Music Publishing And Performing Rights Organizations

By: Jerry A. Greene

Question: I am setting up my first publishing company and am going to affiliate with ASCAP since I am a writer member. I understand that you need to affiliate with the same performing rights organization that you are a writer with, but can a publishing company belong to more than one PRO? The reason that I ask this is that I am interested in publishing music by a friend of mine and she's a BMI writer.

Answer: A publishing company can only affiliate with one performing rights organization, but that doesn't mean you can't own two separate publishing companies.

Separate Music Publishing Catalogs

You can create publishing companies for both ASCAP and BMI, but they must be under two completely different business entities. This is actually something very common in the industry. If you look at all the big music publishing corporations, they have a business entity that heads up the ASCAP side, and another one that heads up the BMI side (SESAC is the other PRO in the United States .)

Note: I leave out SESAC in most of my talk about PRO's because it is generally considered to be an invitation-only membership, which most people do not easily qualify for. ASCAP and BMI are pretty much open to just about anyone that has music commercially available to the public.

ASCAP Handles ASCAP, BMI Handles BMI

Only ASCAP publishers can publish songs from ASCAP writers. The same is for BMI. Both PRO's essentially do the same thing (collect royalties and distribute them to their members). Which one pays more, is debatable. If you want to publish a song that is owned by writers that are affiliated with two separate PRO's, then the song must be split between the two PRO's. In actuality, this is perhaps the best way to see which performing rights organization pays more for a particular song.

Foreign Publishing Rights

You can set up publishing companies in other countries and affiliate with the PRO's that operate there, but the most common way of handling your foreign music publishing rights is to work a deal with existing music publishers, in the countries you are interested in promoting your music. They then administer the copyright for you in their country, for a share of the profit.

ASCAP and BMI both have foreign divisions for some countries, in which they are able to collect some royalties for you. They can also assist you in finding foreign music publishers to work with in other countries that are currently out of reach of ASCAP's and BMI's foreign relation programs.