Frequently Asked Questions

The business of music publishing is concerned with developing, protecting and valuing music. The business is diverse and demands a variety of skills. Music publishers play a vital role in the development of new music and in taking care of the business side, allowing composers and songwriters to concentrate on their creative work.

The role of a music publisher involves:

  • Finding new and talented songwriters and composers and encouraging and supporting them as they develop their skills, whether through helping with their living expenses, providing them with the facilities they need to produce music or offering advice and guidance in writing for particular markets
  • Securing commissions for new works and helping to coordinate work flow
  • Registering the works of songwriters and composers with all appropriate collecting societies and agencies, eg PRS for Music in the UK
  • Producing demo recordings and, in the case of contemporary classical music, performance materials (score and parts etc);
  • Producing and licensing the production of printed music
  • Producing promotional materials, including sampler CDs, study scores, brochures etc
  • Promoting composers and songwriters and their music to performers, broadcasters, record companies and others who use music on a commercial basis, both nationally and internationally
  • Licensing the use of music, whether directly in the case of individual and special usages (eg synchronisation deals) or via the collecting society network
  • Responding to new licensing opportunities that flow from technological developments
  • Monitoring and tracking the use of the music they own and ensuring that proper payment is made for all licensed uses
  • Making royalty payments to songwriters and composers in respect of the usage of their music
  • Taking appropriate action against anyone using music without the necessary licence

Music publishing and copyright

The business of music publishing is dependent upon there being a strong copyright framework in place. The control of copyright enables a publisher to recover the investment made in songwriters and composers and to ensure that they are rewarded for their creative work. Without copyright there would be no financial incentive for writers and composers to create, or for music publishers to invest in them and their music. This would be to the detriment of composers and writers who depend upon publishers to manage the business of exploiting their musical works, thus enabling them to make a living out of their creativity. More about licensing and copyright.

Partnership with writers

The control of copyright enables a publisher to recover the investment made in songwriters and composers and to ensure that they are rewarded for their creative work. The relationship between a music publisher and a songwriter/composer is supported by a publishing contract setting out the rights and obligations of each to the other. Under these contracts songwriters and composers assign the copyright in their music to the music publisher in return for a commitment to promote, exploit and protect that music. The publisher agrees to pay the songwriter/composer a percentage of any income earned from such exploitation as royalties. Note that copyright can only be assigned in a written document that is signed by both parties.

The definition of a good publisher

A good publisher seeks out great music and great composers and songwriters, supports composers and songwriters in the creative process, promotes their catalogues across a variety of platforms, manages the business exploitation of the catalogues (including the registration of works and the collection and onward payment of all due royalties) and generally seeks to protect and enhance the value of their works with passion and professional commitment.

More about the business of music publishing.

Copyright protects creative works and enables composers, literary authors and other creators to be paid for their work. Copyright is the means by which those who create and own works (e.g. music and lyrics) can control who makes use of each work and the circumstances in which it is used, to ensure that the integrity and value of the work is respected.

Copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, sound recordings, films, broadcasts and the typographical arrangement of a published edition (ie how it looks on the page). The legal framework for copyright (one type of intellectual property) is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 [CDPA] as amended.

Copyright in a song

Every song comprises two copyright works:

  • The music itself (a musical work)
  • The lyrics/words (a literary work)

Criteria

Copyright automatically subsists in a musical or literary work provided that it meets the following eligibility criteria:

  • The work work must be original in the sense that it has not been copied from any other work
  • The work must be recorded in writing or otherwise (eg onto CD, tape)
  • The writer is either a British Citizen or is domiciled or resident in the UK (or the work is first published in the UK or a country which has signed the Berne Convention)

Rights of the owner

Subject to certain limited exceptions set out in the CDPA, if you own the copyright in either type of work, you have the sole right do any of the following, or to authorise (eg by way of a licence or assignment) another to do so:

  • Copy the work
  • Issue, lend or rent copies of the work to the public
  • Perform, show or play the work in public
  • Communicate the work to the public (i.e. broadcast it via television, radio, online etc.)
  • Adapt the work

NB: Copyright can only be assigned in a written document that is signed by both parties.

Moral rights

If you are the composer of the music or the author of the lyrics, the CDPA also (subject to certain limited exceptions) provides you with a number of important moral rights, eg:

  • To be identified as the creator of the work (the paternity right, which must be asserted in writing)
  • To object to derogatory treatment of the work (the integrity right)

NB: Moral rights have no economic value. They cannot be assigned, but can be waived.

Arrangements, recordings and printed editions

The work of musical arrangers and editors also benefits from copyright protection.

If your work is subsequently recorded, the sound recording itself will have separate copyright protection. The producer of the recording will own the copyright in the sound recording.

If your work is published in a printed edition, the typographical arrangement of that printed edition will be separately protected and the publisher of that edition will own the copyright.

Terms of copyright

In the UK, copyright in a musical or literary work generally lasts for a period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the composer or author dies. A sound recording is generally protected for 50 years - this will be extended to 70 years when regulations currently laid before parliament come into force in November 2013 -  from the end of the year in which the recording is made and a typographical edition is generally protected for 25 years from the end of the year of publication.

Copyright legislation has evolved over the last 500 years to provide a balance between the interests of those who invest skills and intellectual effort, time and money in the creation of works on the one hand and those who want to use and enjoy those works on the other.

Related Links:

Intellectual Property Office

Copyright Hub

Sampling is a form of borrowing from someone else’s music. If the music or any words/lyrics are still in copyright you may only use a sample or quote with the prior permission of the copyright owners.

The copyright owners can decide on what basis they are prepared to consider licensing this use. You may well be required to pay a fee, to assign part of the copyright in your work to the copyright owners and to credit the original writers and copyright owners as a condition of any licence. Equally the copyright owners are entitled to refuse permission in which case the sample must not be used.

Similarly, if you want to sample a recording of a song or piece of music which was made or released within the last 50 years then the recording will still be in copyright and can only be sampled with permission from the copyright owner of the recording (usually the record company) or their agent, PPL, and from the performer(s) in addition to the copyright owner of the music and of the words.

The sample used will infringe copyright in the music and/or the sound recording, as the case may be, if it is a ‘substantial part’ of the original and is used without the necessary permissions. The sample is considered ‘substantial’ by reference to its quality rather than its length. If it is recognisable, however short, as coming from the original piece of music or recording then it should be regarded as being substantial and the necessary permissions should be sought. If you are in any doubt, apply for permission.

With certain limited exceptions, to use any work that is in copyright, you must first get permission. The type of permission required depends on how you wish to use the work.

  • For permission to photocopy printed music, the MPA can help to direct you to the copyright owner. You should provide as much information about the music as possible, including the title, composer, lyricist (if any), any arranger or editor and the date of publication or copyright line (usually inside the front cover or at the bottom of the first page of the music), together with the name of any publisher that you have for the edition. More about printed music.
  • For permission to arrange works the MPA can help to direct you to the copyright owners. You should provide as much information about the music as possible, including the title and writer/s.
  • For permission to use works in films, commercials or games you should contact the copyright owners. The MPA can help to direct you to them.
  • For permission to record music you should contact PRS for Music.
  • For permission to perform music live you should contact PRS for Music.
  • For permission to broadcast music or include it in a cable programme service you should contact PPL and PRS for Music.
  • For permission to perform a musical, opera or ballet you should contact the copyright owner/s directly. Again the MPA can help to direct you.
  • For permission to play a recording of music in any public place you should contact PRS for Music and PPL. For any other usage not mentioned above you should contact the copyright owners directly. The MPA can help to direct you.

For any other usage not mentioned above you should contact the copyright owners directly. The MPA can help to direct you.

If you are concerned about illegal photocopying of music contact the MPA immediately. If you are concerned about any other illegal use of music, film or software, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111

In addition to the FAQs below, you will find further information in the Printed Music section of our site including the following:

Your first port of call should be your local music shop where staff have the expertise to track down what you are looking for.  Many printed music retailers have access to the MPA Catalogue of Printed Music and can help to track down and order a piece of printed music for you.

Contact your local MPA Catalogue retailer.

Other alternatives

Alternatively, a number of music publishers make their catalogues available online and some offer the opportunity to purchase and download printed music from their websites.

If you have been unable to locate a particular piece of printed music, as a last resort, the MPA will try to direct you to the copyright owner of the work who is responsible for determining whether or not a piece of music is to be made available in print. The fact that a work has been publicly performed or recorded does not guarantee that the music is available in print and sometimes music is only available on hire from the publisher.

If you wish to copy music which is still in copyright, whether by means of photocopying or otherwise, you may only do so with the prior permission of the copyright owners, with certain limited exceptions. There are a number of reasons why it is important to respect the rights of copyright owners and to seek permission before copying music:

  • An illegal copy deprives the composer of the music of the chance to earn income from his/her creative work
  • The publisher is deprived of the opportunity to recoup the investment made in the production of the printed edition
  • The publisher is unable to monitor the use and popularity of a particular edition.

Consequences of illicit copying

Illicit Copying is a form of theft which damages composers and publishers. It discourages composers, who may be forced to look for other ways of earning a living. It deters publishers from investing in new writing talent and the production of printed music and it denies them information about the use of music which would guide further investment decisions. A publisher may allow a work to go out of print believing that there is a lack of demand for that particular work when the opposite may in fact be true.

Limited exceptions

In certain cases limited copying is allowed, for example for the purposes of private research and study and for use in examinations (other than those involving instrumental performance). Mindful of the relative complexity of copyright legislation as far as performers and teachers are concerned, the MPA has developed a Code of Fair Practice in agreement with composers and users of printed music. This makes certain concessions to users of music over and above the exceptions in the legislation on behalf of publisher members of the MPA.

Seeking permission

For permission to photocopy printed music, the MPA can help to direct you to the copyright owners. You should provide as much information about the music as possible, including the title, composer, any arranger or editor, the name of any publisher that you have for the edition and the date of publication or copyright line (usually inside the front cover or at the bottom of the first page of the music). Contact us

Although the industry does not employ a great number of people, it caters for a wide range of interests and, in many companies, staff flexibility is essential. Often, a lively interest and willingness to accept any job available may be the key. You can then survey the music publishing business from the inside, and learn which particular department best suits you. Practical experience as well as formal education or training is important in the majority of vacancies that occur. Keep an eye on the careers section of our website for the latest vacancies within our member companies.

Music publishing jobs tend to fall into a number of broad categories, the majority of which require musical knowledge/experience. The various activities generally covered by each category are outlined below:

A&R (Artists & Repertoire) / Promotion

  • Actively search for new talent at concerts and gigs
  • Listen to demos received and make recommendations
  • Match songwriters/composers and lyricists/librettists
  • Produce demos for promotional purposes
  • Develop and maintain wide-ranging music user contacts with a view to their exploiting copyrights, e.g. broadcasters, record companies, concert promoters, film/video production companies, performers and others
  • Develop and maintain press and promotional contacts with a view to encouraging coverage/performances.
  • Oversee the career development of composers/songwriters

Rights Administration – Copyright / Legal / Business Affairs Departments

  • Negotiate and draft publishing agreements with composers/songwriters
  • Negotiate music user licences Negotiate sub-publishing agreements
  • Register new works and catalogues acquired with the collecting societies (eg MCPS, PRS)
  • Oversee the protection of rights and taking action when these are infringed.

Production & Editorial

  • Consider manuscript scores received and whether revisions/rewrites are required
  • Convert edited manuscripts into printed music and oversee style, design and origination
  • Liaise with typesetters/designers and printers and deal with proofs
  • Proof read and edit music and text
  • Commission and publish new music
  • Contribute to and monitor catalogue development

Sales & Marketing / Hire / Distribution

  • Devise and implement retail/promotional campaigns designed to highlight new printed music products
  • Liaison (direct and indirect) with dealers and, in some cases, educational institutions
  • Attend and organise promotional events
  • Circulate information and product to media
  • Manage the hire library and its loan to performing organisations
  • Control and monitor the use of hire materials
  • Process orders and oversee the physical movement of product from publisher to customer
  • Handle invoicing, stock control and warehousing

Accounts / Royalty Administration

  • Track all uses of works and collecting in royalties and fees for such uses
  • Manage royalties collected and distribute on to composers/songwriters and sub-publishers
  • Prepare and analyse profit and loss statements and balance sheets
  • Payroll and credit administration
  • Provide statistics for a variety of purposes

Music publishers come in a variety of different guises: Pop, classical, production (or library) music and print, with a range of combinations, specialisations and variations in between. You’ll know where your experience and, just as important, your passion lie. Play to your strengths.

The Formalities

Anyone starting a business should get hold of a copy of the excellent Business Link “No-Nonsense Guide to Starting a Business”, available from www.businesslink.gov.uk. The Guide is a good aide memoire and introduction to all aspects of setting up in business – forming a business, tax and NI, VAT, protecting your IP, employment, trading regulations and data protection.

One of the first decisions will be what structure the business will take: sole trader; partnership; limited company? As you will be acquiring intellectual property (copyright in this case but also comprising patents and trade marks) it may be appropriate from the word go to vest these rights in a limited company. This affords protection from infringement claims and gives you flexibility to deal with such assets separately, but there are costs and government regulations to consider.

Financing

Acquiring copyrights and building a stable of songwriters will take money. Other costs include legal fees, demo costs, promotion and office expenses (even if your office is a virtual one). If you’re starting out from scratch and don’t have the capital to acquire an existing catalogue then patience for the long game is needed, along with the money to keep a roof over your head while you’re playing it. It could well be two years from setting up before you start to see any income. Banks may be willing to lend you money, and if you go down this route it’s important to find a lender that has an understanding of the business. Even if you are not seeking external finance writing a business plan focuses the mind on your strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats of the publishing market – the so called SWOT test.

Getting started – finding and signing the talent

Well-tuned ears and a passion for music are pre-requisites. If you don’t have them, your first employee should. There will always be new talent to be found – it’s a renewable resource - but there’s no guaranteed formula for finding it. Getting out to gigs is still important, and MySpace can be a useful tool (as well as a real timewaster). Just as valuable is building up your contacts in the industry, and there are plenty of networking events to attend. The value to your business of building a good reputation within the industry cannot be overstated.

Agreements

There is no standard form publishing agreement. Various types of agreement include single song assignment, exclusive agreement for future works, and sub-publishing agreement. Have a lawyer draw up your contracts, and ensure that the composer has been advised to seek independent advice. Sub-publishing arrangements will allow you to offer songwriters global representation. Choose your sub-publishers carefully and don’t tie yourself into lengthy deals – two or three years is normal. Remember that you can also act as a sub-publisher for other catalogues in your own territory.

Making Money

Music is globally ubiquitous – online and offline. Collective licensing is an efficient way of ensuring that such uses are licensed and rights owners remunerated for such use. Investigate membership of both MCPS and PRS. It is crucial that you register your songs quickly and accurately. An increasingly important source of income for all varieties of publisher is synchronisation licensing. Cultivating contacts and building a reputation in this area is vital again.

For more information

The MPA runs an induction course four times a year. It is an essential introduction to the music publishing industry and covers, inter alia, the many facets of music publishing; agreements and money; the writer’s perspective; copyright & related rights; the work of the collecting societies; and the users’ perspective.

There is no need to register a work in order to secure copyright protection. It is protected by copyright if it satisfies the eligibility criteria outlined below. It is advisable but not essential to register copyright in a work in the USA if it is likely to be exploited there. Registration enables one to claim a higher level of damages against someone who is found in any legal action to have infringed that copyright in the USA and to recover legal costs.

Always use protection

Let people know that you believe your music is protected by copyright: You should always write the international copyright symbol ©, the name of the copyright owner (i.e. you the composer or any publisher to whom the copyright may have been assigned) and the year in which the work was first published (or written if not yet published) in a prominent position on the original and every copy of the work. This will put users on notice of the fact that the work may be protected by copyright but it does not of itself confer protection.

Date the work

By taking one of the following measures you can create and preserve evidence of the fact that your work was in existence at a certain date. This could be very useful for evidential purposes if you ever need to pursue a claim for infringement of copyright. 

1. Put a copy of the work (on paper or as an audio recording) in an envelope, sign your name across the seal(s) of the envelope and send it to yourself by registered post. Do NOT open the envelope on receipt but store the package in a safe place until such time as you may need it in the course of any legal proceedings. It is wise to note the title of the work on the envelope for your future reference. It is the date stamp coupled with the fact that the package is unopened that constitutes the crucial evidence.

2. Lodge a copy of the work (on paper or on tape) with your bank or solicitor and obtain a dated receipt.

Is the music eligible for copyright protection?

Music is eligible for copyright protection under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 as a musical work provided:

  • it is written in music notation or recorded on tape or fixed in some other form;
  • it is original in the sense that it has not been copied from any other musical work; and
  • the writer is either a British Citizen or is domiciled or resident in the UK or the work is first published in the UK or a country which has signed the Berne Convention.

The words which are to be spoken or sung with the music are eligible for separate copyright protection as a literary work provided they meet the above criteria. A recording of music (with or without words) attracts its own copyright protection as a sound recording.

Moral rights

Moral rights are an additional form of protection for works protected by copyright. These rights are personal to the composer or author of the work and cannot be transferred to anyone else although the composer/author can choose to waive them altogether.

Many, but not all, of the MPA's member companies will be actively seeking to sign new writers. 

Of those music publishers who are on the look out for new talent many, but again not all, will be willing to consider demos and/or scores that are sent speculatively be unsigned writers. Examples of work received by publishers in this way, not specifically requested by the publisher,are referred to as "unsolicited materials".

You should only send your demo to publishers who accept unsolicited materials. You can search all MPA member companies using our Directory of Members, and can filter your search to display only those members who accept unsolicited materials. You can also narrow in on those music publishers who might be interested in your type of music by considering, for example, what other music they have published, or by searching by a specific genre (or a number of different genres).  If you have written a song for a particular artist you should send it to the publisher of songs performed by the artist (usually named on the label of the artist’s recordings) or, alternatively, to the artist’s manager, agent, producer or record company.

Those music publishers that are willing to accept material require a demonstration recording or manuscript, which should be labelled and presented as clearly as possible, together with any lyrics written out on a separate sheet. Publishers are under no obligation to return unsolicited material to you. If you wish your material to be returned you should make this clear and enclose a self-addressed envelope with sufficient stamps to cover the return of your material.

Always use protection

Before posting, you are advised to follow one of the procedures set out under How do I protect my music?. Most publishers are inundated with requests for music to be assessed, so be patient as it will take time for your material to be heard. Do not send more than two or three songs. Before signing any contract, always consult a legal advisor who is experienced in music industry agreements. Caution is urged in dealing with publishers or others who ask for a contribution towards the expenses of publication or promotion of your work. This is not a practice to which reputable publishers normally resort.

The MPA cannot put lyric writers in touch with composers or vice versa. However, the British Academy of Composers & Songwriters offers a collaboration service and SongLink International is also a useful vehicle for finding collaborators.

Please note: materials must not be submitted either to the MPA or to the British Academy.

If you wish to arrange music which is still in copyright you may only do so with the prior permission of the copyright owner with certain limited exceptions. There are a number of reasons why it is important to respect the rights of the copyright owner and seek permission before arranging music:

  • An illegal copy or arrangement deprives the composer of the music of the chance to earn income from his/her creative work;
  • The publisher is deprived of the opportunity to recoup the investment made in the production of the original music;
  • The publisher is unable to monitor the use and popularity of a particular work.

The use of copyright music without permission is a form of theft which damages composers and publishers. It discourages composers, who will look to other ways of earning a living. It deters publishers from investing in the production of music and it denies them information about the use of music which would guide further investment decisions. A publisher may allow a work to go out of print believing that there is a lack of demand for that particular work when the opposite may in fact be true.

How do I know if a piece of music is protected by copyright?:

This question must be asked in relation to the three separate elements to be found within printed music, namely the music itself, any words and the printed edition itself. 

  • The Music: If the composer, writer, arranger or editor of the music is still alive or died within the last 70 years the music will still be in copyright.
  • The Words: If the author of the words is still alive or died within the last 70 years then the words will still be in copyright.
  • The Printed Edition: If the edition was printed within the last 25 years then the edition is still in copyright. This is so, regardless of whether either the words or the music contained within that edition are still in copyright or out of copyright.

In certain cases limited copying is allowed, for example, for the purposes of private research and study and for use in examinations other than those involving instrumental performance. The rules of copying and arranging music need to be carefully observed to avoid infringing copyright. Mindful of the complexity of this area and of the sometimes restrictive provisions in the copyright legislation as far as performers and teachers are concerned, the MPA has developed a Code of Fair Practice in agreement with composers and users of printed music. This makes certain concessions to users of music over and above the exceptions in the legislation on behalf of publisher members of the MPA.

For permission to arrange music, the MPA can help to direct you to the copyright owner. You should provide as much information about the music as possible, including the title, composer, any arranger or editor, the name of any publisher that you have for the work and the date of publication or copyright line (usually inside the front cover or at the bottom of the first page of the music).