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CWR (Common Works Registration) 101


by Abby North

One of the greatest obstacles music publishers face in royalty collections is proper and comprehensive registration of all their works.

Within the United States, there are several performance rights organizations (PROs), two of which (ASCAP and BMI) expressly allow publishers to register works by providing data files using Musicmark’s Electronic Batch Registration (EBR) standard. SOCAN, the Canadian PRO also accepts EBR files.

EBR data is delivered as an .xls file, which makes the format accessible to all publishers.

Outside of the United States and Canada, societies are called Collective Management Organizations (CMOs), and they often collect mechanical royalties, and sometimes collect synchronization fees in addition to performance royalties.

To batch register works at the CMOs outside of the United States and Canada, publishers must deliver their data via Common Works Registration (CWR), a “standard” that is not truly standard because of each society’s unique data and naming requirements and because most publishers do not have the tools required to export data in CWR format.

While the CWR data specification file is readily available, examples of correct CWR files are not. CWR files are text files that must be specifically formatted per the CWR standard. (Current CWR files have a “.v21” suffix, which indicates CWR version 2.1.)

Those publishers with the means and inclination to license Vistex’s Music Maestro royalty administration software are able to export CWR files from Music Maestro. However, even these exports are often fallible, due in part to each CMO’s specific data requirements, which Music Maestro’s software is not always programmed to deliver correctly.

Matija Kolaric (www.matijakolaric.com) is a software developer and music publishing expert from Croatia who has built a set of subscription-based CWR tools that give music publishers that do not use Music Maestro the ability to create valid, accepted CWR files. Kolaric’s tools include an “EBR to CWR” converter. Except in some unusual cases, EBR files contain enough data to create a CWR file that will be accepted by many CMOs and most sub-publishers. The tools are able to accommodate additional data, should it be necessary.

Even with access to CWR tools, the raw data must be clean and it must be comprehensive. Without clean data, the CWR files will be rejected and the works will not be registered.

Publishers that create their own royalty administration databases must be aware of how EBR and CWR work, and specifically, what fundamental data fields are absolutely required. Data that is entered into one’s own database must be exact and confirmed upon ingestion, or the result is likely to be “garbage in, garbage out.”

When estimating the time required to develop royalty administration tools, ample time should be allowed for development of the CWR and/or EBR export tools within the publisher’s database. Because of the differences in each society’s requirements and interpretations of the ‘standard,’ ongoing trial and error is required. Sometimes this process can take months or years.

Some of the CWR specific requirements are:

–Within each work registration in a CWR file, every controlled publisher must have a clear relationship with at least one writer.

— The publisher’s database should create and store a unique “Submitter Work ID” for each work, and that “Submitter ID” should be included in the CWR file.

— Many foreign societies use society-assigned agreement IDs to identify publishing agreements. These agreement IDs reference information about the relationships among the original publisher, administrator and sub-publishers in various territories. ICE, a licensing service created by PRS, STIM and GEMA, monitors these agreements and generates the IDs for those societies, as well as for Koda, Teosto, Tono, Buma/Stemra and Sabam. When registering works at any society that uses agreement IDs, that agreement ID must be included in the CWR file. Each ICE society represented in the agreement ID will also receive those works registrations.

All of the party names and international identification numbers assigned to songwriters and publishers (IPIs) represented under that agreement ID must be included in the file, and the data must be correct, or the CWR file will be kicked back.

— The territories represented by the CMOs must be indicated in the CWR file. Different societies have specific territory requirements for registrations. For example, APRA requires that all of its local territories, which include Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, are explicitly specified as included or excluded, something not required by PRS, whose local territories are United Kingdom and Ireland.

— Successful registrations require work titles and writer or publisher names that contain only allowed characters. For example, comma ‘,’ is allowed in a title, but not in a publisher’s name. An accent over an “e” (i.e. é)” is allowed only in some very specific cases.

After a publisher submits a CWR file to a society, that society returns an acknowledgement (ACK) file, which indicates which works were accepted and those that were rejected. For rejections, some explanation is typically provided, although the explanations are often not completely clear. Ideally, the royalty database has the ability to ingest and interpret ACK files so when a work is rejected, the publisher is alerted of the need to correct the data and re-submit the registration in a new CWR file.

After works have been successfully registered, the publisher is able to revise the registrations with new CWR files. The societies refer to the Submitter Work ID when identifying which work to revise.

While properly filling out an EBR or CWR file is not rocket science, many publishers find that their data is not ready for export to EBR or CWR. Though it may be extremely time-consuming, data clean-up and validation is crucial in works registration, or else substantial revenue could be missed globally.

11 thoughts on “CWR (Common Works Registration) 101”

  1. Hi Abby; So I am unclear as to the purpose of this info. Is it so composers in the USA can easily register with foreign societies? I thought we were not allowed to and that ASCAP collected the royalties through them.

    • Hi C.O.N.!

      All of your works should be registered at all societies around the world in order for you to maximize your collections. When your works are performed outside of the US, if the local society knows whose works have been performed, it is more likely to send the money to the right society, and the rightful owner is more likely to receive the distribution.

      Societies do not readily share registration data with one another, so even though your local society knows what works are yours when you register your works with that society, the other entities that may pay you need to have the information as well.

      Sub-publishers typically handle the works registrations in the territories where they represent the works.

      With regard to composers affiliating with ex-US societies, you are able to do that in most territories. You must “carve out” the territory from your local PRO, and then assign that territory to an ex-US society.


      • Hi Abby,

        AudioSparx (and RadioSparx) highly recommends against what you’re proposing, to have your tracks registered at all societies around the world. The reason for this is that doing so deprives you of the ability to direct-license your music in any territory where the PRO your music is registered at gains exclusive control over the public performance licensing of your music rights.

        With RadioSparx and in general, direct licensing is the present and the future of commercial instore music business, so don’t deprive yourselves of the ability to participate in that as widely geographically as possible by tying up your rights with exclusive-control PROs.

        By registering your tracks only at a US PRO, they do not require exclusive control and you can therefore participate in both statutory licensing (via the PROs’s licensing) and direct licensing (via RadioSparx).

        This is our strong professional recommendation for artists who wish to have meaningful participation in one of the most lucrative segments of the music business.


        Lee Johnson

        • I agree with Lee that if you direct license your works, issues may arise.
          However, registering the data at a society with which you are not affiliated does not necessarily give that society the right to license the work. It simply gives them the data regarding the work, so that should a performance occur, that society knows how to distribute the money to your home society.

          • Abby is correct, the determinitive factor is which PRO you are a member of. You can only be a member of one PRO at any given time, and it is their license that governs what rights in your music they control, and what they can do with your music, and by extension, how they can license it to foreign PROs. So, foreign society track registrations are fine, but not foreign society member registration. Stick with ASCAP or BMI in the US, or if you’re affiliated with a foreign PRO, move to ASCAP or BMI instead to “take back” your right to direct-license your music.

            We advocate for the ability and right for composers to simultaneously be able to participate in both statutory and direct licensing, to maximize their opportunities and earnings. It should never have to be one or the other, as the European societies force it to be for their members (i.e. no direct licensing permitted for their member’s music).



          • Hi All,

            Actually, sorry, I need to make a correction related to my last post. Foreign track registrations can definitely become problematic towards preserving your ability to direct-license your music.

            This is the case since the entity that would be creating those foreign track registrations for you would be a sub-publisher who IS a direct publisher member of a foreign PRO. Most foreign PROs require exclusive licensing control of performance rights from tracks registered with them for royalty collections from member sub-publishers. Hence, having a sub-publisher register your works at a foreign PRO will likely create an exclusive rights grant to the foreign PRO. This in turn prevents you from direct-licensing your works in that country as well as potentially many other countries due to the reciprocal collection obligation between the various countries.

            So our recommendation still stands strongly against this practice of pursuing foreign society registrations via sub-publishers, due to the major negative impact it can have on your ability to direct-license your music internationally.



  2. Wow Abby, great info! Thank you!
    Is there a best practice for the format of the Submitter Work ID? (aside from it being alphanumerical?)

    • Hi Scott!

      Thanks so much 🙂

      Every database seems to have its own system. My system’s IDs are numeric only (6 characters), but with that format, we do run the risk of our ID not being globally unique.

      I’ll ask Matija if he’d like to weigh in.


    • “Every database seems to have its own system.”

      I kind of took my “cue” (no pun intended) from what manufactures do and modified it. As an example a typical track would be HR0001.00. That would be identified (to me at least) as Hard Rock cue #1 the .00 would indicate the main track. .01, .02, .03, etc. would designate alternate mixes. An example might be .01 = DnB, .02 = Bed. I would then use alternate titles (aliases) to define further.

      HR0001.00 = Rowdy Rock
      HR0001.01 = Rowdy Rock – DnB
      HR0001.02 = Rowdy Rock – Bed


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