collect Publishing Royalties?
Accepting an upfront fee often means forfeiting your copyright and missing out on any publishing royalties or long-term revenue if the song blows up suddenly. Trying to register a composition you don’t own may also cause a conflict or counterclaim that delays the publishing royalties for its actual rightsholder(s). A lose-lose situation all around, if you ask us.
This is why it’s important to consider all the ways a composition could earn you money, from tried-and-true physical formats and interactive streaming of mechanical royalties to the many potential drivers of performance royalties, including radio broadcasts, live shows, and streaming in such public venues as supermarkets, gym, and clothing stores.
How Can I Ensure I’m Eligible For Publishing Royalties?
Rather than sign your copyrights away for a more immediate payout, read every contract with a potential co-writer, collaborator, or subscription-based song library closely. Keeping yourself educated is crucial as well. Songtrust updates a wide range of free online resources often — everything from beginner blog posts (The Four Steps to Collect All Your Royalties, What Are Music Royalties?) to comprehensive handbooks (The Modern Guide to Music Publishing, Top 12 Music Publishing Tips, The Sync Crash Course). Or you could head over to our Help Center for even more information.