Skip to main content

Recording Rights: should my daughter register with a PRO and obtain copyrights?

Newton, NJ |
Filed under: Entertainment law

My daughter just finished recording two songs. She co-wrote both, retaining 50% of the publishing rights with 25% going to her writing partner/producer and the other 25% going to her producer/engineer, both of whom played all the music. They all signed the split sheets to same. They told her, however, that she needed to register both songs with a PRO. Upon reviewing both BMI and ASCAP, I am not too proud to admit that I understand little as to what I would be signing on her behalf. Is this the next step for her, and if so, which one? Does this forfeit any of her rights? Does she also need to register both with the copyright office?

Attorney Answers 6

  1. A PRO, or performance rights organization, is an important affiliation any artist should consider. Their sole purpose is to collect royalties on behalf of artists. Whether your daughter should pick BMI or ASCAP is of personal taste after reviewing each. Traditionally, due to the royalty payment formulas each company uses, BMI is better suited for established artists while ASCAP for the newcomer. This isn't always the case as ASCAP has many established acts just as BMI has many smaller ones. ASCAP does not charge a membership fee while BMI may in certain instances. Regardless of who your daughter chooses, they will always be looking out for your daughter's best interests.

    As far as copyright registration, that's a separate issue. You should always register new works with the USPTO to ensure federal protection of those songs within weeks of publication. You can submit a collection of songs under one filing to save on fees.

    Good Luck!

  2. These are the organizations that collect any monies paid by performance of your daughters compilations. She should also have more documents besides the composition so that she can actually exploit the sound recordings as well. Your daughter should consult with an entertainment attorney. Its better to invest in her future now from the beginning if this will be her career.

  3. You should really read a few books about how songwriters make money licensing their songs [visit the links below]. Then you should sit down with an entertainment attorney. You should also visit the website of the Songwriters Guild of America [ ] and the New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts [ ]. Good luck.

    The above response is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.

  4. She needs a copyright/music publishing attorney. I handle music publishing/copyright issues like this every day, and this is a quite complex area of the law. First, I don't know what you mean by "split sheets". Use of "split sheets" as a substitute for a well-drafted song-writing and publishing agreement is foolish. She needs a lawyer to draft a songwriting and publishing agreement, and to then draft the appropriate license and record label agreements. She needs to understand that the copyright in the composition (words and music) is separate from the copyright in the master recording. Further, if the master recording is used in a video, television show, film, or other visual medium. there will need to be synchronization license agreements. Your daughter (and you as her guardian) is making a horrendous mistake ifr she records and releases songs before having these agreements in place--- reliance on a "split sheet' is unwise---indeed stupid. I represent record labels and independent artists every day, and I can tell you from painful experience that if your daughter's songs are successful, she will regret perhaps the rest of her life if she does not retain experienced music/IP counsel now to protect her interests by drafting and negotiating appropriate agreements. Further, when shopping for IP counsel, she needs to find someone with significant experience----there are many young unemployed lawyers who pretend to know about this area of the law, but do not have the experience and judgment necessary to appropriate draft and negotiate the agreements your daughter needs, and otherwise guide her through here many important career choices. This is an area of law that takes years to master, and, assuming your daughter has talent and passion for the music, your daughter needs to retain and build a long term relationship with a high quality lawyer---the investment she (and you on her behalf) makes now will pay major dividends in the future if her songs are successful.

    I wish you and your daughter the best of luck---the music business is tough and there are a lot of untrustworthy and disreputable characters who purport to work in the industry. Most of the revenues these days come from publishing (rather than record sales), which is why it is so critical to have legal counsel draft appropriate publishing agreements. Your daughter needs to focus on where the streams of revenues will be that will support her career, and then she needs to work closely with legal counsel to build a business strategy that will last a lifetime.

    You might be interested to know that I am also a professional pianist---I play two or three nights weekly. I know first hand what it means to be a working musician, and how hard it is to protect your rights as a musician to the various streams of revenues available within the industry. I work as a musician because of my passion for music, but also it helps me communicate effectively with my clients within the industry, and make them understand why they need to work closely with music counsel. Your daughter needs to educate herself on the basics of music publishing---if she wants a career in music, the business/music publishing pieces is just as important as the quality of her music. Many of my clients end up using me as a personal tutor on the music publishing and licensing business, as I help them develop realistic business plans for their careers---yes indeed, music is a business and if your daughter wants to be successful, she has to look at it that way. That means she needs to dispense with foolishness such as "split sheets". Musicians play with lead sheets which work well, but "split sheets" are recipes for disaster.

  5. Your daughter should hire a music industry attorney to help her get set up properly, and it is good that you are not too proud to know you need help. The more experience you get the less help you, and, will need and the better you will be able to determine the quality of the help you are getting. Her writing partner/producer and producer/engineer are right that he should probably register with a PRO, and likely that will be ASCAP. The music attorney you hire can give you advice, and that advice is particularly needed in today's digital download world with all the new sorts of digital deals being done.

    Yes, she should have the songs registered with the Copyright Office, as that is necessary to make the copyrights valuable because without registration fee will eventually lose the right to attorney fees and statutory damages, which are what really make copyrights valuable. The music industry lawyer can assist you with getting the songs registered. It is a simple online process that takes a little time due to an archaic interface but only costs a government fee of $35 plus whatever your attorney will charge.

    I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.

  6. Ah, the age-old question of whether to join ASCAP or BMI (or have two publishing companies and join both). I don't think there is a right or wrong answer about this, and it often depends on the preference of which music industry lawyer you hire. I'm not sure that you can make a mistake with either one.

    I agree with Maurice's advice that your daughter should have written agreements with the other songwriters and musicians regarding their contributions and management of the copyrights to both the composition and the sound recording. And you should definitely copyright all songs.

    Below is a link to another good book on the music business, This Business of Music, which you and your daughter should read. Best of luck.

    No attorney client relationship is created with this post and no legal advice has been rendered. This is for general informational purposes only and does not apply to any specific set of facts which have been reviewed by me. The information contained in this response has not been verified and is not necessarily accurate or reliable, or applicable to any particular jurisdiction. Always hire a licensed attorney to represent your legal interests.

Entertainment law topics

Top tips from attorneys

What others are asking

Can't find what you're looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer

Browse all legal topics