If you write music entirely on your own, you will (unless you have a written agreement that gives someone else rights in your work) be the owner of the copyright in your musical works (if you don't already know the low-down on copyright,
. But if you write with someone else (whether its on the music, the lyrics or bits of both), “co-writing” - there are legal issues for you to consider.
The music world is filled with great examples of songwriters who write together as a team, regularly or just a one-off. You may team up with (or get help from) a friend or fellow muso, or your whole band may write music together, even just by having a jam session.
Whatever the situation, if you do end up writing songs with others, you will need to think about who has rights in (or owns) all of the work you do - whether one song, a part of a song, or many. You should consider having a “co-writers” or "songwriting" agreement.Agree on Copyright and Royalties
A "co-writers" or "songwriters" agreement should state who owns copyright in the song (as a whole, or in the music and the lyrics) and in what shares, how much of the royalties each person receives and what happens to copyright or royalties if a writer or band member leaves. This should help to avoid many disputes down the track. Check out the “Contracts Generally
” page on contracts.
It’s easy if one of you has the knack to write the music and the other has a talent for words. If you have distinct roles, then you will have separate copyright in your component (unless you agree otherwise, that is). But, if you are collaborating to write whole songs, or just chop and change with some input into lyrics here and music there, then each person’s rights will need to be clearly set out.
If you don’t have a written agreement, the law would assume that two or more people who create a song together share copyright in equal parts (50:50, or 25% each amongst a four-piece), or possibly in proportion to their actual contributions, although that may be hard to prove, particularly if the song evolves over a period of time, involving, say, several jams. If this isn’t what you want, you need to agree on how the copyright will be shared. This information should also be passed onto APRA
, to register the names and shares of the copyright owners in the same proportions. But note: APRA registration of your song will not itself determine who owns what shares in the copyright - it is really only evidence of this, and won’t be conclusive if there is an argument or dispute as to “who was entitled to what”. So hopefully the message here is clear - it's worth having an agreement on who owns copyright in the songs.
Other issues may also arise, like what each co-writer can do with their share of copyright (can they sell it to someone else?), and limits on re-working the songs or lyrics without the others being involved. You might also state who can't use (or own) the copyright.
A songwriting agreement is easy enough to do. You cant get one legally prepared, or at the very least, just agree on the key terms, such as copyright shares, royalties and any other bits, as stated above. Once you’ve sorted the ownership and other rights in your songs, you can set about making money from them. Aside from live shows and record sales, songs are your major income stream.Songwriting and Publishing
If you are a writer or composer of music, whether it be the melody, lyrics or both, then once you have an original work, you may think about getting your works published. “Publishing” a work means making it public, by radio airplay, use in TV or film, sheet music and so-on.
It is essentially making the most of the exclusive rights you hold, as owner, in your works. It doesn’t have to be your main goal, but it is those rights that can generate an income for you.
You can “publish” a work yourself, but if you’re too busy being creative ‘n’ musical you may want to get a music publisher on board. The work involved in publishing music - licensing of songs to a record label, protecting copyright and collecting royalties - is potentially a big job. Most writers and composers will engage a publisher to do all of these things that successfully ‘exploit’ the work for income - in return for a cut of the cash they make you. Note: almost all publishers will want an “assignment” of your copyright for the duration of your relationship.
Beyond saving you from all the work, other advantages of using a music publisher include:
- Promoting the music to all potential users like record labels, advertisers and film makers;
- Assisting with finance for your career, by providing an advance on future royalties; and
- Assisting you as a writer to secure recording deals for the recording and release of works.
Like a good manager, a publisher should be experienced and well connected. Check ‘em out.
Keep in mind that not all songwriters use publishers. If you have a record deal, a publisher may only be of limited use to you, as the songs may get themselves out there anyway. It is a question of whether you need help making your work public, or in administering the process.
For more on publishers and publishing deals, see the “Publishing and Song Licensing” page.Collection and Distribution of Income: APRA and AMCOS
Whether you or a publisher publishes your music, you will need to enter into arrangements with people who want to use your music, and collect the income you hope to earn from them. For “one-off” deals, like licensing a song to a record label, this will be a case of negotiating a deal,and signing a contract with that user. But for many other uses, like airplay, its different.
Royalty collecting societies like APRA and AMCOS
, or their equivalents worldwide play an important role in the music world. They provide licenses for the performance and broadcast of musical works, meaning that anyone who wants to play a song in public won’t have to go through the task of contacting each copyright owner each time a song is performed or played.
Royalty collecting societies are generally non-profit organisations, made up of members who are songwriters, composers, lyricists and music publishers. For a summary of all the various collecting societies in Australia: www.artslaw.com.au/reference/infocopycollect/index.htmlAPRA - Performing Rights
APRA stands for the Australasian Performing Rights Association
. It administers the rights to both perform in public and communicate (or transmit) musical works on behalf of composers, lyricists and music publishers - commonly known as the “performing rights” in your songs.
It’s a sound idea to join APRA if you have written music, and have begun to perform it in public. Membership is free. When you join, you transfer your “public performance” and “communication” rights to APRA, which collects and distributes your share of fees from the performance and broadcast of music. If you don’t have a music publisher, but have released a recording, APRA can act on your behalf, if someone wants to record a cover of your song.
APRA licenses, and collects license fees from, broadcasters
like television and radio stations, or venues
where songs are performed such as hotels, pubs and clubs, as well as organisations who play music publicly (either in shops or on telephone hold services). These organisations will be required to provide regular ‘cue sheets’ to APRA setting out the songs that are played. The fees collected are then paid by APRA to the relevant song copyright owners twice a year.
If you’re going to play someone else’s song in public, you’ll need to be covered by an APRA license
. Venues will often have APRA event licenses
, but you should check to make sure.Self-reporting
If you are playing live and want to make sure you get a royalty for your performances, you can ‘report’ your gig to APRA. It’s up to you, but you can fill out an APRA return
any time you perform your own (or someone else’s) music. For more info, visit the APRA website
.AMCOS - Mechanical RightsAMCOS
is the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society. Very much like APRA, it administers and distributes royalties for ‘mechanical
’ and ‘synchronisation
’ rights in songs.
‘Mechanical rights’ are the rights to record a song onto a physical medium such as a record, cassette or CD. Each time a recording is made of a musical work, the “mechanical right” is used. This is often referred to as “mechanical copyright”, even though its not a separate right but one component of the copyright in a song. It is a right held by the song copyright holder.
Under the Copyright Act
, any person wishing to manufacture a recording of a musical work for sale or release must notify and obtain a licence to do so from the work’s copyright owner.
However, if a recording of the song has already been commercially released (ie. copies of the recording of have made available for sale, whether at shops or on the net), anyone can record a cover version, provided they obtain a license from AMCOS. If you or your band is keen to record a cover version, then you’ll need an ‘Audio Manufacture License
’ from AMCOS.
A person manufacturing recordings of a licensed song must also pay “mechanical royalties
Under the Copyright Act
, “mechanical royalties” must be paid to the owner of copyright in a song that is recorded by another person for sale or release. The Copyright Act sets the royalty at “6.25% of the retail selling price of the record”, unless another royalty is agreed between the copyright owner and the other person, or the Copyright Tribunal
determines the rate.
In February 2000, AMCOS and ARIA (representing record labels or manufacturers) reached a settlement in a Copyright Tribunal hearing as to the applicable mechanical royalty. The rate was set at 8.9% for 2000 to 2001, 8.8% for 2001 to 2002 and 8.7% until 30 June 2004, which in each case applies to the “published price to dealer” (or PPD) not the “retail selling price” - the PPD is effectively the published wholesale or "list" price for sellers plus service charges. [Note: these rates apply to ordinary sales, with download sales to be “agreed in good faith”].
Background on the current mechanical copyright royalty is available from APRA|AMCOS
As a result of the above, mechanical royalties for songs registered with APRA|AMCOS are subject to the 8.7% rate. After 30 June 2004, the 8.7% rate may continue unless replaced by a new determination. For songs not registered with APRA|AMCOS, a mechanical royalty rate must be agreed between the copyright owner and record manufacturer, or the 6.25% of retail selling price rate will apply. Either way, the royalty represents income to a copyright holder.
’ means the rights to include or incorporate music along with visuals, such as including music in the sound or “audio track” of a film, video or TV advertisement.
If AMCOS is not administering your songs, you must negotiate these rights with anyone who wants to record or synchronise your song (or a cover), including a label releasing your CDs.
AMCOS is managed by APRA. Its members are music publishers who own or control the ‘mechanical’ or ‘reproduction’ rights in musical works. Like APRA, membership is free and it deducts fees for collecting and distributing royalties. AMCOS distributes income quarterly. AMCOS also administers licenses for some sound recordings contained in its music libraries
.Further Information and Advice
For a look at co-writing issues check out this APRA case summary
, or for detailed info on registering works
or resolving disputes between songwriters
(or even distribution of royalties
), or overseas
collecting societies visit APRA|AMCOS. For New Zealand specific info, check out APRA's "NZ Branch
The Arts Law Centre of Australia
offers advice on songwriting and co-writer agreements.
The Australian Copyright Council
(or ACC) publishes all sorts of information sheets (and other material) on copyright matters including some dealing specifically with co-authors.