Do I automatically own the copyright and publishing in my music?

YES. Unless you are directly employed by someone at the time and/or have made a prior agreement, all rights in the music and the recording of that music automatically reside with you upon creation. This includes the publishing. You do not need to register your work, pay any fees or fill in any forms for it to be protected. Copyright protection is automatic, both in Australia and overseas. As soon as you write down your lyrics or music, or record it onto any medium, such as a WAV or MP3 file, CD or tape, it will be protected by copyright. The only requirement is that the work is original (i.e. it is not copied) and the result of some skill or effort on your part.

What are royalties, and what is the difference between the Writer’s share and the so-called Publisher’s share?

This is a very important question. Please have a look at our Resources page on Royalties for answers.

How do I register my musical works so that I can receive royalties?

Join APRA AMCOS! Royalties are our lifeline. When the fees are low your royalties are often the only thing between you and the poverty line for the emerging composer. They help even out the trough between commissions and will keep the lights on. Regard them as your superannuation! Once you’ve joined, register each musical work you create in the APRA AMCOS Writer Portal, or in the APRA AMCOS Music Creators App, so you can get paid!

What is a cue sheet?

A cue sheet is a list of all the music and songs used in a film and television production. APRA AMCOS requires these for every locally produced program broadcast in Australia because they distribute royalties on the public performance (in this case, broadcasting) of the work. Unless you or the producers properly identify all the music used in a production, log this on a cue sheet and submit it to APRA AMCOS you will not be paid your royalties. Make sure that the details of each musical work matches your APRA AMCOS work registrations. More info here.

The production company wants to take some of my APRA AMCOS royalties. Can they do this?

If you assign part or all of your publishing to a client then they may be entitled to a share of the so-called publisher’s share of the royalties (for more information on royalties visit our Royalties resources page). Some networks or large production companies now have an affiliated publisher collecting on their behalf and may ask for this. While granting your publishing is commonplace in the USA it is not commonplace to assign your publishing in Australia, although it is becoming more so. If a client insists on a share of the publishing it might be wise to satisfy yourself that they can comprehensively exploit the work, especially in territories or via avenues where public performance revenues are highest. For example, free-to-air television attracts much higher royalty rates than streaming services where royalty payouts are vanishingly small. Some countries collect comprehensive and generous royalties negotiated by their performing rights organisation but other countries don’t even have a PRO and so do not collect royalties on your behalf. Try to negotiate to retain a higher proportion of your publishing royalties. If this is not possible, modifying the terms of your license, including a guarantee of future work on subsequent productions in your contract, (known as ‘first right of refusal’) or permitting you to reuse and re-exploit the Master recording are all possible ways to compensate you for the loss of your publishing should the fee remain low. Remember though, that the maximum a publisher can claim is 50% of the overall and in the absence of a contractual agreement, the publishing automatically resides with the composer.

What rights does a film maker need to acquire to use my music in their film? Does the music client need to own the copyright in the Music and or the Master recording to use my music?
Unlike releasing an album of existing songs or performing a public concert, the act of putting music to pictures requires specific permission from the owner of the music and also the recording. This is called a synchronisation (or sync) license which is simply permission to use the music under certain conditions to be negotiated between you and the client, and is outlined in your music agreement. A license can be granted exclusively, or non-exclusively and can be limited by territories and duration. But where the budget is adequate, it may be given “exclusively, for the universe, and in perpetuity”. Otherwise it is for you to negotiate the terms of the license agreement. It is not necessary for a client to own either the copyright in the music or the master recording to use music.
How do I get a gig scoring for film and TV?
There is no single reliable or predictable path to a career in screen music. Many established composers will have different and perhaps even unique routes to success. However, one constant is the need to network among your peers and with others in the film, television and gaming industries more broadly. Meet directors and producers, emerging film makers, collaborate with fellow composers, attend film festivals, workshops, seminars and perhaps even enrol in further study at an institution that offers courses in composition or screen music. It’s a long road and not for the faint-hearted!
How do I find out what productions are being commissioned and made?
Some funding bodies such as Screen Australia for example have a list of funding approvals. You can also subscribe to film & TV newsletters and keep an eye on upcoming productions. Networking among directors and producers and fellow composers certainly can’t hurt either!
What are the rights controlled by (or vested in) APRA AMCOS?
APRA AMCOS controls the performance right, communication right, and mechanical right of songwriters, composers and music publishers in Australia. What are these rights? APRA AMCOS has the definitions of these copyrights on their website here.
What shall I charge for the job I’ve just been offered?
Join the Guild. Talk to your fellow guild members for advice. Gain an appreciation of the multitude of variables you could take into consideration. For example, your reputation, your level of experience, the budget of the production, the genre or complexity of the score requested, the time required to deliver the score to a high standard, the time you have to do the job, whether or not live players are requested or needed, whether you retain ownership in the Music or Master or your publishing, the type of synchronisation license required or the duration of that license. This list is not exhaustive. You may wish to use the Rates Survey Data document as a guide. However, bear in mind that this is an individual decision which has to satisfy both parties.
Are fees, conditions and contractual norms the same for composers here in Australia as for composers overseas?
No, not necessarily. Conditions and standard industry practises vary considerably from territory to territory. For further information on conditions and contractual norms in various countries, please seek out their local Guilds and societies such as the Society of Composers and Lyricists (USA), the Screen Composers Guild of Canada, and the The Ivors Academy (formerly the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors – BASCA).
Do I need to have a publisher to be commissioned to score a picture?
No. In fact the vast majority of screen composers in Australia are not signed with a publisher. However, some production companies or broadcasters have set up publishing arms (or liaise with established publishers to collect on their behalf) to gain access to part or all of the so-called publisher’s share of your performance royalties. This has historically been rare in Australia but is becoming more common. Some of these deals are beneficial to the Writer as some production companies are highly effective at exploiting their product and by extension your musical works. However, many of these deals are happening even if exploitation is minimal and without any commensurate increase in up-front fee, or more generous contractual conditions. Please refer to our Copyright, Publishing and Licensing page and our Royalties page for more information.
My contact uses the term work-for-hire, buyout, or direct license. What does this mean?
It means you should seek the advice of an experienced entertainment law specialist! It also means that unless you negotiate clauses to the contrary, you are likely to be agreeing to a complete assignment in copyright. This means the new owner can exploit your music in any fashion across any media worldwide for the term of copyright without having to pay you a cent. At the very least, to financially compensate you for the loss of these rights you should significantly increase your upfront fee! Additionally, if you are an APRA AMCOS member you may be in breach of your membership if you sign a contract with these terms. Please contact the AGSC and APRA AMCOS for advice, but in the meantime, you can read more about these sorts of agreements here, and about APRA AMCOS membership and buyouts here.
What are moral rights?

Moral rights are a legal obligation to protect the relationship between artists and their work.

In Australia there are 3 moral rights:

  • the right of a creator to be named as the work’s author or creator (the right of attribution)
  • the right not to have their work falsely attributed to another (the right against false attribution)
  • the right to protect their work from unauthorised alteration, distortion or other derogatory treatment that prejudices his/her honour and reputation (the right of integrity).

However the third point is most often difficult for a Producer to uphold, because most films need the right to alter the music for multiple versions of the film. For example, to meet TV time slots, to incorporate advertisements, foreign language and in-flight versions etc) where consultation with the composer is not possible. Hence, many (actually most) film commissions/agreements ask a composer to consent this right to the Producer.

Therefore, to protect the first two points of a creator’s moral rights as noted above, the composer should make sure their contractual agreement with the Producer includes a section where the Producer is legally compelled to credit the Composer (right of attribution and the right against false attribution) on all copies of the film, and in equal prominence to other key creatives.

For further information on moral rights see here and here for more information

How do I join the AGSC board?

It is easy. All financial Full Members of the AGSC are most welcome to join the Board. The Board has a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 8 elected members. Nomination forms are sent out to all financial members 4 weeks prior to the Annual General Meeting, which is held withing 5 months of the end of the Financial Year, usually in September. Just fill it out and email it in. If there are more than 8 nominees it then goes to a vote. In addition, if any Board member is not at a meeting then any Full Member of the AGSC is entitled to step into their seat as an “alternate” board member with full voting rights.

Can I come to board meetings even if I’m not on the board?

All members are most welcome to come to Board meetings. If you would like to come along please email Annie Parnell – – and ask her to advise you of the next Board meeting.

Do board members, including the president and vice-president get paid to be on the AGSC board?

No, it is a labour of love for all and a way for composers to contribute back to their community.

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