Frequently asked questions

About establishing your ASCAP legacy 

  • Successors & Estate Planning

  • Copyright & Your Music Catalog

My relative was an ASCAP member or successor to a member and recently died. What do I do?
Please call 1-800-95-ASCAP (1-800-952-7227) to speak with a representative from ASCAP’s Global Services department. We will guide you through the process of establishing a successor to the membership.
My friend or relative wrote music but passed away without having been affiliated with any performing rights organization. I would like to have this music licensed through ASCAP. What do I do?
Call our Global Services department at 1-800-95-ASCAP and tell us the name of your friend or relative and that you would like to apply for "posthumous" membership.
Can I leave the rights to my music and royalties to anyone I choose?

You can leave your rights to anyone you wish. Keep in mind, however, that US Copyright Law vests rights in certain individuals to whom you may not wish to leave rights. ASCAP will seek authorization from those individuals to waive their rights in the event they have not already done so during your lifetime, but we cannot force them to do so.

Where royalties are minimal, ASCAP is not able to name many successors due to the administrative burden of distributing numerous small payments. This burden only increases with subsequent generations, where individual successors may wish to divide their royalties among others. In these cases, we ask for authorization to either: 1) pay one successor during his or her lifetime, then afterwards one of the other successors; 2) pay all successors during their lifetimes, and upon the death of a successor, to the remaining successors.

ASCAP members can plan ahead by outlining who they wish to receive their royalties, and exactly how those royalties should be divided.

I am starting to do some estate planning. What should I do about my ASCAP royalties?
We recommend that you consult an experienced attorney to advise you as to your specific estate planning needs and to draw up the necessary papers. As a general matter, however, it is best to put your wishes in writing, including express provisions to deal with the disposition of ASCAP royalties.
Who will receive my membership interest after I die?
If you die without a Will, state laws of intestacy will dictate who receives your membership interest (subject, of course, to the relevant provisions of the Copyright Act). Therefore, if you wish to direct that your membership interest go to your spouse, your children, a trust, or other beneficiaries, you must prepare a Will or other appropriate estate planning documentation to set forth your wishes.
Can I designate a beneficiary to receive my royalties after I die?
Due to potential conflicts and the current state of the law, ASCAP cannot accept beneficiary forms. In order to ensure your wishes are followed, you should include your ASCAP royalties in your estate planning.
Can I assign my royalties during my lifetime?

A living ASCAP member’s request to assign his or her royalties must meet certain criteria to be permitted under ASCAP’s rules. Please consult our My Royalties FAQs and the Compendium of ASCAP Rules and Regulations, available on our Governing Documents page. 

For music copyright owners, you can designate a portion of your royalties to The ASCAP Foundation at any time by filling out our Royalty Enrollment Form, which is available on The ASCAP Foundation's donate page or can be mailed to you. Your royalty contribution can easily be altered by notifying The ASCAP Foundation in writing. You can also directly bequeath a portion of your copyright ownership to The ASCAP Foundation in your Will. Find out more at www.ascapfoundation.org.

 

 
Can my estate sell my membership rights and royalties?
Given the unique needs of the estates of writer members, ASCAP does permit the estate to sell or irrevocably assign the right to receive ASCAP writer royalties. ASCAP also permits living members to assign royalties irrevocably to a family member, living trust, or family-held company. Other rights of membership (such as the right to vote) are not assignable. If you are an heir or a successor to a deceased writer member and you are interested in selling or irrevocably assigning the deceased writer’s royalties, you may call our Global Services department (1-800-95-ASCAP) or submit a Message via your Member Access account.
Can I make a bequest to ASCAP?
Bequests cannot be made to ASCAP directly, but you may make a bequest to The ASCAP Foundation, a tax-exempt public charitable organization under section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax law. The Foundation was incorporated in 1975 to promote and support charitable and educational programs in the field of music. The Foundation is completely separate from ASCAP with its own Board of Directors and Advisory Board. It is dedicated to nurturing the music talent of tomorrow, preserving the legacy of the past and sustaining the creative incentive for today's creators through a variety of educational, professional and humanitarian programs and activities serving the entire music community. For more information on any of the Foundation's programs, or to inquire about including the Foundation in your estate planning, please visit www.ascapfoundation.org.
What can ASCAP do if there is a genuine dispute, or even litigation, among beneficiaries over the estate of an ASCAP member or successor member?

ASCAP cannot become involved in the resolution of such disputes. Such disputes are matters for the beneficiaries, their attorneys, and if necessary, courts or arbitrators to resolve. ASCAP must sit on the sidelines, holding royalty payments for eventual payment in accordance with the settlement or resolution of the dispute.


Does ASCAP perform estate or copyright valuations?
A valuation of the estate or copyrights may be required by the Internal Revenue Service to determine estate taxes due. ASCAP does not perform this service. You might wish to engage an expert to assist you in determining the appropriate multiple. Generally, the appraiser is likely to look at the income-producing history of the copyright, or, where available, the value an open market has put on the copyright. Having some idea of the value of your copyrights will make evaluating your estate planning options easier, and will also enable you to predict any taxes that may be imposed upon them.
What does ASCAP have to do with my music copyright?

A copyright owner has a number of different exclusive rights contained within a single copyright (often referred to as a “bundle of rights”). One of those exclusive rights is the ‘Performance Right’ or the right to “perform the copyrighted work publicly.” See the U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C § 106(4). ASCAP licenses the non-dramatic public performance right of its members’ works to music users for a fee and distributes the license fees received as royalties to ASCAP members.

For more information about music licensing, please visit our Licensing FAQ. For more information about copyright, please visit the U.S. Copyright Office’s website at http://www.copyright.gov. If you have any questions or concerns about your copyrights, you should consult an experienced attorney.

Should I copyright my music? If I register my music with ASCAP do I still have to copyright it?

Compositions receive federal copyright protection as soon as they are fixed in a tangible medium, which is most often achieved upon writing or recording the work, but registering your works with the Copyright Office provides you with certain benefits under the law. ASCAP does not register works with the Copyright Office and submitting your work to ASCAP for registration with ASCAP is not an alternative to Copyright Office Registration.

ASCAP members are solely responsible for all issues relating to copyright, including registration, renewal, and termination. For more information about copyright registration and other copyright issues, please visit The U.S. Copyright Office’s website at http://www.copyright.gov. If you have any questions or concerns about your copyrights, you should consult an experienced attorney.

How long does the copyright in a musical work last? 

Copyrights do not have an unlimited duration. Works created on or after January 1, 1978 (or created but unpublished before 1978) have a single copyright term that extends, in most cases, for the life of the author plus 70 years (or in the case of co-written songs, plus 70 years from the last surviving author’s death). These works do not require renewal to exercise the full life of the copyright.

The concept of renewals affects only "pre-1978" works (i.e. works in copyright before January 1, 1978). For any of these works, the copyright term is divided into two terms: (1) an initial term of 28 years following the earlier of the work's (a) creation and publication with notice or (b) registration, and then (2) a renewal term of an additional 67 years. Because more than 28 years have passed since December 31, 1977 (the last day before the effective date of the "new" Copyright Act), all pre-1978 works that are still in copyright are now in their renewal terms. In order to obtain the renewal term for pre-1978 works, filing a renewal registration with the Copyright Office may be necessary. Generally, only works copyrighted prior to January 1, 1964 require renewal registration with the Copyright Office.

The renewal belongs generally to the writer. However, if a writer enters into an agreement assigning the renewal term and the writer is still alive when the renewal is to become effective, the copyright in the renewal term will belong to the assignee (e.g., the publisher). However, if the writer in such case dies prior to the renewal, then the copyright law grants to certain surviving heirs the right to claim the renewal term despite the writer’s previous agreement.

ASCAP does not file copyright renewals on behalf of its members. For more information about duration, renewal and other copyright issues, please visit http://www.copyright.gov. If you have any questions or concerns about your copyrights, you should consult an experienced attorney.

I've heard I can "recapture" my rights to copyrighted works even after they have been transferred. How does this affect my estate planning?

Congress provided a means for recapturing the extended term where rights had been assigned or licensed to third parties. Specifically, if a writer or one of a writer's statutory heirs entered into an agreement assigning or licensing a renewal copyright before January 1, 1978, whatever rights were granted could be recaptured for the duration of the renewal term. (Note that the only grants subject to this form of recapture are those made by the writer or a statutory heir while living, not any grants made by will.) If the writer is still alive, the writer may exercise the recapture himself. If the writer has died, the recapture may be exercised by the writer's surviving spouse and children (including grandchildren by a predeceased child), or, if there are none, by the writer's executor or administrator. The recapture provision applies only to works in copyright before 1978 and are not works made for hire.

The recapture must be exercised by following a specified notification procedure during the 5-year period beginning 56 years from the date copyright was originally secured, or beginning January 1, 1978, whichever is later. If a termination notice was not effectuated during that 5-year window, a second termination option exists to reclaim the final 20 years of the renewal term (added under the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright term Extension Act). This second option for recapture must be exercised during 5-year period beginning 75 years after copyright was originally secured.

ASCAP does not effectuate recapture copyrights on behalf of our members. For more information about renewals and other copyright issues, please visit the U.S. Copyright Office’s website at http://www.copyright.gov. If you have any questions or concerns about your copyrights, you should consult an experienced attorney.

Can I terminate a previously-granted license or transfer of copyright that involves my music? 

The Copyright Act affords a writer the opportunity to terminate any transfer or license of works made by the writer on or after January 1, 1978. This right of termination applies only to agreements that a writer has made during his or her lifetime and not to any copyright grant contained in the writer's Will.

The right can be exercised by the writer him or herself or, if the writer has died, by the writer's surviving spouse and children (including grandchildren by a predeceased child). If the writer is not survived by any spouse, child, or grandchild, the right to terminate the grant passes to the writer's executor or administrator. The result in all cases is to recover all rights that the writer had granted, regardless of any agreement about the work to the contrary.

Termination can take effect only during the 5-year period beginning 35 years after the date of the grant, but a notice is required to initiate the termination. This notice must be sent between 2 to 10 years before the effective date of the termination and recorded with the Copyright Office. Because this termination right applies only to grants related to works made on or after January 1, 1978, the year 2003 is the first year that termination notices could have been sent, and 2013 is the first year that any will take effect.

When planning for the disposition of the copyright in a work that the writer has previously transferred or licensed, keep in mind the possibility that the grant may be terminated and the rights recovered.

In order to process a member's request to update a work records pursuant to a termination, ASCAP requires:

• Correspondence from the claiming publisher describing the request, along with instruction as to the ASCAP publisher member that is to receive the reclaimed interest received by ASCAP no earlier than one quarter in advance of the effective date;

• A copy of the Notice of Termination as served on the original grantee, which should include a list of works claimed, along with evidence of recordation with the Copyright Office. (Note: Evidence of submission of the Notice of Termination to the Copyright Office is sufficient, we do not need to see evidence of completed recordation)

Cover letters and copies of notices should be submitted in ASCAP Member Access via Member Service Inquiry (Category: 'My Catalog', Topic: 'Copyright Claims - Reclamation of Post-1978 Works'). Please note that ASCAP can accept claims no more than one quarter in advance of the effective date.

Be advised that ASCAP will not make a determination of the sufficiency of the request, but will provide a copy of the Notice of Termination to the original grantee to confirm the termination before updating our records.

ASCAP does not terminate transfers of copyrights on behalf of our members. For more information about terminations and other copyright issues, please visit http://www.copyright.gov. If you have any questions or concerns about termination or your copyrights, you should consult an experienced attorney.

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