What Is a Non-exclusive Publishing Agreement?

Most people know about copyright and how it attaches to particular works. However, beyond this is a non-exclusive publishing agreement, which protects the author but allows for the distribution of the work. In this article, we’ll explain what non-exclusive publishing agreements are.

Table of Contents


New pieces of work, be it a song, book, or article have protection under copyright. Information on copyright protections can be found at IP Australia. f you are the creator of a work such as this, then you can decide how your creation is used. In most aspects of life, ‘exploitation’ sounds like an undesirable thing. However, in the creative industries, exploiting a copyright is a good thing. ‘Exploiting a copyright’ means that the owner of a particular composition or work is putting that creation to use in a way that generates income for the creator. This is where publishers are useful.

Whilst you can self-publish, the resources your publisher may have at their disposal to help secure opportunities for you might be far greater than your own. Publishing companies can manage compositions and collect all the royalties owed. They will usually actively move to make your creations ‘work harder’.

Publishers can exploit copyright in the following ways:

  • Songs performed and recorded by particular artists
  • Books distributed to retailers
  • Articles and blogs licensed to academic institutions
  • Music licensed for synchronisation on television, online or radio ads or in films, TV shows, and games
  • Scripts licensed to production companies
  • Playwrights granted to theatres
  • Songs licensed for sampling in hip-hop songs, or remixes
  • Print rights for sheet music

Accordingly, publishers will usually agree to provide this service in exchange for a percentage of the revenue gained. This percentage can vary and will depend largely on the specific agreement in place.

Multiple non-exclusive publishing agreements

If you have a non-exclusive publishing agreement with one publisher, it basically means that they are able to exploit your creations freely, but not to the exclusion of any other publisher that may also wish to secure you an opportunity through exploitation. Likewise, this means that other publishers may also enter into non-exclusive agreements with you for the exploitation of your copyright without contravening a preexisting non-exclusive agreement already in place with another publisher.

The non-exclusive publishing agreement might include just one composition, multiple compositions, or it might include an entire catalog and everything you create in the future too. If you believe someone is exploiting your copyright without your permission, you may want to issue a cease and desist letter. In addition, it may be worth reaching out to a copyright lawyer for help.

Benefits and disadvantages


  • It’s safer because if a database fails the work is still available at other places
  • The work will receive wider exposure
  • There is the freedom to explore new licensing opportunities in the future
  • The work is not locked in anywhere
  • Ultimately, control over the copyright stays with the creator


  • The work may not be promoted as much as expected
  • There is typically less commission being non-exclusive
  • Some creative supervisors won’t purchase non-exclusive rights to works
  • It takes longer to upload, keyword, describe and in general takes more time to maintain

Finally, non-exclusive publishing agreements do provide a lot of freedom to creators. However, they still come with certain legal responsibilities, which are important to understand and follow. If you are unclear about the terms of an agreement, it might be worth also getting in touch with a contract lawyer.

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