Songwriters take the win with this Copyright Office ruling
The Copyright Office may have just lifted some weight off the shoulders of songwriters all around by making sure royalties are going to the right people.
by Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0.
While publishers can be most helpful to many songwriters, others prefer to get their songs back when possible. It would make sense that the royalties that were formerly collected by the publisher would then go to the songwriter, right? That’s not what occurred though, but the Copyright Office has stepped in to make sure that the royalties now goes to the rightful owner.
What was happening was that when the songwriter terminated their publishing agreement and got their songs back, the royalties kept being sent to the publisher, forever. What’s even worse is that the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC -the entity that collects and distributes streaming royalties) made this possible by misinterpreting the law. They read it to mean that once a royalty was assigned to an entity (like a publisher), that entity should receive that royalty permanently because of an obscure provision.
Once the error was discovered, the Recording Academy and Songwriters of North America association brought it to the attention of the Copyright Office, who then provided a clearer interpretation that landed in favor of the songwriters.
When a songwriter sells a publisher the rights to a song, they’re allowed to automatically to get those rights back between 35 and 56 years later, depending on when the song was sold. But termination comes with an exception that says that even if a publisher hands back the rights to the original song, they can keep selling any existing “derivative works” they created when they owned it. What that means is that the songwriter can’t revoke the license of a famous sample, or sue over a movie that featured the song under a sync license.
When streaming came along, the streaming platforms like Spotify received blanket licenses from publishers, so the terminated songs then were interpreted as derivative works. The MLC collected the royalties continued to send it to the former publisher and the songwriter was cut out of the picture.
In a new rule from the Copyright Office last month clarified the situation, stating that, “the copyright owner of the musical work as of the end of the monthly reporting period is the one who is entitled to the royalties.”
It’s great when the songwriter finally wins one.
You can read the ruling here.
Bobby Owsinski is a producer/engineer, author and coach. He has authored 24 books on recording, music, the music business and social media.