CISAC launches major project to upgrade the international musical work identifier

ISWC system overhaul will better serve authors societies and rights holders in the digital age.
ISWC logo

Paris, France – February 4th, 2019  The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) has enlisted Dublin-based software company Spanish Point Technologies to upgrade the global information system of the ISWC (International Standard Musical Works Codes), the unique code that identifies musical works and links them to their creators.

The ISWC system plays a key role in the successful functioning of the digital music market, allowing millions of creators to get efficiently and fairly paid for their works. Royalty collections from digital services have grown 164% over the last five years, topping €1 billion in 2017. Services such as Spotify and Apple Music today offer more than 40 million music tracks. Underlying the effective identification, collection and distribution of digital royalties are the ISWC codes.

Tens of millions of ISWCs have been assigned worldwide since the code was created in 2002. The codes help collective management organisations (CMOs), responsible for collecting and distributing authors’ royalties, track the use of musical works they represent across the globe. This enables them to collect royalties from users, especially digital service providers, on behalf of their members.

CISAC pioneered the identifier, which pairs one work with one identifier, to meet demand for reliable information on musical works, in the late nineties. In 2002, the International Standard Musical Work Code, or ISWC, was adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as a unique and accurate identifier (ISO 15707:2001).

While it revolutionised the way in which data was exchanged between CMOs, the upsurge of music streaming services has led to an increasing demand for improved accuracy and efficiency. In the digital environment, societies handle trillions of music usages every year, making the availability of reliable data crucial to the proper collection and distribution of royalties to songwriters and composers.

The ISWC system has seen several updates over the years: the latest services, developed with long-time CISAC partner FastTrack, were rolled out in 2018. The new collaboration with Spanish Point Technologies is the first of its kind. The latest modernisation to the system will help speed up the process by which authors’ societies assign an ISWC code for use by digital service providers and publishers.

CISAC Director General Gadi Oron said: “Investing in improved ISWC systems will immensely help music creators and publishers, authors societies and digital services navigate their way better in the rapidly growing digital music market. The ISWC is the leading music industry identifier and it plays an important role in facilitating the identification of musical works. Our project with Spanish Point aims to increase the speed, accuracy and efficiency of the system in a way that is complimentary with our members’ systems, and which keeps pace with the explosive growth of music streaming.”

Spanish Point Technologies CEO Donal Cullen said: “This next generation ISWC system will help societies manage the marked increase of music streaming services and provide greater data accuracy. Using modern cloud technologies and our innovative matching engine, the improved ISWC systems will assist societies in exchanging information with each other and music users, such as digital service providers and publishers. This will encourage greater use of the ISWC and should lead to more creators’ works being accurately identified and paid for.”

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an ISWC?

The ISWC (International Standard Musical Work Code) is a unique, permanent and internationally recognized reference number for the identification of musical works.

Where did the ISWC originate?

The ISWC is part of the CIS plan (Common Information System) which CISAC, the confederation of societies of authors, has developed in order to respond to the needs for information in the digital age. 

Is ISWC a world-wide standard?

Yes. The ISWC has been approved by ISO (International Organization for Standardisation). There is an official document that defines how the ISWC should be structured, as well as the rules governing its issuance and application.

What is an ISWC composed of?

An ISWC begins with the letter "T", followed by a nine-digit unique number (from 00000001 to 999999999), and an additional check digit at the end. (Written Format: T-345246800-1).

When is an ISWC allocated?

An ISWC is only allocated by a qualified numbering agency when all the creators have been uniquely identified.

What is the descriptive metadata for an ISWC?

The descriptive metadata for an ISWC includes: 

  • the title of the work
  • all composers, authors and arrangers of the work identified by their IPI numbers and role codes
  • the work classification code (from the CIS standards list)
  • in the case of 'versions', for example arrangements, identification of the work from which the version was made.

Without this minimum information, an ISWC cannot be allocated.

What will the ISWC do?

The ISWC will uniquely and accurately identify each specific musical work. The current identification methods of Musical works, such as by work title, may at times result in confusion specially when multiple musical works share the same or similar titles. Since ISWC remains permanently with a musical work, it will identify that musical work even after the work is distributed across national boundaries and languages barriers. The ISWC will support a wide range of computerized applications, particularly those involving tracking and exchange of musical works information. (e.g. Registration, Identification, Royalty Distribution, etc.).

What will an ISWC not do?

The ISWC identifies musical works, not their manifestations, objects, or expressions. (e.g. publications, broadcasts, etc.) The ISWC will not identify recordings, sheet music or any other type of performance associated with the musical work. Furthermore, the ISWC will not indicate the shares of composers or copyright owners of the work (there are often too many of them and they change with time and according to the territory and rights), nor the date or the place where the work was initially published.

How should the ISWC be used?

The ISWC should be integrated within the musical works administration databases and processes that support such activities as: 

  • registration and correspondence between society of authors
  • publishing and sub-publishing agreement schedules
  • licences granted by a society
  • music usage reporting
  • performance collection and identification
  • royalty administration.

When a musical work in correspondence or in contracts is identified, the ISWC should be indicated as in the following example:1.1 "I Love Life" (Smith/Jones) (ISWC T-345246800-1) 

Who is responsible for allocating ISWC's?

The International ISWC Agency, which is appointed by ISO, is responsible for the overall ISWC system maintenance and administration. The International ISWC Agency will appoint and oversee the work of Regional and/or Local ISWC numbering agencies. These agencies will be authorized to receive and process applications for ISWC and allocate the actual ISWC numbers to the musical works.

What does a Local or Regional ISWC agency do?

A local ISWC agency allocates the ISWC numbers to the works under its authority. It will administer a database for the allocated ISWC numbers and their corresponding descrpitive metadata. It will also share the available ISWC information with other local ISWC agencies and societies of authors.

What determines the authority of a local ISWC agency to assign ISWC numbers?

The author's IPI number is the key that determines whether an agency is authorised to allocate an ISWC. The international IPI file indicates the author's society of membership. If that author's society of membership is within the juristiction of the local ISWC agency, then the agency is authorized to allocate the ISWC number. This ensures that the same musical work is not assigned multiple ISWC numbers by different local ISWC agencies.

May creators and publishers allocate their own ISWC numbers?

No. ISWCs must be allocated by an authorized national or regional ISWC agency. If the creators or publishers do not have a relationship with a Local or Regional ISWC agency, they may ask the International Agency the relevant Local or Regional Agency. 

What happens when creators change society?

The authority which allocates an ISWC for their musical works is also transferred to the new society. 

What particular steps should be taken to obtain an ISWC?

None for new works. Works will be automatically allocated a number as part of the registration process by the society of authors in question. As for works already registered, "existing" repertoire, the ISWC numbers may be allocated at any time.

Which types of musical works can receive an ISWC?

An ISWC may be assigned to any musical work, published or unpublished, newly created or already existing as: Dramatico-musical work-Musical arrangement of a work Adaptation of the lyrics of a work-Translation of the lyrics of a work Recognised excerpt of a work-Medley-Potpourri etc...

Should , adaptations and translations get an ISWC ?

Musical arrangements, adaptations of lyrics and translations must receive their own unique ISWC numbers. These ISWC numbers are usually allocated by the agency which administrates the works of the arranger and/or adapter. The connection between the 'version' and the original work is indicated in the descriptive metadata of the ISWC.

May excerpts from other works be numbered too?

All works should be identified in their own rights; for example, an aria from an opera or a cadenza from a concerto can receive an ISWC. Similar to the 'versions', the relationship between excerpts should be indicated in the descriptive metadata of the ISWC.

May works or 'versions' which breach copyright obtain an ISWC?

Surprisingly enough, the answer is "yes". The non-authorised arrangements of a musical work can be identified, if only to ensure that they will be recognised at an international level as works infringing the copyrights of others.

Does the work have to be protected by copyright before receiving an ISWC?

No. ISWC's are allocated regardless of copyright status. Agencies may 'adopt' authors from the "public domain", according to their local laws, and allocate ISWC numbers to their works. This is generally done for reasons of national interest. For example, the 'traditional' folk repertoire, works in the public domain whose authors are unknown, can be numbered by an authorized national agency.

Will the ISWC replace the society's own numbering system?

Almost certainly not. Most organisations will still require their own internal identification numbers for internal reasons. On the other hand, the ISWC is the 'lingua franca' which will allow databases to be linked automatically.