International Musical Works Identification Code Approved

Posted in News on October 23, 2001

ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, has announced the ratification of ISWC, the International Standard Musical Works Code. ISWC has now been recognized as the unique standard for world-wide identification of musical works, referred to as ISO/15707. This recognition is the result of the tremendous work led, since the end of 1994, by CISAC, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers.  

Click HERE to find out more information on BMI's involvement in the international marketplace.

ISWC: What is it for?

Within the ISWC system, every musical work can be assigned its own ISO standard unique identification number, in the same way that ISBN is the unique identifier for books or ISSN for magazines.

Unique Identifier: This rather technical expression means that one unique international identifying number is allocated per relevant work (one work = one number; one number = one work). The term “musical work” covers both new musical compositions and the repertoire of existing musical compositions (from songs to symphonies to jingles), regardless of the medium (material or otherwise) in which they are comprised.

An ISWC number ensures that a musical work will be recognized more easily world-wide and its use better rewarded. ISWC permits faster and more precise identification of works, serving its main goal: to make it easier to track the royalties due to authors, composers and publishers.

Right now, the ISWC number enables a further standardization of the procedures for the exchange of information between the CISAC societies so that royalties can be distributed faster and more efficiently. In the near future, for instance, when translated into a barcode or when linked with other standard numbers like the International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) or other upcoming schemes, the ISWC will lead to fully automatic recognition of the use of music in any media. This will also considerably simplify, for example, reporting on the use of copyrighted works by television and radio stations to authors’ societies (cue sheets).

BMI and the ISWC

BMI is a member of the authorized American agency for the ISWC, "Songcode." BMI played a major role in the development of the ISWC and the technology to support its use world-wide. BMI built the first ISWC web site and led the international communications effort to gain music industry awareness and support for the new system. BMI was also a lead technological developer for the international search engine - to be called CISNET - that will offer access to ISWC song information. An advanced version of this search engine is already being used by BMI and its European partner societies in Fast Track to exchange song ownership information.

ISWC: How does it work?

An ISWC number is made up of the letter “T” followed by 9 digits plus a “check digit” to protect the ISWC against allocation errors. In its present form, the system’s numbering capacity is one billion numbers, although this can be expanded if needed. Example: T-034.524.680-1.

The ISWC number gives access to key information on the musical works: title, authors and composers. Authorized ISWC agencies (one or more authors’ societies) will be able to allocate ISWC numbers to all musical works, whether their authors are registered with one of the 195 societies within CISAC or not. However, the ISWC is a “dumb number” which does not in itself give access to any copyright management information.

In order to achieve world-wide identification, the ISWC International Agency, managed by CISAC headquarters in Paris, will provide local or regional ISWC agencies with series of numbers which they will allocate to musical works themselves and then place at the disposal of the ISWC network.

The ISWC system is built up as a network of decentralized databases that will serve as the repository for all musical works with ISWC numbers. The main database is CISAC’s Works Identification Database (WID), currently managed by ASCAP on behalf of CISAC. In addition to local agencies, regional ones like LatinAutor (for Latin America) or Nordoc (for Scandinavian countries), will also contribute to the ISWC system with their own repertoire databases. At the heart of the system, a central ISWC online search engine will enable online queries, allowing users of the system to look up information on the musical works contained in these databases, as well as the immediate allocation of ISWC numbers by agencies. Lastly, in line with ISO rules, the ISWC International Agency will draw up the rules for public access to ISWC information.

So far, over two million ISWC numbers have been allocated since the inaugural issue to Abba’s "Dancing Queen" in 1996. The ISWC search engine, which will complete the system, will be available online by the end of 2001, by which time the 23 (and growing) major authors’ societies involved in the project since the outset will be in a position to contribute to the objective that has been set: an ISWC number for 80% of the world-wide music repertoire.

ISWC and the CIS plan

The ratification of ISWC is a major accomplishment for CISAC’s Common Information System (CIS) plan, the foremost international cooperative initiative in the field of collective administration of intellectual property rights in the digital age. Within the CIS framework, the ISWC number is the first of a series of certified international standard numbers designed to identify creative works. By the same token, an ISO standard for audio-visual works (ISAN, International Standard Audio-visual Number) and an ISO standard for textual works (ISTC, the International Standard Textual Works Code) are expected by the end of 2001.


CISAC (International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers): CISAC represents over 2 million authors and composers world-wide through its 195 member societies in 100 countries. CISAC has its headquarters in Paris and two regional offices, in Singapore and Buenos Aires. CISAC works towards increased recognition and protection of creators’ rights and manages the international standards and tools used by its members in the digital age.

For more information:

Marianne Rollet
CISAC Director of Communications
Tel: +33 1 55 62 08 55/+33 6 22 51 61 12
Fax: +33 1 55 62 08 60

Ren� Lloret
ISWC International Agency Manager
Tel: +33 1 55 62 08 53
Fax: +33 1 55 62 08 60