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CHECK THE RHYME: PUBLISHING


In music, "publishing" refers to owning and managing the rights associated with musical compositions. It involves administering the copyrights related to songs, including licensing the use of those songs, collecting royalties, and protecting the rights of the songwriters and composers.


Here are the critical aspects of music publishing:


  1. Copyright Ownership: When a songwriter or composer creates a musical composition (including lyrics and melody), they automatically hold the copyright to that composition. Music publishers often acquire these rights through contracts with the creators, allowing them to exploit the compositions commercially.

  2. Licensing: Music publishers grant licenses to individuals or entities, allowing them to use the compositions for various purposes, such as recording, performing, or syncing with visual media (e.g., films, TV shows, commercials). These licenses can be exclusive (granting sole rights to the licensee) or non-exclusive.

  3. Royalty Collection: Music publishers collect royalties generated from the use of compositions. These royalties can come from various sources, including radio airplay, streaming services, live performances, and synchronization deals. They then distribute these royalties to songwriters, composers, and other rights holders based on the terms of their contracts.

  4. Administration: Music publishers handle the administrative tasks of managing copyrights, such as registering compositions with performing rights organizations (PROs), tracking usage, negotiating licensing deals, and ensuring proper royalties are collected and distributed.

  5. Promotion and Marketing: Music publishers may also promote the songs they represent, pitching them to recording artists, producers, and other potential licensees. They may offer creative input and assistance to help increase the compositions' visibility and commercial success.


A split sheet is a crucial document used in the music industry to determine the ownership and percentage splits of publishing rights for musical composition. It's typically used when multiple songwriters or composers collaborate on a song to clarify each person's ownership stake in the composition.


The split sheet lists all the contributors to the composition, including their legal names and any relevant affiliations (such as performing rights organizations). It specifies each contributor's ownership percentage in the composition. This percentage can vary depending on factors such as the extent of each person's contribution to the lyrics, melody, or musical arrangement. Each contributor typically signs the split sheet to acknowledge their ownership percentage and agreement to the terms outlined in the document. This helps to prevent disputes over ownership in the future. Sometimes, split sheets may include witness signatures to authenticate the agreement further.


A split sheet is an important legal and administrative document that helps ensure that all contributors receive proper credit and compensation for their contributions to the composition. It's precious when the composition generates royalties, as it records who is entitled to what percentage of the publishing revenue. Songwriters and composers must use split sheets when collaborating on a composition to avoid misunderstandings and disputes over publishing rights later.


The relationship between music labels and artists regarding publishing rights can vary significantly based on individual contracts and negotiations. While there have been cases where artists feel they've been taken advantage of or that labels have unfairly exploited their publishing rights, it's inaccurate to generalize that music labels universally "steal" artists' publishing. However, artists must carefully review and negotiate their contracts with labels to protect their rights, including publishing rights. 


Here are some key considerations:


  1. Contract Terms: Artists should thoroughly review all aspects of their contracts with labels, including provisions related to publishing rights. They should understand who owns the publishing rights to their music, how royalties are split, and whether the label controls the licensing and exploitation of the music.

  2. Publishing Ownership: Artists should be cautious if a label seeks to acquire ownership of their publishing rights outright. In some cases, labels may offer advances or other incentives in exchange for publishing rights, but artists should carefully weigh the long-term implications of such agreements.

  3. Royalty Rates: Artists should negotiate fair royalty rates for their recordings and compositions. This includes ensuring they receive a fair share of publishing royalties for using their music in various formats and platforms.

  4. Transparency and Accountability: Labels should be transparent about exploiting artists' music and collecting and distributing royalties. Artists should have access to detailed accounting statements and be able to audit the label's financial records if necessary.

  5. Legal Representation: When negotiating with labels, artists should seek legal representation from lawyers experienced in music industry contracts. A knowledgeable attorney can help artists understand their rights, negotiate favorable terms, and protect their interests.


Ultimately, the relationship between artists and labels should be based on mutual trust, transparency, and respect for each other's rights. While disputes over publishing rights and other contractual issues can arise, they can often be avoided or resolved through clear communication, fair negotiation, and careful legal review of contracts.


Rappers have also been involved in legal disputes over their publishing rights. Just like artists from other genres, rappers may find themselves in conflicts with labels, publishers, or other parties over various aspects of their publishing rights. 


Kanye West has been vocal about his frustrations with the music industry and has publicly discussed his desire to regain control over his masters and publishing rights. In September 2020, West tweeted out pages of his recording contracts with Universal Music Group, expressing his dissatisfaction with the terms and calling for reforms in the industry. While he has not filed a lawsuit related explicitly to his publishing rights, his actions and statements reflect broader concerns within the music community about ownership and control. In 2017, rapper and producer Juicy J sued his former label, Columbia Records, for allegedly failing to pay him royalties for his contributions to the hit song "Bandz a Make Her Dance." Juicy J claimed he was entitled to a share of the song's publishing royalties but had not received proper accounting or payment from the label. The lawsuit was reportedly settled out of court. Lil Wayne has faced legal battles over his publishing rights. In 2018, he sued Universal Music Group and SoundExchange, claiming that they were withholding millions of dollars in royalties owed to him for his contributions to Young Money Entertainment's catalog. The lawsuit alleged that Universal had improperly diverted funds that should have been paid to Lil Wayne as part of his publishing agreement. The case was eventually settled, with Lil Wayne reportedly receiving a significant payout.


These examples demonstrate that rappers, like artists in other genres, may encounter disputes over their publishing rights, resort to legal action to protect their interests, and seek compensation for alleged breaches of contracts or unpaid royalties.

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