March 6, 2023

Songwriter Agreement

This article has been written by Ms. Tashveen Kaur , a 1st year BA LLB student from Army Institute of Law ,Mohali.


Music production consists of the process of entering into and negotiating legal contracts at various stages due to the involvement of Intellectual Property. One of which is songwriter agreements.

What are songwriter agreements?

Songwriter agreements are legal contracts that define the terms of a working relationship between a songwriter and a music publisher or a record label. These agreements govern the ownership, use, and distribution of the songwriter’s compositions.

Songwriter agreements typically cover several key provisions, including:

Ownership: The agreement defines who owns the copyrights to the songwriter’s compositions. In most cases, the songwriter retains ownership of the copyright, but the publisher or record label may have certain rights to exploit the compositions, such as the right to make recordings, license the compositions for use in films, TV shows, and commercials, and collect royalties.

Term: The term of the agreement specifies how long the songwriter will be bound to the publisher or record label. Typically, the term is for a fixed number of years, but it may also be contingent on certain events, such as the release of a certain number of albums or the achievement of specific sales milestones.

Advances: Publishers and record labels often provide songwriters with an advance against future royalties to cover the costs of creating and promoting their compositions. The agreement will specify the amount of the advance and the terms under which it must be repaid.

Royalties: The agreement outlines how the songwriter will be compensated for the use of their compositions. This includes mechanical royalties for the sale of physical or digital recordings of the compositions, performance royalties for the public performance of the compositions, and synchronization royalties for the use of the compositions in films, TV shows, and commercials.

Termination: The agreement specifies the circumstances under which either party can terminate the relationship. This may include breaches of the agreement, failure to achieve certain sales targets, or other factors.

Overall, songwriter agreements are designed to protect the interests of both the songwriter and the publisher or record label, while also ensuring that the songwriter is fairly compensated for their work.

Advantages and disadvantages of songwriter agreements 

There are both advantages and disadvantages to songwriter agreements, which are legal contracts that define the terms of a working relationship between a songwriter and a music publisher or a record label. Here are some of the key advantages and disadvantages:


  • Financial support: Songwriter agreements often provide financial support to songwriters in the form of advances against future royalties, which can help them fund their creative endeavors.
  • Industry connections: By signing a songwriter agreement, songwriters can gain access to industry connections and opportunities that they might not have had otherwise.
  • Professional guidance: Songwriter agreements often come with professional guidance and support from the publisher or record label, which can help songwriters hone their craft and improve their chances of success.
  • Copyright protection: Songwriter agreements provide legal protection for the songwriter’s copyrights and can help ensure that they receive fair compensation for the use of their compositions.


  • Loss of creative control: Songwriter agreements often give the publisher or record label control over the use and distribution of the songwriter’s compositions, which can limit the songwriter’s creative freedom.
  • Financial risk: Advances provided by publishers or record labels are typically recoupable, meaning they must be paid back out of future royalties. This can leave songwriters in debt if their compositions don’t generate enough revenue.
  • Lengthy term: Songwriter agreements can be lengthy, often lasting for several years, which can limit a songwriter’s ability to pursue other opportunities during that time.
  • Royalty splits: Publishers or record labels typically take a percentage of the royalties generated by the songwriter’s compositions, which can reduce the amount of money the songwriter earns.

Parties to songwriter agreements 

Songwriter agreements typically involve two main parties: the songwriter and the publisher.

Songwriter: The songwriter is the person who creates the musical composition, including the melody and lyrics. The songwriter may be an individual, a group of individuals, or a company.

Publisher: The publisher is the person or company responsible for promoting, distributing, and licensing the musical composition on behalf of the songwriter. The publisher may also provide advances to the songwriter, which are recouped from the royalties earned by the song.

In some cases, there may be additional parties involved in the agreement, such as co-writers or performing artists who have rights to the composition. These parties may also have a stake in the publishing rights or royalty payments, depending on the terms of the agreement.

Evolution of songwriter agreements in India 

The evolution of songwriter agreements in India has been shaped by various factors over time. In the early days of the Indian music industry, songwriters did not receive significant recognition or remuneration for their contributions to the creation of music. However, this began to change with the formation of the Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS) in 1969.

The IPRS was established to protect the rights of composers, lyricists, and publishers of music in India. The society initially focused on collecting royalties for the public performance of music, but later expanded its scope to include other forms of exploitation, such as broadcasting, synchronization, and digital downloads.

Over the years, the IPRS has played a crucial role in shaping songwriter agreements in India. The society has negotiated agreements with various stakeholders in the music industry, including broadcasters, digital platforms, and music labels. These agreements have ensured that songwriters receive fair compensation for their work and have helped to promote the growth of the Indian music industry.

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the rights of songwriters in India. The Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2012 introduced several changes to the copyright regime in India, including the recognition of moral rights for authors and the introduction of statutory licensing for certain types of works.

Additionally, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of protecting the rights of songwriters in the digital age. The IPRS has been at the forefront of this effort, working to ensure that songwriters are properly compensated for the use of their works on digital platforms.

Overall, the evolution of songwriter agreements in India has been shaped by a range of factors, including the role of the IPRS, changes to the legal framework, and the growth of the digital music market. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that songwriters are adequately compensated for their contributions to the music industry.

Case laws 

One of the landmark cases in India regarding songwriter agreements is the case of IPRS v. Sanjay Dalia & Anr. In this case, the Indian Performing Rights Society (IPRS) sued a hotel for playing music without obtaining a license from IPRS. The hotel argued that it had obtained licenses from the individual songwriters and composers, and therefore did not need a license from IPRS.

The court held that the hotel had to obtain a license from IPRS, as it was the authorized body to issue licenses for public performance of musical works. The court also held that the individual licenses obtained by the hotel were insufficient, as they did not cover the collective works owned by IPRS.

This case established the principle that collective rights management organizations such as IPRS have the exclusive right to issue licenses for public performance of musical works, and that individual licenses obtained from songwriters and composers do not supersede the need for a collective license.

Another notable case is the aforementioned case of Javed Akhtar v. Eros International Media Ltd. In this case, the Bombay High Court held that Eros International had to pay royalty to the lyricist Javed Akhtar for the use of his songs in the film “Bajrangi Bhaijaan.” The court held that the agreement between Akhtar and Eros International did not give the latter an unlimited right to exploit the compositions, and that Akhtar was entitled to a share of the revenue generated from the use of his compositions.

These cases highlight the importance of songwriter agreements and the need for clear and comprehensive terms that protect the rights of both the songwriters and the users of their compositions. It is always recommended to consult with a legal expert in India for specific advice on the drafting and negotiation of such agreements.


Songwriter agreements can be beneficial for songwriters, but they also come with potential drawbacks that should be carefully considered before signing. It’s important for songwriters to understand the terms of the agreement and to seek legal advice if necessary to ensure that their interests are protected.


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