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Distribution information guide: Unidentified songs and disputes

This information guide explains how APRA AMCOS deals with undistributed funds, which are held when songs and compositions cannot be identified or are the subject of a dispute.

Why does APRA AMCOS have undistributed funds?

We take paying the right copyright owners their royalties very seriously. Along with licence fees, we collect music usage data from multiple sources such as radio and TV stations, streaming services, live music performances and background music suppliers, to help us determine who should be paid royalties. Our data collection efforts amount to approximately 6 billion records per year and this number continues to grow.

APRA AMCOS employs sophisticated data matching technology to link music usage data received from licensees to our vast database of songs and compositions and corresponding ownership details. If our data matching processes fail to automatically match music usage data to the songs in our database, we have a team of researchers who work to identify songs and compositions and locate their copyright owners so they can be paid.

When a song or composition cannot be identified or the copyright owners cannot be found, we hold onto these funds. In some cases, songs or compositions can be identified, but the copyright owner is not represented by APRA or AMCOS or an affiliated society overseas. In this case we hold onto the funds until the copyright owner becomes a member of a collecting society.

For songs or compositions that are the subject of a dispute, for example when two songwriters are disputing their share of a song they have written together, we flag that song in our system. Any royalties that are earned for that song are held until the dispute is settled.

What steps does APRA AMCOS take to identify the copyright owners?

When a song or composition does not automatically match to our database, our research team steps in to identify songs and compositions and locate their copyright owners. The research process is manual and time consuming so in some cases it is not cost effective to research every unmatched song or composition. Our distribution rules and practices therefore include ‘research thresholds’, to indicate when research should be carried out. For example, when a song is downloaded by a music user and that song cannot be matched to our database, our staff will only undertake research if that song is due to be paid more than $100 in royalties from APRA and AMCOS. Where the research threshold is not met, the royalties are added back into the distribution pool, to be distributed against a proxy data source representing the most comparable music use possible.

In the cases of some blanket distributions, lists of unidentified songs are circulated to publishers before the distribution is made, to allow ownership to be fully identified before the distribution is run. In these cases, the full amount is distributed, and no funds are held aside for unidentified works.

How long does APRA AMCOS hold on to the funds?

APRA

Royalties for Unidentified or Disputed songs and compositions which have been used under blanket licences like TV and radio broadcasts are not held in cash terms - the distribution “points” value of the unidentified song or composition is carried forward to future distributions. Once we have identified the song and its copyright owner/s, the distribution “points” value is included and paid in the next distribution.

Unidentified songs and compositions with earnings from transactional licences like digital downloads, streaming services and live concerts are held in the APRA Suspense Account for as long as it takes to identify the copyright owner/s. Once identified, the held royalties are paid in the next distribution.

If a song has been identified as being written by a writer who is not a member of APRA, then cash is held in an APRA Royalty Adjustment Account. Our writer representatives then contact the writer, and the value that was held is paid out in full in the distribution after the writer becomes an APRA member.

The undistributed funds from songs or compositions that are the subject of a dispute are held until the dispute is resolved. Once resolved, the royalties are paid to the appropriate copyright owner in the following month.

AMCOS

Unidentified songs and compositions from physical product sales are held in the AMCOS Unidentified Control Account. Once we have identified the song and its copyright owner/s, the funds are paid in the next distribution. If the copyright owner cannot be identified within a period of 2 ½ years, the funds are refunded back to the client who paid the licence fees.

Unidentified songs and compositions from revenue sources other than physical product sales are held in the AMCOS General Control Account. The funds are held for as long as is it takes to identify the copyright owner, at which point they are paid in the next distribution.

The undistributed funds from songs or compositions that are the subject of a dispute are held until the dispute is resolved. Once resolved, the royalties are paid to the appropriate copyright owner in the next distribution.

How does APRA AMCOS distribute the funds if the copyright owner cannot be identified?

In many cases the funds are held for as long as it takes to identify the song and its copyright owner/s. However from time to time, the APRA and AMCOS Boards may decide to perform an extraordinary distribution of unclaimed funds which have been held for extended periods of time. These funds are distributed against a proxy data source, representing the most comparable music use possible, with a small portion of this distribution transferred to a contingency account, just in case claims are later made by members.

This process is in line with the constitutions of both APRA and AMCOS and ensures that unidentified funds do not continually grow without review and intervention. Importantly, this process does not apply to works that are unpayable due to a dispute between copyright owners.