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Understanding publishing contracts

Tip Published Sunday 22 July 2018

Types of publishing deals

General Works

A General Works publishing deal covers the entire catalogue of music you have written (excluding those already subject to other agreements).

Specific Works

A publisher might want to represent only one of your songs or albums. Or just the songs you write for one of the bands you are in.

Works for hire

This agreement is usually for screen composers and jingle writers. A writer is signed to a deal for a set time (often a number of years), and is paid periodic advances throughout the term of the agreement. In return, the writer agrees to deliver a minimum number of works.

Key terms in publishing deals

Term of agreement: How long the publisher has control of the songwriter/composer’s works.

This is very important and should be clearly set out in the publishing deal.

Retentions: When, after an agreement has terminated, a publisher may still control the copyright in songs/compositions.

This usually happens for a number of reasons:

  1. Advances haven’t yet been recouped.
  2. The contract states that the publisher retains the rights to the songs/compositions for a set term, after the agreement ends.
  3. The contract states that the rights to the songs/compositions that were written during the term of the publishing deal are retained by the publisher for life.

Advance: A sum of money that a publisher pays to a writer, to help with expenses while the writer is composing.

Things to note:

  • The publisher will retain the writer’s royalties until the advance has been paid back.
  • Once the advance has been paid back, the publisher will pay their writer a percentage of royalties – whatever has been agreed in the contract.

Recoupment: The process of paying back an advance.

The publisher recoups royalties that are earned by the songs/compositions the publisher represents. Things to note:

  • It’s important for both parties to agree on what is deemed recoupable - for example, in instances where a publisher pays for their writer to attend a songwriting workshop or industry conference.
  • If the songs never generate royalties, the advance and any other expenditure is never recouped.

Schedule: A list of songs and compositions that are subject to the publishing agreement.

The schedule is usually at the back of the publishing contract. Things to note:

  • The schedule lists only what songs/compositions have been assigned to the publisher when the contract begins.
  • It is the responsibility of writers to advise their publishers when they compose new songs/compositions. This allows publishers to register these works with APRA AMCOS and begin to promote and license them.

Territory: The geographical area where publishers agree to represent their writers songs/compositions.

Most publishers try to sign worldwide agreements with their writers. But others may sign writers only for individual countries or territories.