The New ISWC: A Boon for Music Creators

The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) recently announced an overhaul of The International Standard Musical Work Code (ISWC) system. International Standard Musical Work Code (ISWC) and the International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) are the two codes responsible for cataloging business transactions associated with both composition and sound recording copyrights.

The ISWC identifies a musical work as a unique intangible creation. It is an internationally recognised identification system used by rights holders worldwide to catalog musical works of all genres —also known as “compositions”, “songs”, or just “the publishing” (the lyrics, melody, and song structure that make up a piece of music).

The ISRC is an internationally recognised identification system to catalog all genres of sound recordings and music video recordings. An ISRC is a unique and fixed identifier assigned by a record label to a specific recording (CD, audio file, video, etc) performed by an artist or band.

What ISWC does for compositions, ISRC does for sound recordings. There are numerous bodies globally that use ISWC and ISRC.


CISAC believes the upgraded ISWC system will “improve the accuracy, speed, and efficiency of societies’ work in tracking creators’ works and paying royalties.”

sylvian piat

To know more about the upgraded ISWC system we spoke to Sylvain Piat, Director of Business, The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC).

Piat, a graduate from the Ecole Centrale de Paris, has been a part of CISAC for 13 years already, initiating the Common Information System Plan, before joining SACEM in 2011 as Head of International Projects.

His current profile includes Governance and Professional Rules implementation and monitoring aspects for the whole CISAC membership, in close cooperation with the Regional Directors. He is responsible for the organisation of the CISAC Technical Committees (Business, Media, and DLV).

What is an ISWC and why is it required?

The ISWC is the International Standard for the unique identification of musical works (please see more on It is required to track information on musical works:

– In data exchanges between societies

– In data exchanges between societies and their affiliates (creators and publishers)

– In the overall value chain, more specifically in the digital environment.

How is an ISWC generated and who assigns it to a work?

The ISWC is assigned by societies as part of the work registration process. Minimum mandatory information includes the title of the work, the list of creators, and their IP Name Numbers. Information on share ownership or publishers is not required.

What is the new process and how is it different from the earlier one?

The main difference is the central assignment. In the former system, societies had local ranges of numbers they could use to assign numbers. In the case of mixed works (between different societies), this could create duplicates. In the new system, all societies have to use the central ISWC System to get an ISWC.

Then, a number of improvements and new features have been delivered: new allocation rules, new matching rules, the ability to update metadata related to an ISWC, etc..

We have seen cases where songs registered with societies did not have an ISWC assigned to them for years together. PRS assigned the work a Tunecode. Other societies operated under the same system. Why is it that some registrations get ISWCs and some don’t?

Not all societies are on the same level of development. In theory, the most advanced societies assign ISWC to all works, once documentation is complete. But this is on-going efforts. With the new system, many societies have updated their registration process to benefit from an early allocation of the ISWC (e.g. via online registration portals).

The Tunecode is an internal society code (society work code), like any society has. This is necessary, e.g. when a newly registered work does not have the full information to be ISWC eligible. The society work code is an important element for society as it is the identifier used in its internal processes. However, it is usually not used in data exchange with other societies where the ISWC should prevail.

Do songs without ISWCs get paid?

ISWC is not a condition for payment, it is just an identifier of the work to facilitate the processing of data. Actually, ISWC does not include shares’ information.

If an ISWC is not assigned to work after say, three months, should the publisher/songwriter follow up with the society?

I would say yes. In the current digital environment, it is important that an ISWC is assigned as quickly as possible. There could be many reasons for non-allocation (incomplete documentation, conflicting data from different sources, etc…). Then it also depends on the work registration at the society (online portal, CWR registration, etc…). This is why it is important you can liaise with your society of affiliation to understand how and when the ISWC is assigned.

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