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Q&A: Publishing Rights?
By Mary Dawson - 02/23/2003 - 01:37 PM EST

Suppose A and B co-write (and jointly own/50% each) a song, but only A has a publisher. Assuming that A and B never discuss publishing rights, if A's publisher publishes the song, can the publisher keep all of the publisher's share or only 50% (i.e., give half of the publisher's share to B) because B never expressly gave the publisher HIS publishing rights?

To illustrate, if A and his publisher split income 50/50 (i.e., the publisher keeps half as the "publisher's share" and A gets half as the "writer's share"), and A's publisher publishes a song co-written by A and B and receives $100,000 in gross income, can the publisher keep $50,000 and give $25,000 each to A and B, or does the publisher only keep $25,000, with $25,000 going to A (writer's share) and $50,000 going to B (writer's share and half of the publisher's share)? Again, assume that B has not agreed to anything with A or his publisher regarding co-publishing, etc.

Thanks for your thoughts! -- Eric G.

Hi Eric:

A publisher cannot ethically or legally assume any part of a song in which there is no songwriter's contract between the publisher and the writer. In the case you are citing, Songwriter A has signed a songwriter's agreement with a publisher but B is independent. Therefore, if the song generates $100,000 in income, Songwriter A and his publisher would split the half of the song that A originally wrote...$25,000 would go to Songwriter A...$25,000 would go to A's publisher and $50,000 would go to Songwriter B who is independent (and therefore, is his own "de facto" publisher.

I have had this exact situation come up with songs I have written with songwriters who are staff writers for other publishing companies. The other writer is obligated by contract to split all royalties with the publisher. I -- on the other hand -- keep my entire 50% of the song.

I hope this makes sense. If you have further questions let me know.

All the Best....
Mary Dawson

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