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U.S. copyright law[]

A music publisher is

a person that is authorized to license the reproduction of a particular musical work in a sound recording.”[1]


Songwriters often enter into publishing agreements with music publishers. Under such an arrangement, the publisher may pay an advance to the songwriter against future royalty collections to help finance the songwriter's writing efforts. In addition, the publisher promotes and licenses the songwriter's works and collects royalties on the songwriter's behalf. In exchange, the songwriter assigns a portion of the copyright in the compositions he or she writes during the deal term to the publisher ‐ traditionally 50%, but sometimes less — and the publisher is compensated by receiving a royalty share.[2]

In some cases, a musical work has a single songwriter and a single publisher, and dividing royalties is relatively straightforward. But many songs have multiple songwriters, each with his or her own publisher and publishing deal. In such cases, it may be challenging to determine royalty shares — or "splits" — among the various parties.[3]


  1. 17 U.S.C. § 1001(9).
  2. Donald S. Passman, All You Need To Know About the Music Business 220 (8th ed. 2013).
  3. See generally Al Kohn & Bob Kohn, Kohn on Music Licensing 329‐44 (4th ed. 2010).