Music Publishing and CWR

Contemporary music publishing industry relies heavily on Common Works Registration (CWR). With all its flaws, it is used way beyond its initial purpose and scope. Here is why.

Until very recently, there was only a single publicly available software solution for music publishing. Some majors have developed their own, but for most of the industry it was either this or Excel. In some rare cases, publishers used some custom Access or FileMaker. There was no standard way to exchange data between client’s and sub-publisher’s software. The only exception was CWR.

Beyond registrations

Although it was never conceived for this purpose, it became not only a standard for exchanging registrations and feedback between publishers and societies, but also a common way to exchange data between publishers and their sub-publishers. So far, this has mostly been an one-way street, since acknowledgment files sent from society to the sub-publishers have been useless for their clients. Our SaaS actually changes this, but that is another topic.

Resolving issues vertically

As much as CWR is flawed, it is the music publisher’s software that is the real culprit here. For example, when a sub-publisher is notified that there is a conflict, there is no standard way to send this information up the chain in a way that client’s software could be used for resolving the issue or escalating it further up the chain. And once the issue is resolved (hopefully), to notify sub-publishers down the chain what has happened and what are they to do. And this is just one of several important examples of issues that a music publishing SaaS must solve.

One must be honest and say that most of these issues are visible only to sub-publishers, but they must be resolved one step up the chain from the point where they manifest, because only there they can be resolved. Without a standard way to send the data back up the chain, we have to resolve to tricks and hacks, such as modifying CWR acknowledgments so that they can be imported into the up-chain as if they were acknowledgments to the CWR files produced by this system.

The better way

While this may seem like the only possibility, it actually is not. If everyone starting from the original publisher (or administrator) does their part of the process well, and use a proper solution, it is possible to import acknowledgment files sent from a society to any sub-publisher down the chain. All we have to do is to ditch sequential internal IP and work numbers in favor of IPI Name numbers and ISWC.

It actually would only take a good book on CWR and six months of development for a small team to turn any existing software into a really good one, one that uses the full potential of CWR, however flawed it is. Fixing the specs itself, well, that is a completely different story.