CIAM Action: Episode One

An Introduction to CIAM Action: Episode One

For most of us as creators, placing one’s fingers on a musical instrument and conceiving a song or sonata is in our nature – an innate, intuitive and satisfying act.

Once that creation goes out into the world however, we are confronted with a confusing labyrinth of complexity few creators understand or are prepared for. Copyright, authors rights, national vs reciprocal treatment, performance rights, mechanical rights, interactive vs non- interactive streaming . . . I stop there at the beginning of what could be an almost endless list that underlines an unavoidable fact; as intuitive as our music maybe to create and enjoy, the complexity of the laws, rights, legislation, regulation and international treaties that determine how we are protected and remunerated is maddening, confusing and for most of us, entirely mystifying.

(If you suspect it’s doesn’t have to be this way, I’m inclined to agree, but more on that at another time. Right now, some good news.)

CIAM is here to help.

The CIAM Exco is made up of music creators who, individually and collectively, have spent many years learning about, and working on the issues listed above, and many other matters important to our creative community in countries around the globe. It is our intention in this and subsequent emails to do two things:

Explain an issue or subject important to your wellbeing as a creator in an understandable way, and
Suggest direct action you can take to ensure you are remunerated for your work, can protect and defend your rights, and/or take advantage of opportunities that may be available to you.

We start with the timely and important International Standard Musical Work Code, a.k.a the ISWC. Why do we start there? Please dear friend and creator, read on. Our esteemed Vice Presidents, Arriën Molema and Jörg Evers have the answer.

Eddie Schwartz, CIAM President, July 2020

PS If you find this helpful, please share with others!

ISWC: What is it and Why is it Important for Creators?

ISWC stands for International Standard Musical Work Code (ISO 15707). Although it might sound boring, having an ISWC for each of your compositions is like they have their own fingerprint by which they and their creators (i.e. you!) can be identified, all over the world. And once a work is identified, the remuneration ($, £, €, ¥ . . .) for the composition and it's interested parties (including you!) can start.

Having your works identified is of the utmost importance, not in the least to enable remuneration on the work. A work/composition has one ISWC attached to it, so every work can be identified by an ISWC, which is unique to that work.

It’s important to realize though that one ISWC can relate to different recordings of that work. To give an example: ‘To Make You Feel My Love’ is a song written by Bob Dylan, but has been recorded multiple times by various artists (including Bob Dylan himself, but also Adele, among others). In this case, the ISWC will identify the song as composed by Dylan, on both recordings of the song.

FYI, every recording has its own identifier, the International Standard Recording Code (ISRC), so the recording by Adele will have a different ISRC than Dylan’s recording, but the same ISWC since it’s the same song.

With identification through ISWC, the collecting societies know which song belongs to which composer(s)/songwriter(s), a necessary piece of information to make sure that the composer(s)/songwriter(s) gets her or his remuneration for the usage of the work.

In these COVID-19 ridden times, it’s now more vital than ever for music creators to have their works identified as soon as possible. This is becoming an urgent matter, since the time between the creation of a work and the release of that work to the public is getting shorter and shorter for a variety of reasons. Two of those reasons are the following:

The Rise of DIY:

It's now easier than ever to write and record a song/composition and have it on a DSP within a day. Especially DIY-ers can easily manage their own song-cycle, and by being able to do a lot of the creation process themselves (recording, producing, mixing, mastering, distributing). The song can be released almost instantly after it has been written. Without an ISWC for the songs/compositions that are performed, royalties can’t find their way to the creators (i.e. you!).

The share of creators that work on a DIY-basis (do-it-yourself) is ever-growing. The growth of the music industry has almost always come from the bottom up: the necessity of DIY-ers that later possibly turn into 'major' artists has been the feeding ground and catalyst of the music industry and creative growth. Even majors benefit from this DIY-development, since they are able to catch on later in the process and benefit from the growth of the 'creative underground'. Therefore, DIY is a fundamental building block for the future of the music industry.


COVID-19 has had a serious impact on the music industry and creators. It has led to a worldwide cancellation of tours, and lots of creators turn to new concepts like live-shows via streaming. Songs that are being written today could be live-streamed to thousands of people on your stream-concert the next day. Again, without an ISWC for the songs/compositions that are performed, royalties can’t find their way to the creators.

Both developments (DIY and COVID-19) lead to a shorter song-cycle, and the shortening of time between the creation of the work and its communication to the public.
It's therefore critical that those works can get identified and then monetized as soon as possible. An ISWC is needed for that process of identification, and the sooner an ISWC is assigned to your composition, the better.

Our Call to action: Your collecting society and CISAC

Start a conversation on the ISWC with your Collective Management Organization (CMO)

Collecting societies are trying to provide good data for creators. There are new tools available to societies that speed up and improve their ISWC-allocation in order to make sure that works are correctly and quickly identified. The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) is spearheading this effort in cooperation with many collection societies around the world.

It’s important that your society is aware of the ISWC-developments and tools that are provided by CISAC.

Reach out to your society and start a conversation on ISWCs, so that your society can allocate an ISWC to your works as soon as possible. The sooner your works have an ISWC, the sooner they can be identified and the sooner you'll receive your remuneration for their use!
And if you’re interested in more info on this, please read the attachment/link or following webpages:

*CISAC is launching its new, centralized ISWC Modernisation Project at the end of July 2020. This will improve the accuracy of the ISWC because all new codes will be generated from a central database hosted in the cloud, and will also facilitate the assignment of codes. Please click on the following link to find more information about the ISWC Project Update