How do authors' societies work?

As soon as a creator has finished a work, a process is activated which aims to ensure the enforcement of his or her rights.  This process is called collective management and is carried out by collective management societies. It ends when the creator receives the benefits (royalties) of his creation.

The process is made up of the following steps:

Registration and Documentation
A creative work is protected by copyright law from the moment of its creation. It only needs to be tangible.

Nevertheless, authors’ societies encourage authors to register all the works they create. This will allow effective exercise of their rights. Some conditions for the registration of works vary from society to society.

The basic information required to protect intellectual property rights effectively, are details on the creator and on his or her works. This documentation allows collective administration to carry out its task.

For example, the only way authors’ societies can deal with distribution of royalties is on the basis of solid documentation. It should have exhaustive files of its members on the one hand, and of the repertoire it represents on the other.

As the representative of authors, collective management societies deal with the authorisation of the use of the author’s work. If a user meets the conditions set by the society, he will be licensed to use a specific work.

The major condition for use will be the payment of a royalty.  Moreover, you can think of rights stemming from the authors’ moral rights, like the integrity of his work or the respect of his name.

Tariffs are generally set as a result of negotiation between author’s societies and users. Sometimes, the law prescribes the tariff, like in the case of "droit de suite" (resale right) or of private copying.

According to the kind of work involved (music, literature, audio-visual works, "multimedia" productions, etc.), authors’ societies will manage different kinds of rights, depending on the forms of exploitation of the repertoire it represents.

Musical Works

Regarding musical works, the author’s society generally deals with the collective management of the rights of public performance and broadcasting. It negotiates with users - such as television stations, discotheques, cinemas, bars – and determines the payment for the use of copyrighted works from its repertoire and the conditions under which users are authorised.

Audiovisual Works

The rights management of audiovisual works - feature films, short films, TV films, serials, cartoons and works involving multimedia and still images – can be compared to that of music.


On behalf of audiovisual creators, the collective management society negotiates general representation contracts with broadcasters like television stations, cable networks and satellite packages.

Societies may also help individual authors to negotiate production contracts for cinema, TV, radio and multimedia, providing them with standard contracts, for instance.

Dramatic Works

In the dramatic field and although there are exceptions, the collective management organisation acts more as an agent representing authors. It negotiates with representatives of theatres on the terms for the exploitation of dramatic works.
When an individual author has signed a contract for a certain performance, his author’s society announces that permission has been given and collects the corresponding remuneration.


Printed Works

With regards books, magazines, newspapers, or the lyrics of songs, collective administration mainly involves the grant of the right of reprographic reproduction, by which institutions such as libraries, public organisations, universities and schools are allowed to photocopy protected material. Authors’ societies tend to administer this right.


Visual Arts

Providing users with access to works of visual art, while ensuring that these works are properly licensed, generally involves rights clearing on a work to work basis. The reproduction of works is granted upon demand against the corresponding fee.

A major theme on the legal agenda has been that of resale right, or "droit de suite". This right ensures that artists receive a percentage of the selling price each time a work is sold after the first sale.



On account of growing popularity of "multimedia" productions, there is a growing tendency to set up "one-stop-shops". These are a sort of coalition of separate collective management organisations, which offer a centralised source where authorisations can be easily and quickly obtained. This to suit users in the multimedia field, where the majority of productions are composed of, or created from, several types of work, which require a wide variety of authorisations.


When an authors’ society grants a licence for the use of creative works, its following tasks consists of collecting the royalties, which the user has agreed to pay.

In case of non-payment, the authors’ society will act on behalf of the affected author. If so needed, the authors’ society will defend its case before a court of justice.

Once the royalties are collected, the society is responsible for distributing the sums to the individual right owners in such a way that everybody receives the share that he or she is entitled to.

A fee to cover administrative costs is generally deducted from the copyright royalties. According to CISAC standards, administrative costs should not exceed 30%.

In practice, the fair and simple principle of equitable distribution proves to be quite complicated. Many works do not have one author, but several, so how do you divide among them?  Furthermore, most authors’ societies do not handle single works, but millions of works. The task of distributing remuneration is enormous. Authors’ societies have therefore created distribution departments with a lot of IT power to manage it.

International network of information exchange
The global use of creative works gives rise to the need for international information exchange. When a Japanese film is broadcast in Chile, the Japanese representative of its maker needs to be informed by its Chilean partners. On a more general level, administration societies are often confronted with similar challenges and benefit form the experience of their foreign counterparts.

Traditionally, it has been CISAC’s task to enhance information exchange through the development of its international network of societies of authors and composers.

In line with the digital revolution, CISAC is developing its Common Information System (CIS). The system will carry information exchange into the 21st century, setting the standards for the unique identification of creative works and of creators, to be available in a globally accessible network of databases containing the authoritative information on works and creators.

Cultural and social support
Author’s societies may reserve a part of their collections for cultural and social ends. This allows them to offer authors provisions for their development, training, promotion, by offering awards of fellowships, for example.

On the other hand, they can put away some of the revenues in order to be able to help their members when they need so, in case of illness or old age.