Everything you wanted to know about music publishing, copyright and the MPA (but were too afraid to ask…)
The business of music publishing is concerned with developing, protecting and valuing music. The business is extensive 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:
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 their investment in songwriters and composers and to ensure that writers are properly credited and rewarded for their creative work. Click here to read more about licensing and copyright.
Partnership with writers
The relationship between a music publisher and a songwriter/composer is supported by a negotiated publishing contract setting out the rights and obligations of each to the other. Under these contracts, songwriters and composers assign or license 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 royalties earned by their compositions after deducting an administration fee.
A music publisher invests in songwriters and composers and controls musical compositions, whereas a record company invests in artists and controls master recordings. Not all songwriters and composers are recording artists and many recording artists don’t write their own songs. Money is collected separately for songs and for master recordings.
For example, Ed Sheeran co-writes his own songs but also writes for other artists such as One Direction. Therefore he has a music publishing agreement as well as a record deal.
Some of the writers that Ed Sheeran co-writes with on songs that he records are not recording artists. Therefore their only source of income will be from their music publishing royalties.
There are a number of different rights in a song. They are sometimes not found in legislation, but they are administered differently for commercial reasons. A publishing contract will therefore make reference to:
Mechanical rights – the right to make a reproduction or a copy – often administered collectively by MCPS. (See Q13)
Performing rights – the right to publicly perform or otherwise communicate to the public (eg via a musical digital service and/or a broadcast). These are often administered collectively with other publishers via the PRS. (See Q14)
Graphic rights – the right to graphically reproduce music notation (sheet music). These are often sublicensed via a print publisher (see Q7)
Hire/rental rights: the right to lend orchestral parts for music not available for purchase due to length or complexity of arrangements.
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 accurate registration of works and the diligent 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.
If you want to learn more about becoming a good music publisher, sign up for our MPA Induction Course – learn more here.
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 any other usage not mentioned above you should contact the copyright owners directly. The MPA can help to direct you.
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 passions lie. Play to your strengths!
Anyone starting a business should get hold of a copy of the excellent “No-Nonsense Guide to Starting a Business”, available from here. The Guide is a good introduction to all aspects of setting up a 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 trademarks) 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 the flexibility to deal with such assets separately, but there are costs and government regulations to consider.
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 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 very important, Soundcloud and YouTube are also key. Building up your contacts in the industry is valuable as well and there are plenty of networking events to attend. The value of building a good reputation within the industry cannot be overstated.
There is no standard form publishing agreement. Various types of the 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.
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 music publishers is synchronisation licensing. Cultivating contacts and building a reputation in this area is vital again.
There are currently minimum requirements to join PRS and MCPS as a publisher. These are:
You can join if your music has been:
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 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.
HR/ IT / Finance
A&R (Artists & Repertoire) / Promotion
Marketing & Sync
Rights Administration – Copyright / Legal / Business Affairs Departments
Production & Editorial (Particularly for Classical & or Printed Music Publishers)
Sales & Marketing / Hire / Distributions (Hire and Printed Music Publishers)
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
A music publisher invests in intellectual property – in other words, it is only exploited when it is played, performed, copied or heard. One medium of exploitation is by sheet music. Not all music publishers produce their own sheet music, most sublicense those rights to third parties who specialise in producing sheet music and songbooks. The companies that still make sheet music and songbooks are known as printed music publishers or print publishers. Most print publishers are also music publishers, but only a few music publishers are also print publishers.
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.
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 are respected.
Copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, sound recordings, films, broadcasts and the typographical arrangement of a published edition (i.e. 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:
Copyright automatically subsists in a musical or literary work provided that it meets the following eligibility criteria:
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:
NB: Copyright can only be assigned in a written document that is signed by both parties.
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:
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 70 years 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.
Grand rights refer to the right to perform musical compositions within the context of a “dramatic work”, a term typically referring to stage performances such as musical theatre. This might involve the creation of an entire dramatico-musical work (such as My Fair Lady, West Side Story or Hairspray), or the use of popular compositions in “compilation musicals” (such as Petticoats and Dreamboats which uses a number of popular songs interpolated into a new storyline).
The music publishing industry is a fantastic industry to work in and caters to a wide range of interests. Most music publishers are small and so, in many companies, staff flexibility is essential. Write to publishers showing a lively interest and willingness to learn, and take opportunities when they come. Also, many of our members offer apprenticeships.
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 in questions 6.
If you would like to find out more about the different areas of work in music publishing please refer to question 6. If you want to learn more about becoming a music publisher and what it entails, why not sign up to our MPA Induction Course? – learn more here.
If you are currently a student in the UK you can apply to become an MPA Student Member, this will give you access to a job seekers list and/or we will try our best to place you on work experience at one of our music publisher members. You can also apply for the Richard Toeman Scholarship – learn more here.
You can often find the publishing information by using a search engine and adding the name of the song and the word “publisher”. The MPA runs a service which gives publishing information out via this phone number: 020 3741 3807. There is a charge where the request exceeds 5 titles.
For any other use not mentioned above, you should contact the copyright owners directly. The MPA can help to direct you.
YES. British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors (BASCA) exists to support and protect the professional interests of songwriters, composers and lyricists of all genres. Please head to their website for more information.
You will find further information in the UK ISMN Agency section of our site.
If you are a music publisher you will need to join MCPS if you would like them to license your works into i) recorded media such as vinyl and CDs ii) broadcast and online uses such as BBC and Spotify.
If you are a music publisher you will need to join PRS if you would like them to collect money from bars, restaurants, venues, festivals, broadcasters, online services etc. You can learn more about joining PRS for Music here.
If you are a music publisher who has rights in printed music or a print publisher you can join PMLL. PMLL currently has one licensing scheme, the Schools Printed Music Licence. This allows teachers within schools to photocopy and arrange sheet music as part of education. The Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) acts as agents for PMLL administering the licence to schools. The CLA survey a number of schools each year asking them to report what music is being photocopied. The data is then sent to PMLL and part of the distribution of licence fees is made on this basis.
If you have any questions about PMLL or photocopying for Amateur Choirs please go to the FAQs page on the PMLL website here.
IMPEL is an organisation set up to represent independent music publishers in their negotiations with digital services. IMPEL only represents these rights and publishers should contact IMPEL for more information, please email here.
Production music is the term used to describe music which is created with the intention of it being used as background music for trailers, movies, TV programmes, computer games and other uses. Typically production music is made in advance and an audiovisual producer will ask for a type of music using descriptive terms eg “something loud and rocky” “something romantic”.
Those descriptive terms can get very detailed. Production music libraries will then pitch music that they have in their catalogue for use. Production music publishers tend to represent the master recording right as well as the publishing right as there is no “recording artist” as such. Production music publishers are identified on our website here should you wish to find out more information.
Digital services will often not take songs directly from music publishers but there are a number of digital distribution companies/aggregators in the UK who will do this for you. An online search engine will be able to direct you.
The MPA currently has around 260 members – music publishing companies of all sizes and descriptions, representing nearly 4000 catalogues and encompassing every possible genre of music, past, present and yet to be pigeonholed. To search for more information on out members use the Members Directory.
Music publishing is an integral part of the UK’s world-leading music industry. Publishers have built their success upon a passion for great music, an entrepreneurial spirit, and sound business judgement. The MPA exists to support and encourage these qualities. If you are a music publisher active in the UK and are not yet a member of the MPA please do take a few minutes to explore this site. In particular you may wish to read about the benefits of membership and also take a look at some of our upcoming events. The MPA offers a programme of training events for publishers, almost all of which are open to non-members.
If you are just starting as a publisher the MPA Induction Course provides an essential overview of the business (as well as an opportunity to meet some fellow publishers). Our members also benefit from discounts on a wide range of other events and services.
Members pay an annual subscription to the MPA, with the fee determined by company turnover. The subscription fee starts at less than £100 per year, and most new members join at this rate. If you would like to discuss joining the MPA please contact us. Alternatively you can request more information and an application form by completing the contact form.
You can read all about MPA membership here, including our Corporate and Student memberships.
At the heart of everything we do is the musical work, and its author. For this reason, the business of music publishing is above all a partnership between publisher and writer. A songwriter or composer will, when signing a publishing contract, assign the copyright in their music to the publisher. In return the publisher commits to promote, exploit and protect that music, and agrees to pay them a percentage of any income earned from such exploitation as royalties.
Unpublished writers looking for a deal can find contact details of MPA member publishers in our members directory. Not all publishers are looking to sign new writers, and some publishers will concentrate on a particular type of music, so please read our advice on who to send your music to before using the directory.
The MPA exists to serve the needs of its music publisher members, so we are unfortunately unable to provide advice to individual writers and composers. Other organisations you may wish to investigate include BASCA and the Musicians Union. If your works are being performed or broadcast in public, and you have not already done so, you should look at joining PRS for Music.
The MPA does offer a wide range of training events and seminars, many of which are open to non-members. If you are considering self-publishing then our Induction Course provides an invaluable overview of what that might involve.
Before using a musical work that is still in copyright you must first seek the permission of the rights owner. Remember, in the UK the copyright in a musical work lasts for seventy years from the death on the last remaining author.
For permission to record music, or to perform music live you should contact PRS for Music.
If you are planning to perform a musical, opera or ballet, you should contact the rights owner directly.
For permission to play a recording of music in any public place, broadcast music, or include it in a cable programme service you should contact PPL and PRS for Music.
Before you sample another recording you must first seek the permission of the rights owner in the work, and, if the recording being sampled was first released within the last 50 years you should also seek the permission of the rights holder in the recording or their agent PPL.
For detailed information on the dos and don’ts of copying printed music please refer to our printed music page.
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 70 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.
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:
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.
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).
The vast majority of MPA members will derive at least some of their revenue from printed music, whether through direct involvement in the sale or hire of scores and parts, or by the licensing of their print rights via a third party.
Find a piece of printed music
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.
If you are looking for a piece of printed music, you can contact an MPA Member here.
Applying for ISMNs
ISMNs are to printed music what ISBNs are to books. The Music Publishers Association is the National Agency for the dissemination of ISMNs in the UK & Eire. To find out more, or to apply for ISMNs, click here.
Guidelines and Licensing
This MPA’s Code of Fair Practice contains guidance on when you can and cannot photocopy printed music. We also produce Guidelines for Amateur Music Hire to help those using materials held by music publishers’ hire libraries for non-professional rehearsal or performance. The MPA has also developed a Copyright Licensing Scheme for Visually Impaired People. The scheme governs multiple copying of printed music for the benefit of visually impaired people by educational and not for profit bodies.
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.
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:
Consequences of illicit copying
Illicit copying is akin to 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.
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.
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 the edition for 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.
In addition to the FAQs, you will find further information in the guidelines section of our site27
In addition to the FAQs, you will find further information in the guidelines section of our site:
You will find further information in the UK ISMN Agency section of our site,
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 lookout 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 Members Directory 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? (See question 32). 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 Songwriters & Composers, and Authors (BASCA) 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 BASCA.
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.
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. 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.
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:
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 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.
Do send us details of any books you have found particularly useful. Here are some of the books we go back to repeatedly. Make sure you check that you’re getting the latest edition as they are regularly updated.
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