Copyright, Publishing & Licensing

There is really no short and simple way to cover this, other than perhaps to say:


Copyright, publishing agreements, and terms of licensing all have significant value and, as such, can (and arguably should) be factored into your negotiations.


The importance of this point cannot be overstated, and understanding it in depth may well be critical to your career sustainability. Copyright, publishing and licensing agreements are your assets just as your keyboard, guitar, computer or car are assets. They all have a value and their value needs to be factored into your agreements.


Every composer will need to find a solution that is right for them given their professional relationships, experience and track record.


Copyright, publishing and licensing are complex issues to get across, especially when you are early in your career. Want to know more? Then read on.


(Or at the very least click here to read the summary of the below information)


Clearly, the time required to create a musical work for the screen has value, and you should set your fee accordingly (taking into account your level of experience and expertise, the amount and detail of music required, whether you will need any live musicians or a music mix, among a myriad of other considerations). However, what may be less obvious is that the following also have significant value:

  • Copyright in the master recording

  • Copyright in the music

  • Music license territories

  • Music licence length/duration

  • Publishing


With this in mind, when negotiating the terms of your next commission, it's worth factoring in the following…

> Licensing

In summary...


Remember that the two main rights in a recorded piece of music are copyright in the Master recording, and copyright in the Music.  These rights are assets which means that they have considerable value!  They may be less tangible then your computer or car, but they may have an equivalent value to your potential earnings now and into the future. Likewise your publishing or the terms of your licensing agreement are also valuable assets that should, and indeed need to be factored into your negotiations.


However, composers are increasingly being asked to grant assets such as publishing and copyright in the Music to clients without a commensurate increase in up-front fee or compensatory concessions in their music agreement or elsewhere. To give away assets as valuable as copyright or publishing with little in return is certainly not a path to career longevity, nor is it a way to build respect and trust in an ongoing relationship with a client. Often the scope of rights you negotiate with a client the first time sets the precedent for future contracts!

Remember, for a client to use your music for the screen, at a minimum they need to obtain a synchronisation license.  A client does not need to own your publishing to use your music, nor do they need to own the copyright in the Music.  They don't even have to own the recording of that music! And so all of these assets are up for negotiation should the fee or other conditions not compensate you for the granting of these rights and loss of these assets you automatically own.

Negotiating successful outcomes for both parties is challenging for all of us, especially when you are just starting your career. Compromise is part of negotiations, but there is almost always a way to get to “yes” if your client respects you and what you can bring to their project. Start from the perspective of what you can deliver within a given fee rather than what you can't. Perhaps you might negotiate to deliver less music, or less complicated music if the fee is low. Perhaps you could retain copyright in the Master recording but sub-license it to the client (or the other way around), or agree to the fee on the condition the license is not exclusive. There are many different approaches. However, if you are making concessions, being reasonable and respectful, you will likely find the same approach reciprocated by your client and collaborator.

Please contact us for general advice and support if you need it. While we are unable to assist with contract wording for specific cases (this should be discussed with an entertainment lawyer who specialises in these sorts of agreements) we can tell you broadly what has been done in the past and what is standard industry practice.

Advocate for yourselves and for each other and share what you have learned!



(Please note the following disclaimer: The information provided on this page or any other part of this website is general in nature only, and is under no circumstances to be construed as legal advice. The Guild cannot advise you on specific points of your music agreement. Any questions relating to a contractual agreement should be directed to a qualified lawyer. Also, for any readers from overseas, the information above is referring to industry practise in Australia and may differ in your territory.)




AGSC Disclaimer

"The Information on this website is provided as general information only and on the understanding that the Australian Guild of Screen Composers (AGSC) is not providing professional advice of a legal, financial or otherwise nature to any user on the matters covered by this information. Whilst the AGSC makes every effort to keep the information on this site current, the information on this site is subject to change at any time and as different laws and legislation currently exist and operate between the States, Territories and Federal Government of Australia, the AGSC does not warrant or represent that the information on this site is free from errors or omissions.


Users of this site should also be aware that the information provided may be in the form of summaries and generalisations derived from other sources and may omit detail that could be significant to a particular scenario or context.  Users of this site should seek independent verification of any information on this site that they are seeking to rely on. The Guild can only provide general information and not advise you on specific points of your music contracts or on the law more broadly. Any questions relating to a contractual agreement beyond general ones should be directed to a qualified lawyer. For specific advice, the AGSC strongly recommends that: members seek information from the relevant Government authority, lawyer, tax professional or other industry professional.

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