Lesson 8: How to Register a Work

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We’ve learned quite a bit about the industry, the different parties involved in it and the flow of money. What we are yet to understand is how these different parties know who to pay for the usage of a song. In this lesson we will learn more about how the actual process of registering a work takes place, and about some industry-wide formats and identifiers that make it easier to register works correctly.

CWR, ACK, ISWCs and more abbreviations

Before we finally dive into the process of registering works, we will look at a few terms and abbreviations (the music industry really loves abbreviations) that will help you have a better understanding of the wonderful world of work registrations.

CWR - Common Work Registration

Common Work Registration, almost always referred to as CWR, is a standardised format for work registrations. CWR is accepted by most collection societies to register works with them. It means publishers can send their repertoire’s metadata to their entire society & sub-publishing network in a single file format. CWRs can’t be populated manually and need to be exported by the publisher’s software. For more information about CWR, check out this article we wrote on the subject. 

ACK - Acknowledgement Files

When a collection society has received your CWR formatted work registration and has processed them, it will send you back an ACK file. ACK is short for Acknowledgement, and in this file the society will acknowledge your registration. The ACK file will provide you with the status of the work registration at this specific society: if all is well the work is registered and acknowledged. If there is an issue with your registration, the ACK file will specify the problem so you can review it and send it for registration again.

IPI - Interested Party Information

An IPI is a unique number that’s assigned to every rights holder that is a member of a collection society. IPI numbers are used when sending writer and publisher information to reflect claims on a work. By using a unique identifier, collection societies and licensees make sure they’re paying the correct writer (which is very useful if your name is John Smith). IPI numbers are 9-11 digits long.

Local identifiers

Local societies use their own identifiers linked to works and even to writers. For example, the below screenshot of ASCAP’s database shows their own Work ID (in the orange square).. Societies use this ID for their own internal matching and reporting purposes, but often also include it in their onwards reporting to writers and publishers. Societies often call these identifiers a Work ID or a Tunecode

ISWC - International Standard Musical Work Code

You may have guessed that each society using a different identifier for the same work causes inefficiencies in the global flow of royalties. You can compare it to a car having to switch licence plates every time it crosses a border and to find its right licence plate for that territory in a database of a hundred million different licence plates. To counter this inefficiency, the publishing industry has developed the ISWC. An ISWC is to a work what an IPI is to a rights holder: it’s a unique identifier for a single work that’s used industry-wide. ISWCs get assigned automatically when a new work is registered, though the registration does need to contain the work title, all writers+IPIs, an indication whether a work is derived from an existing work (and if so, the relevant code), and a category type. In practice, it means an ISWC is not always assigned and thus, unfortunately, not always used in the allocation of international revenue.

How to register your repertoire

Registering works with your collection society is usually pretty straightforward. Most societies have a portal you can log in to, where you can manually register your works by submitting all the relevant information (more on that later). If you have a lot of works to register, you can use the CWR format we mentioned earlier to register works in bulk. Your local society will be able to provide you with the information on how and where to upload the CWR file. Often this is done through their FTP or by sending it to a specific email address. Don’t wait too long to register your works: the sooner the societies know about your work, the sooner they can licence it!

Most society portals require the following information to be able to register a work:

  • Work Title
  • Work Writers (and their IPIs)
  • Writer’s shares in the work - these need to add up to 100%
  • An indication of your controlled share and writers

If you are registering works that have previously been registered with a society before, make sure you include the ISWC in your registrations if you have it. This will make it easier for the society to match your registration to existing ones. If you know the ISRC of the matching sound recording (a unique identifier assigned to each recording), make sure to include it. This will make it easier for the societies to match online revenue to the correct work in their database, and make sure you don’t rely on inefficient (and potentially ineffective) manual mapping processes performed by the society. The more data you can provide, the better. If your work has alternative titles, include them on your registration. If you know the performing artist, duration of the song, language and created date, these can also be included.

The total controlled share picture of a work is what is often referred to as an IP Chain or Chain of Title. This chain lists the publishers and writers, their IPI numbers to identify them, and their respective shares in the work.

You are only responsible for providing publisher information for your controlled writers. If there are other publishers involved in the work, they will send their own registration for their controlled writers and clarify their chain of title. The society will merge these registrations to reflect one complete ownership picture for the work. If these registrations don’t match and create a total claim of more than 100% on the work, the society will raise a dispute for the work. The claiming parties are notified that their registrations don’t add up and are asked to resolve the problem. Income for all involved parties is put on hold until the dispute has been resolved.

Certain societies require agreement numbers in order to register works. This will help the society link the works to the correct agreement, establishing the correct chain of title. PRS needs to assign a number upon registration of a new agreement before you can register works with them. Different rules may apply to different societies, so always check with your societies which rules may apply to you and your repertoire.

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