A music publisher (or publishing company) is responsible for ensuring the songwriters and composers receive payment when their compositions are used commercially. Through an agreement called a publishing contract, a songwriter or composer “assigns” the copyright of their composition to a publishing company. In return, the company licenses compositions, helps monitor where compositions are used, collects royalties and distributes them to the composers. They also secure commissions for music and promote existing compositions to recording artists, film and television.
The copyrights owned and administered by publishing companies are one of the most important forms of intellectual property in the music industry. (The other is the copyright on a master recording which is typically owned by a record company.) Publishing companies play a central role in managing this vital asset.