How Much For Your Copyright?

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I’ve always felt that owning the copyrights to your own music was golden as there are many advantages and the payoff can be substantial. As an example: If you have success as a composer and years down the road you want to “cash out” and sell to a larger company, owning a catalog of your copyrights can potentially mean a big pay day. BTW this is done all the time.

Recently I was offered an exclusive deal with a three year term, 50/50 sync fee, 50/50 PRO income and a reversion clause IF the earned income did not exceed $300 in PRO money and/or sync fees. If that threshold was crossed, the library would own the song/cue in perpetuity. In essence they would own the copyright forever. I had worked with this library in the past with informal exclusive and non-exclusive deals and some decent placements were made. Based on my past experience with them I was willing to give it a try with a higher dollar threshold. I countered their offer but that was rejected so I passed on the deal. No harm no foul but if I was going to run the risk of losing a copyright the payoff had to be larger for me.

Now any one particular song/cue could cross the threshold and go on to make huge sums of money, fizzle out or end up somewhere in between. Of course it might never cross the threshold and you would get your song back after three years. It’s a crap shoot. Many smaller music libraries offer a similar deal with the same basic terms but NO income threshold. In other words there is NO option for them to own the copyright. This allows you to continue on with that company if you are happy with their performance or cancel the agreement after the contract period. In my opinion a much fairer deal, at least for the state of the library business today.

What’s in it for a library to own your copyright in the way that was offered to me? One aspect is to build a catalog of copyrights with no out of pocket costs. Get enough composers to sign on and they can quickly build a catalog of copyrights. As I mentioned above, owning copyrights is where the real power lies. I’m not faulting the company for offering this as everyone has a right to run their business as they see fit and it’s a smart business move on their part. But we all should be aware of the implications of giving up a copyright.

So… How much money would you accept to give up your copyright to a song/cue?

Art Munson

9 thoughts on “How Much For Your Copyright?

  1. Hi all… this is all very new to me and I would love to get your thoughts with regards to this deal I’ve been offered by a music library in the UK.

    The Deal terms are…
    · Transfer of Copyright to Twisted Jukebox
    · Everything is split 50 ­ 50. Instead of just a one off payment as a buyout, you¹ll earn forever on any sync fees plus future royalties.
    · Upfront sync fees and total publishing royalties are split 50 ­50
    · You will get 100% of the writer¹s share of performance income.
    · Our running costs (mastering, artwork, distribution) are non recoupable, so you earn from the first penny.

    Do those sound like fair terms? The top one is the one that concerns me the most and seems related to what is being discussed in this posting. It’s a UK library and maybe they do things differently there?

    I’d appreciate any help with this.

  2. Have you ever heard of dick griffey, he was the owner of solar records and he owned 50% of LA Ried’s and Babyfaces copyrights since they started out, then he sold his catalog off in mid 2000 for 6.5 million, got into the diamond business thinking he would make billions and lost everything

    he died from the stress and his family had no money to pay for the funeral, his friends had to do multiple email blasts to raise enough money for a decent funeral,

    myself I sold my active tv film music catalog off in 2007 to a music company and ended up after taxes and bills paid with 20k which I know is not much but it was enough to fake it as a movie producer and raise money for films.

    so I got into the movie biz as a producer for 6 months, thought I would make millions, I was in bed with guys like jeff bergenstein, “his former partner recently bought miramax”, I lost all of my money in a year due to the writers strike, and have been trying to get my income level back up since 2008 doing tracks, cues for tv shows and movies,

    I hear now that it is harder than ever before to get placements, I have over 500 tracks / cues in various libaries, I have heard a lot of my music on TV recently so I hope my bmi money will be way better than before, as a matter of fact I have had to borrow from friends to keep on going and let me tell you that me selling my catalog was the WORST mistake “times a thousand” of my life,

    the point is never never never sell your copyrights

    • DesireInspires says:

      I think selling one’s catalog is more of a personal choice. It shouldn’t be based off of a few horror stories or bad experiences from others. It could be lucrative in the right situation. It all really comes down to the right situation at the right time. Selling one’s catalog can be very beneficial as long as the seller manages the money correctly.

  3. This is not an answer to the question per say, just some food for thought.

    There’s clearly a shift going on in the library world now as non-exclusives start to see the glass ceiling of opportunities that they can’t access without exclusive deals in place. Their shifting their model, but seem to be trying to do so in exactly the same way they built up their current catalogue: by banking on the endless supply of free music out there from musicians hungry for placements. This drove the value of music down to $0, since nothing is offered upfront and the some libraries offer gratis licenses to their clients to help build up their market share, so it’s not surprising that so little is being offered in return for exclusivity now.

    There’s no one correct answer to the question above, but this shift presents an opportunity for musicians to reevaluate what they think they’re worth, and the answer has to be greater that $0.
    Here’s a great blog post about the relative value of music and the importance of creating context for your work:

    http://www.musicthinktank.com/blog/is-your-music-in-an-art-gallery-or-at-ikea.html

  4. I can only relate to a deal for commercially released tracks. It was about 5k per track with a 70-30 split in my favor. Different clauses with further advances if targets were met etc. Library doubled their advance but I didn’t reach the required amount to be resigned, so tracks from that period are still theirs but I am now a free agent. Not a massive advance but a good split.

    • “Library doubled their advance but I didn’t reach the required amount to be resigned, so tracks from that period are still theirs but I am now a free agent. Not a massive advance but a good split.”
      oops Library should have been Publishing Company. This case is of course not for Library music per se.

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