Co-publishing is when two or more people own a piece of the copyright to a song and effectively publish together. This could be songwriters who are signed to different publishers but want to work together, so need to strike their own separate publishing deal, it could be a sub-publisher or an independent publisher licensing to a larger publisher, and when dealing with foreign territories. There are a lot of variables in co-publishing agreements and it’s rarely straightforward, but here are some of the ways this could go and some of the things you need to know about.
When it comes to a co-publishing deal one party is going to administer on behalf of the other. This is simply for practical reasons. If your deal is between you and a sub-publisher it’s going to be the sub-publisher who administers. There may be some restrictions on what the administrator can do, for example, they can’t licence your song without your consent, but they will be dealing with most of the business end of things. Where songwriters working together administer for themselves it can get complicated. Although this should be a simple 50/50 split on everything, ie earnings and you‘d expect it to be fairer than dealing with sub-publishers, it can get complicated. You’re in a situation where you can only administer licences for your half of the song and your songwriting partner has to administer for their half. You co-own this song so you can‘t make decisions based on the song, only your half. This means that no one can use the song in any way without gaining a licence from each of you, so if one of you refuses the deal is off.
You can, in theory, go to a publisher and give them no ownership of your song at all, but only give them the right to administer. This most often happens with small publishers, good luck getting one of the big guys to agree to this! The difference to you between this deal and the one where you get reversion of rights after a certain amount of time is neither here nor there. There are some small details of things you can do when you retain ownership that you can’t do once you’ve given it up, but nothing major. However, publishers will want ownership so they have the power and can do what they want with your song, and the bigger the publisher the more they will dig their heels in about this. While it’s true that publishers want to make deals that are in their favour, this one might not be worth your while pushing for, unless there is a specific reason you want to retain complete ownership.
As with any deals you make, think ahead and consider what this means for you. Check the wording of agreements and weigh up your desire to not give too much up with your need to work with experienced professionals. Co-publishing is a relationship, so think about the fallout.
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