PUBLISHING (Made Simple) © Sheldon P. Starke, Attorney at Law

Understanding “Publishing” is easy only if you understand the language. As I have said in other articles, there are three basic things you absolutely must know in every business: 1. The units of trade,
2. The price per unit, and 3. The language of the business. In this case the thing that people misunderstand is #3., The Language.

Before we get confused about The Language, this one time, let’s ignore it. Consider that a copyright is a pie . . . a circle. The whole pie belongs to the author, writer or creator of the work. The copyright creator initially owns the whole pie. Now to promote that pie for sale, someone has to do that job. Of course the owner/creator can do that—but it takes connections! Promoting the “pie” or what the copyright law calls, “the work,” requires relationships. If an author does not have connections, it is usually best to hook-up with a publisher. Now, this example I am using refers to the songwriter (artists such as painters, photographers and the like, will use different outlets for their work and the percentages are different). We can deal with the other creative artists in another blog.

Now, in this instance we focus on the songwriter who has and initially owns the copyright “pie.” The “problem” I discussed earlier is the language of what comes next: When we look at this pie or circle, “common sense” says if you create it you own 100% of the copyright. That is correct. You own 100%. Now, the biggest problem that comes when the language of the old time publishers developed. Now you have written this song. You want the publisher to take the material and get it recorded and out there making money. For the beginnings of the confusion we go back to New York City in 1890-1910 to West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. A group of music publishers got together and though they were competitive, they also considered that it was smart thinking to be one of a group of publishers, centrally located to each other. “Tin Pan Alley” was the name that was given to these early music biz entrepreneurs. These publishers, so we understand, came up with the most confusion part of publishing . . . the language.

The writer’s “end” was half of the copyright. The publisher’s “end” was the other half, or fifty-percent of the copyright. The writer(s) keep ½ of the copyright. The Tin Pan Alley publishers called the “publishers’ share” actually, 50% of the copyright, what they called and remains to be called 100% of the publishing. So when you hear about 100% of the publishing, you know that is the publisher’s 50%. No one gets the author’s (writer’s) portion except the author. All of the confusion about basic music publishing comes from the language used between the publishers in the days of Tin Pan Alley.

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