2.8 Legal Primer



1. Export Strategies

2. Digital Rights

2.1 Insurance

2.2 Trademarking

2.3 PRS and royalties

2.4 Publishing

2.5 Synchronisation

2.6 Youtube

2.7 Other income streams

2.8 Legal Primer

2.9 Being commissioned internationally

3. Support and Funding

4. International 101

5. Conclusion

2.8 Legal Primer


We interviewed Robert Horsfall from Sound Advice to answer some questions provided by composers working with Sound and Music, to ask him for his top tips on protecting your music when exporting.

Robert Horsfall trained at the City firm, Theodore Goddard, where he spent three years in the entertainment department, before joining Lee & Thompson in 1985 to specialise in the music industry, working with various labels, publishers, artists and managers. He rejoined in 1991 and represented household names such as Robbie Williams, All Saints and Charlotte Church, closely overseeing the settlement of a number of high profile disputes.

Robert was previously Director of Business Affairs at London Records, whose roster included Fine Young Cannibals, Hothouse Flowers, Salt-N-Pepa and Run DMC. He has also written extensively on legal issues within the music business, including editing the IAEL “Back to the Future” book in 2004 and contributing to the 2009 IAEL book on 360º deals. He has contributed to numerous international conferences including In The City, Midem, By:Larm and Music Connects.

Robert currently concentrates exclusively on representing creative talent. His clients at Sound Advice include Robert Plant, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Pendulum, Knife Party and many emerging artists such as (Mercury Prize Nominee) Sam Lee and Gabby Young. Robert has recently focused on representing overseas talent who are targeting the UK and European markets, working with acts from Australia, Norway and India.

Here are his answers to the questions you asked:

-  What are my first steps to protecting my music before working abroad?

Assuming the writer does not already have a publishing deal, he/she should join his/her local performance society and mechanical rights society. In the UK these are both covered by membership of PRS for Music.  They will register the writer’s compositions and assume responsibility for all income collection, from radio broadcasts and record sales.

-  Is there any 'Idiot's Guide to PRS,' as I can’t seem to work out how to get money from them?

If the PRS website cannot help you then check out Ann Harrison’s book, Music: The Business. You can also call PRS directly to ask for advice or (if you are a member) an explanation of member services.

-  How are royalties are collected from TV use and does the same apply when only a very small snippet of a piece is used?

In simple terms, all TV stations need blanket licenses with the collection societies. They regularly file returns, listing what music they have featured, and the writer’s royalties are calculated against set tariffs paid by the TV stations to the societies.

-  How does one receive money from performances outside the UK?

Broadcast and performance income is collected by the overseas collection societies who have reciprocal agreements with PRS for Music.

-  Should I register with multiple collection societies?

Most composers register with one society on a worldwide basis.

-  When sampling, how do I find copyright free samples?

Be careful here to ensure that the source you take the sample from states very clearly that all 3rd party licenses have been obtained from all relevant rights owners. Tread carefully and if ever in doubt do not sample, as I once saw a client suffer from being over reliant on misleading information on the disc from which he sampled and it didn’t end positively.

-  How can I waiver copyright?

Any rights waived by a copyright owner should be confirmed in writing and not be given verbally.  Again, if in doubt, consult a person with specialist knowledge.

-  Are there common red flags to look out for when protecting compositions?

Generally, give as much detail as possible about yourself, your membership details (of PRS or equivalent) and details of all of your works.

-  Is there an international standard procedure to negotiating contracts (for publishing etc.)?

There are large communities of specialist lawyers working for artists in the main music markets. Ideally, any contract in which the composer is licensing or assigning rights to another party should be shown to a specialist lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer then some local unions – e.g. the Musician’s Union in the UK – may be able to give some informal advice for free.  Remember: always tread with caution.


If you are being commissioned to create a new piece, then similarly you should seek advice as above to ensure you are not granting any rights that you are not aware of, or creating future problems for yourself. Things to look out for include:

●     Are production costs included? If this isn’t made clear, then you may have to foot the bill for costs for preparing materials or equipment, or transporting them

●     Will they pay for your travel and accommodation so you can be there when it is presented for the first time?

●     Are they asking for any share of copyright? (Note: this is only commonplace in TV and film, so be wary if this is included in other cases. Remember that copyright lasts for 70 years after your death - do you really want to hand over something for that length of time?)

●     Are they asking for any kind of exclusivity (i.e. are they specifying that the new piece cannot be presented in any other context for a period of time) and are you okay with that?


And here’s Robert’s top four tips for exporting your compositions abroad:

  1. When you start off writing, join your local performance society such as PRS for Music in the UK.
  2. If recordings of your music start getting released, consider joining the local mechanical society (in the UK this is covered by your membership of PRS for Music).
  3. If you are beginning to get regular international work, it may be worth looking for an experienced manager or agent, or a lawyer, to give you advice on how best to manage what can quite quickly become quite a complex juggling act, and to ensure your interests are safeguarded.
  4. Keep a good archive of your work and keep your music stored so that it can be reliably accessed if ever there is a dispute about your authorship rights.

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