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I'm in the process of putting together a personal music database and now at the point where I'm adding in publishing credits for albums. What confuses me is the overall format on how they're listed in album booklets. For this album in particular each publisher appears to be delimited by a backslash / and sometimes double backslashes //.

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Are the single backslashes used to indicate some kind of pairing? For instance, are, Please Gimme My Publishing and EMI Blackwood Music Inc together? Also, do these two share the same licenser, BMI or is it just EMI Blackwood Music that's under BMI?

Additionally I was wondering what the difference between a publisher having an admin and o/b/o (which I later found out stands for on behalf of).

enter image description here

I understand formatting differs from album to album but did notice a pattern with single backslashes across many. Can anyone clear this up for me?

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  • Two or more companies sharing the limelight, that's all. Probably because there are multiple composers and they don't share publishing companies. – BCdotWEB Sep 27 '16 at 14:51
  • Not sure I follow. With what you said, who would be the composer(s) vs. publisher(s) from the two images above? – Carl Edwards Sep 27 '16 at 14:58
  • Impossible to say. Even in context it is a puzzle. Look at the wiki for Kanye West's album and try connecting the numerous composers to the companies they belong to, and keep in mind that in some cases the publishing firm is actually listed because of a sample etc. Check the BMI or ASCAP (etc.) databases,... – BCdotWEB Sep 27 '16 at 15:06
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The short answer is: it's complicated.

The long answer is: there are several classes of interested parties involved.

First, you have the rights holding entity, which is likely to be a business dedicated solely to handling all publishing-related matters on behalf of the actual songwriters - owned by the songwriters themselves. There are several reasons to introduce this additional layer of separation between the songwriter and publisher - from limiting liability, to providing a single point of contact for joint songwriting efforts (as with a group). There may also be tax issues involved.

Next, you have the publisher - a business that secures licenses or purchases copyright assignments from the rights holding entities and subsequently licenses the copyrights.

Songwriters who wish to retain a greater degree of control over their copyrights may retain a publisher to merely administer their copyrights. That is: undertake all the clerical tasks with regards to registering the works and collecting royalties on behalf of the rights holder, in return for a share of revenue. This allows the rights holders to delegate the more mundane tasks of collecting mechanical and public performance royalties, whilst retaining all control over other licensing aspects - such as synchronisation licenses.

On occassion, a publisher based in one territory will delegate administrative tasks in another territory to an affiliated publisher that will act as agent on behalf of the publisher with whom the copyrights are vested (in whatever fashion).

Lastly, in the United States there are several performing rights organisations (PROs), that conduct collective licensing on behalf of the songwriters. ASCAP and BMI are the best known, with SESAC and GMR commanding a vastly smaller market share of works. An American rights holder will be associated with one (and only one) of those. A foreign rights holder will designate one of them to represent their work in the United States.

There is no set format for displaying publishing information, but based on the above we can proceed to decipher the above examples. I won't go over them all.

Please Gimme My Publishing Inc. is a Kanye West company and I am assuming it is acting as his rights holding vehicle; with EMI Blackwood Music Inc. (now a Sony/ATV company) acting as administrating publisher (or co-owner; absent contractual details, we have no way to check). The designated PRO is BMI.

Papa George Music appears to be another rights holding vehicle, with its rights administered by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. (designated PRO: BMI)

For the Write Price Inc. is Kelly Price's rights holding company, and the rights are administered by Kobalt Songs Music Publishing (designated PRO: BMI)

And so on...

(The format in this case is that associated entities - rights holder/administrator are separated by single slashes, whilst the various rights holding interests are separated by double slashes)

In the latter case, Britney Spears Music is Britney's rights holding vehicle, with Zomba Songs Music Inc. as administrator (and possibly, co-owner). EMI Music Publishing Ltd. is a UK company, with Colgems-EMI Inc. acting as its agent in the U.S. etc.

  • Thank you so much for such a detailed answer. You bring up an interesting observation at the end of your answer. For the o/b/os why does these companies usually need agents? – Carl Edwards Sep 27 '16 at 16:41
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    @CarlEdwards Bear in mind that we are dealing with international arrangements. There may be many reasons why it is not a good idea for a company based in one country to do business in another - a local business will be better acquainted with the legal specifics of the target territory, as well as the market itself. This is especially the case with the U.S., which is both a very large and highly developed market, with its own quirks and details. It is quite common to have a local label/publisher work the U.S. even if you handle the rest of the world. – Faza Sep 27 '16 at 17:18

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