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“You Signed a Deal You Shouldn’t Have. Now What?” My New Article Published in Music Connection Magazine

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Categories: Articles, Legal Issues, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am extremely honored to have an article published in Music Connection magazine.  The article is entitled “You Signed a Deal You Shouldn’t Have. Now What?” and appears in the “Expert Advice” column on page 46 of the April 2016 issue.

Music Connection cover with Jimmy Page and Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. music attorney music lawyer los angeles

What’s more, the title is advertised on the cover of the magazine — a cover that features none other than Jimmy Page.

Here’s a link to the article online:  http://www.musicconnection.com/expert-advice-you-signed-a-deal-you-shouldnt-have-now-what/

Here’s a link to the PDF:

“You Signed a Deal You Shouldn’t Have, Now What?  by: Erin M. JacobsonPublished in Music ConnectionVol. 40, No. 4, April 2016 

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Twitter: @musicconnection
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March Music Legal and Business Roundup

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Categories: Articles, Business, Law, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music Industry, Music Libraries, Music Publishing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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March had several interesting music legal issues, but first, check out my most recent articles:

 

In other news this month:

 

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Do Artists Need Spotify?

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Categories: Articles, Legal Issues, Music, Music Industry, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By: Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

spotify independent artist music attorney music lawyer los angeles erin m jacobson esq

I often am asked for my thoughts on Spotify and whether artists need it.

Adele and Taylor Swift are not on Spotify and sell millions of albums. These artists are already big enough that they will sell albums regardless of whether they are on Spotify. Spotify streams actually compete with these artists’ sales because there are many people who will stream the album instead of buying it and the royalty rates for streaming are much smaller than what an artist of this caliber will earn from a record sale. An artist would have to have the album streamed many more times than purchased to earn the same amount of money in royalties.

For independent artists, Spotify can be a promotional tool — another distribution channel for new fans to discover your music. Again, it’s not about the money earned from streams, as for most indie artists that is even less than what established artists earn. The hope is that once these new fans discover the indie artists, they will sign up on their email lists, go to their shows, buy merchandise, etc. and money can be earned that way.

While indies probably won’t earn money from Spotify, if it helps them gain new fans then it may be worth it. If you can be found without Spotify and streams will actually compete with your album sales, then it might not be worth it.

Have questions on how Spotify relates to your career? Contact Erin to book a consultation now.

 

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.

If this article is considered an advertisement, it is general in nature and not directed towards any particular person or entity.

 

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What is a Contract Term?

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Categories: Articles, Law, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Record Labels, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

A “term” of a contract usually refers to the length of time an agreement covers. For example, two parties may decide to work together for a period of three years, thus the contract would have a “three year term.” Sometimes, the term is broken up into a firm amount of time, with the option to continue working together for longer.   This could look like an initial period of two years, with a one year option. If that option is exercised, then the total term of the contract would be three years. These options are often exercisable at the discretion of one party (like a manager or a record label), making that party obligated to initial period and only obligated to the option periods if they choose to exercise them. The other party (like the artist), however, would be obligated to the entire term (initial period plus options). In other types of agreements (like certain types of music library or publishing agreements) options may automatically renew on a yearly basis, making the contract last as long as the parties are willing to continue working together.

The other way the words “term” or “terms” are used in relation to contracts is to describe certain the actual provisions of the contract. People will say things like “according to the terms of the contract,” which means the provisions of that contract. They may also refer to a specific, singular term, meaning one provision in particular. You will usually know the difference of “the term” versus “a term” or “the terms” based on the context of the conversation.

Both the term length and actual terms are important due to the fact both could bind you to an agreement not ideal for your career. You could be stuck in a deal where the term length extends much longer than it should and prevents you from signing other deals, creating other projects, and stalls your career. In a situation like that, your career in music will effectively be over because without the ongoing momentum, people will forget about you and your music, newer artists will be on the scene, and you will be on a hamster wheel trying to play catch up while the industry moves forward without you.

If the other terms of the agreement aren’t ideal, you could also be broke by paying large amounts of commissions to those you work with without anything left over for you.   You could lose your copyrights and the right to continue profiting off of your work because someone else owns it. You could even lose the right to use your own name professionally, like one artist who told me her story of not being able to register her name as a URL, because she had unknowingly signed those rights away to someone else.

It is of the utmost importance to know what you are signing and have an experienced music attorney review your contract to make sure you do not become another music industry statistic of a promising young talent whose career was crushed by your own failure to hire the right person to protect you.

If you have been offered a deal, contact Erin now to have it reviewed.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.

If this article is considered an advertisement, it is general in nature and not directed towards any particular person or entity.

 

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What’s the Difference Between a Music Library and a Music Publisher?

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Categories: Articles, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Libraries, Music Publishing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

music library music publisher music lawyer music attorney erin jacobson erin m jacobsonMusic libraries have exploded in popularity since musicians and composers discovered synchronization (“sync”) placements as an opportunity to make money and gain exposure in the music business. However, songwriters are often confused about the differences between music libraries and music publishers, especially because many libraries are trying to cross over into the publishing space. Here’s what you need to know.

Music Publishers

Music publishers have been around since the late 1700s in America, and they serve as the overall administrators of a songwriter’s compositions. Publishers perform many functions, including:

  • managing a writer’s catalog
  • promoting the compositions in the catalog
  • getting recording artists to record songs by the writer
  • working with a writer’s record label (if the writer is also a recording artist)
  • pairing a writer with co-writers
  • getting sync placements, etc.

Traditional music publishing contracts usually follow one of the following structures:

  • Songwriter agreement: the writer transfers 100 percent of the copyright in his or her catalog of music (including what he or she writes while under contract with that publisher), and the publisher and the writer split the income from the compositions 50/50. (Note: These deals can vary slightly based on the circumstances. For instance, it’s possible that a writer’s back catalog is tied up from a previous publishing deal, and a new publisher will only get new compositions by the writer.)
  • Co-publishing agreement: the writer transfers 50 percent of the copyright in his or her catalog to the publisher. The publisher takes 25 percent of the income from the compositions and the writer receives 75 percent.
  • Administration agreement: the writer retains ownership of all copyrights in his or her catalog, and the publisher simply performs all publishing duties for an administration fee of 10 percent (leaving 90 percent of income for the writer).

Music publishing deals often come with an advance, which justifies the fact that a writer may have to transfer copyright ownership upon signing a new deal. Because publishing deals are exclusive and manage all aspects of the compositions, no retitling of compositions is required.

Music Libraries

The first music library was formed in 1927 in the United Kingdom after movies gained the use of sound technology. The main purpose of that library, and those that followed, was to license music for film (and later TV). Licensing music for film and television is still the main purpose of music libraries today.

These deals can be exclusive or non-exclusive, require a transfer of copyright ownership or not, and may retitle the writer’s compositions (or not). Many libraries realized the value of owning the catalogs of music instead of just acting as a licensing agent and making money on licensing fees. Thus, many libraries decided to do their deals on an exclusive basis and require the writer to transfer to the library a copyright ownership share in the compositions, usually at least 50 percent. Typically, these deals have some sort of threshold where the writer has to earn a certain amount in licensing fees before the obligation to transfer copyright is triggered.

On a more frequent basis, I’m seeing library deals labeled as “co-publishing” deals. These deals provide for a 50 percent copyright ownership transfer, but only a 50/50 income split, which results in less money to the writer than under a traditional co-publishing deal with a music publisher. These deals offer no advance, and require a transfer of copyright ownership triggered by a low threshold of licensing fees. If a writer is close to the threshold but hasn’t met it yet, some companies will even pony up a few hundred bucks to meet the mark, which means the writers are selling out their copyrights for a very small chunk of change.

This scenario may be acceptable for a songwriter who makes his or her living from writing for film and TV and is churning out new songs every day. But in my opinion, these terms are unacceptable for career musicians who are marketing albums, playing gigs, etc. and are seeking placements for extra money and exposure.

The benefit to a library deal over a publishing deal is that a writer can give the library only certain compositions, while leaving others in his or her catalog open to a publishing deal or another opportunity. To be fair, libraries that are incorporating more publishing-like terms in their deals are also doing the work to manage and administer the compositions. However, with many of these companies it remains uncertain whether they have the connections to get other artists to record the writer’s compositions, pair the writer with substantial co-writers, etc. Anyone can act like a music publisher, but the difference lies with whether the longstanding business model and connections that publishers have are present.

For independent or new artists, it’s easier to get a library deal than a publishing deal, but signing with a library and transferring copyrights may complicate or even prevent a writer from signing a publishing deal later.

That’s not to say that a library deal can’t be a great start for a new artist or writer – it can be a great way to earn extra income with songs that otherwise wouldn’t generate any. However, you need to look carefully at your career goals to see which path is really right for your intended career direction. It would be beneficial to consult with an experienced music attorney to discuss which type of deal is the right career choice for you.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.
If this article is considered an advertisement, it is general in nature and not directed towards any particular person or entity.

 

This article was originally posted on Sonicbids.com.

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What You Need to Know About Shopping

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Categories: Articles, Business, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Record Labels, Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

By: Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

Erin Jacobson music attorney record deals recording contract

A common and long-standing frustration amongst musicians is getting their music heard. Most companies do not accept unsolicited material and require any submissions to be through an artist representative they know and trust. Companies do this to try to protect themselves from claims of copyright infringement based on one of their releases sounding too close to something submitted to them by someone they don’t know.

Because of the “no unsolicited material accepted” policy, artists need someone to shop the music for them. However, an artist must also determine the right type of person to shop their music and whether that person actually shops artists.

The types of people companies will usually accept material from are agents, managers, and attorneys. Some companies will be even more restrictive and only accept from agents and attorneys.

How do you get someone to shop your music for you? It’s great if you already have a relationship with a connected person willing to shop you. If not, you will have to contact representatives to see if they are willing to shop you.   In the case of attorneys, some will shop artists while others will not. Within that designation, some attorneys will shop only certain artist that they believe in, while others will shop anyone that pays them to do so.

Companies know the difference between a trusted colleague shopping an artist because that person really believes in the artist’s potential and those recommending an artist because they received a fee to do so.

In many cases the better approach is to try to make the connections and relationships with label employees and artist representatives yourself. If the company still requires an attorney or agent to submit your work, you can get one to do so on a formality.

If you are going to submit your music, it should be recorded to the best quality you can afford and not sound like demos you made in your bedroom.  Your packaging and your EPK must be up-to-date and professional. It may serve you well to have a professional in the industry create or review your submission package before you start sending it out, as labels and other music companies want your package as finished as possible so they don’t have to guess as to whether your rough demo and selfies would translate to a professional product. Your photos should be professionally shot and in high-quality resolution. Put your best songs first and make sure they have strong hooks that catch the listener quickly because most executives will only listen to the first 30 seconds of each song. If you are e-mailing your material, make sure that you’re music is available on a link and you do not send large files to people’s inboxes.

Remember to ask the representative’s policy on shopping and do not bother them with shopping requests if you know they do not shop. Some attorneys, like myself, post their shopping policies on their website,* so be sure to read and follow instructions. Good luck!

 

* Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. does not offer shopping services to artists.

 

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.

If this article is considered an advertisement, it is general in nature and not directed towards any particular person or entity.

 

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How Much Should an Attorney Cost?

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Categories: Articles, Business, Copyright, Law, Legal Issues, Music, Music Industry, Trademark, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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An attorney’s advice could make the difference for you between a successful and a nonexistent music career.   Legal fees aren’t cheap, but they’re a worthy expense in your career progress. The cost of attorneys does vary due to a variety of circumstances, so as you plan your budget, you should keep the following factors in mind.

How are lawyers’ rates determined?

1. Experience

A lawyer with more years of experience will typically be more expensive than someone who is newly licensed. Also, an attorney with more experience in (or who devotes the majority of his or her practice to) a certain area of law will be able to charge more than someone who only dabbles in that area. Someone who’s better known in the business and has had more high-profile cases can also command a higher rate.

2. Nature of your matter (i.e., what you need the attorney to do)

One of the most important factors that dictate the amount that you will have to pay an attorney is what you actually need the attorney to do for you. A short and simple contract or a consultation to answer questions will cost less than if you require a long, complicated contract to be drafted or reviewed. If you’re starting a company, you’ll need all new contracts drafted, which will take more time and thus be more expensive than reviewing a five-page agreement. Attorneys tailor contracts to your specific situation, which takes the attorney’s time and skill to create something specific to your needs. The amount of time needed for negotiation is speculative, as it’s rare to be able to predict the other party’s agreeability to contract changes or willingness to wrap up the deal promptly.

3. Office arrangement

It may sound unimportant, but the location of an attorney’s office and the type of office that he or she has does factor into the fees charged. Attorneys in larger metropolitan areas and more expensive parts of town will charge more than those who have offices in less desirable areas. An attorney who’s part of a larger firm or who has a high-rent office will have to charge more to cover that rent. In contrast, an attorney with lower overhead costs may be able to charge less and pass those savings on to the client.

4. Extra fees

There are often other fees you’ll be responsible for when working with an attorney, such as filing fees. Copyright and trademark registrations have application fees set by the Copyright and Trademark Offices, respectively. Similarly, a trademark search company will set the fees to conduct a trademark search. In court matters, there are filing fees required and set by the court that will need to be paid to process your case. Attorneys have no control over these fees.

Other additional fees that may need to be paid to your attorney may involve things like postage or copying costs on your behalf. These are not ordinary costs in an attorney’s business. You are paying the attorney for his or her time, skill, experience, and advice, not for secretarial matters that are the client’s responsibility. These are fees that will be incurred no matter what your attorney’s fee is, but it’s important to remember that they are your responsibility so you can include them in your budget.

Fee structures

Fee structures vary greatly among attorneys. In Los Angeles, attorneys tend to range from about $250 to $750 or more per hour. Some attorneys require an upfront retainer payment, which is an advance against fees earned. Other attorneys will not require an upfront retainer payment, but will bill you after the work has been completed. In both of these scenarios, attorneys will keep track of the amount of time that they worked on your matter, and then multiply their hourly rate by the amount of time spent on your matter to calculate your total fee. There are also attorneys who will also work on a flat-fee basis depending on the task at hand.

Other attorneys work on a percentage basis where they don’t necessarily keep track of the amount of time that they worked on your matter, but will instead take a certain percentage of the amount you receive under the deal they’re negotiating for you. Alternatively, some attorneys will take a percentage, usually five percent, of your gross income. Attorneys who work on percentage usually only do so for high net worth clients, as otherwise the number of hours invested in a client may greatly exceed the amount paid to the attorney.

Some attorneys will use a client’s income and/or industry status as deciding factors in whether to represent a client. Especially at the larger law firms, many attorneys won’t accept new clients who won’t guarantee a certain amount of income to the firm.

Some litigators (attorneys who handle lawsuits in court) will take a case on contingency, meaning that they only get paid if they win your case, and then will take a percentage of the recovery from the case. However, most attorneys do not take cases on contingency, and will require an hourly rate and an upfront retainer. Again, these fees will vary based on the factors discussed above.

When you’re interviewing a potential attorney, ask about his or her rates and fee structure to determine if you can afford that particular attorney.

How much do common musician services typically cost?

It’s incredibly difficult to generalize prices of what a certain matter will cost, as it depends on all the factors explained above. I’m quite hesitant to actually name numbers since they vary so drastically, but I will do my best to give an idea of the most basic matters to provide you with a starting point. (These are general fee ranges based on examples I have seen in the industry. These numbers are not quotes of my services, an advertised fee, or guarantees of fee amounts. If you need this type of agreement drafted, it will need to be based on your particular circumstances and your attorney’s best judgment.)

1. Copyright registration

Copyright registrations are usually $35 to $55 for the registration fee, plus the time it takes for your attorney to file the application. Absent complicating circumstances and including only a small group of titles, this should usually take about an hour or less of your attorney’s time. There are also services like Indie Artist Resource that can register titles from $135 to $335, depending on the number of titles.

2. Trademark application

Trademark application fees are based on the number of categories (called classes) in which you want to protect your mark. For one class online, the application fee runs from $275 to $325. If you are registering in more than one class, multiply that number by the number of classes for which you are applying. Again, the application itself probably takes about an hour of time, but the Trademark Office usually requires amendments to be made later, which are again based on the attorney’s time spent on those amendments. The number of amendments requested depends on the mark, other marks already registered, and the attorney at the trademark office assigned to your application. A trademark search from a reputable company starts just under $800 for a word mark and just over $600 for a logo.

3. Basic music business agreements

Something like very basic agreements for management, producer, or band partnerships could cost $800 to $2,000+ depending on the agreement and details of your situation, or $300 to $400 for a template.

 

Again, all legal fees will vary depending on your specific situation, so the most effective plan of action would be to figure out what you need as completely as possible, and then ask attorneys for an estimate. If the cost of what you need is above your budget, consider a solution like Indie Artist Resource, or save up more money for the investment – and it is an investment in your career.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.

If this article is considered an advertisement, it is general in nature and not directed towards any particular person or entity.

Originally posted on Sonicbids.com

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January Music Business and Legal Round-Up

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Categories: Articles, Business, Copyright, Digital Distribution, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music Industry, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , ,

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I’m trying something new where I do round up at the end of the month of some interesting stories or issues that have occurred during that month in the music industry. Please let me know if you like this new feature believe in the comments below.

First, you’ll want to check out my articles for January:

In other news:

The reports are in from 2015, and the industry numbers are actually up thanks to streaming, although digital sales have dropped. Some artists, like Adele, have proven they don’t need streaming to sell records.

Although streaming has upped some numbers, the artists aren’t getting paid. Spotify was hit with two class-action lawsuits for failure to properly pay royalties. They have now just instituted a new system for tracking and paying royalties. Some accusations claim that Spotify has not properly licensed much of the music that it plays and further that Spotify apparently doesn’t know who to pay. While there are issues that sometimes arise in the industry where finding the proper rights owner can be difficult to find, the majority of rights owners are easily able to be located and paid by those who take a few minutes to look for them.

Spotify has enough money to fight these lawsuits and they’ll probably be some sort of settlement along the way, however Spotify should’ve put a system in place in the very beginning to ensure streamlined and proper payment. This seems like the beginning of a lot of legal hassle for Spotify, but if truly not paying legitimate royalty recipients, it’s a legal hassle that they deserve.

And here are some predictions for 2016.  Let’s see if they come true…

 

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Why Posting a Cover Song on YouTube is Copyright Infringement

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Infringement, Legal Issues, Music, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Royalties, Social Media, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

Erin Jacobson music attorney music industry lawyer youtube cover song copyright infringement

New artists trying to get discovered will frequently cover famous songs and upload videos of them performing these songs on YouTube. Many artists do not realize that without securing the proper permissions, posting a cover song on YouTube is actually copyright infringement.

User-generated cover song videos require permission to use the composition and permission to synchronize the audio elements with the video.*

To cover a composition, one needs to get a mechanical license. A mechanical license allows someone to record a song that has already been recorded and distributed by another artist. A mechanical license is most often obtained through the Harry Fox Agency. The related royalty stream is called a “mechanical royalty” which is a royalty payable to a composition owner for the privilege of being allowed to record that composition. This is the 9.1 cent royalty often mentioned in the music business.

However, the mechanical license only covers audio recordings of the original composition. It does not cover the synchronization of the audio with the video portion, for which one needs to obtain a synchronization or “sync” license. This is where most people get tripped up because they don’t get a synchronization license from the composition owner (usually the music publisher).

An artist who does not get permission from the owner of the song he is covering to synchronize his cover version with the accompanying video is infringing the copyright of the original composition.  [tweetthis display_mode=”button_link”]Failure to get a sync license for your YouTube cover song video is copyright infringement.[/tweetthis]

The consequences of posting a cover song without the proper synchronization license vary. In some instances, the copyright owners of the original composition don’t know about the cover on YouTube or they choose to do nothing about it. In other cases, the copyright owners will send a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube and have the video taken down. Further still, someone who posts an unauthorized cover might get a cease-and-desist letter or the threat of legal action, and might actually get sued, leading to liability for a lot of money in copyright infringement damages.

Do you have more questions or need a license for your project?  Contact Erin now to get your questions answered.

* In the case of a cover song, the original master recording is not used because someone else is making his or her own recording of the song and therefore no label permission is necessary. If one plans to use the original master recording in a video, that person would have to go to the master owner (usually the record label) and get a master use license to be able to pair the master recording with the video. I won’t discuss the performance right here since YouTube and similar websites have blanket licenses from the performance rights organizations. However, if an artist is uploading these videos to his or her personal website, that artist is also liable for the payment of performance royalties.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or mattersThis article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user and Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. is not acting as your attorney or providing you with legal advice.   The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on,act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.

If this article is considered an advertisement, it is general in nature and not directed towards any particular person or entity.

 

 

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Everything You Need to Know About Using Album Artwork

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Categories: Articles, Business, Copyright, Music, Music Industry, Record Labels, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Artists seem to have a lot of confusion as to what artwork can and cannot be used on album covers and also who owns album artwork. In this article, I will cover the most common sources of album artwork and how that artwork is owned.

For the sake of convenience, I will refer to both artwork and photographs as the “work” or “works,” as the principles discussed herein apply to both.

1.  You created the work.

In this case you would likely create a piece of art and or take a photograph that you use on the album cover.  Absent any unusual circumstances, you should own and have the rights to use artwork you created or photographs you took.  If you are part of a band, it gets a little more complicated because one must note which member of the band created the work and what the agreement is within the band as to how the work will be owned.  A particular band member may retain ownership of the work as an individual and license the rights to the work to the band, or may assign ownership of the work to the band so that the band owns the rights.  If more than one member of the band created the work, they may be able to sign a simple Artwork Ownership Agreement, but again, it still needs to be determined whether those members will retain ownership of the work or assign ownership to the bands as an entity.  A band owning the work created by a single member or multiple members may be determined on a case-by-case basis or it might be based on a band agreement.

2.  Someone else created the work for you.

Usually this scenario plays out in one of two ways: either someone is hired by you or your band to create artwork for your album, or you hire a photographer to take photos of you or your band and then use the photograph(s) on the album.

Paying for something does not equate to ownership of it under copyright law. You may own a physical copy of the work – a photo print, a painting, a CD – but that does not automatically give you ownership rights in the copyright of the work itself.  If you have hired and paid an artist or photographer to create a visual image for your album cover, that artist or photographer will still own the copyright in the work unless that creator has assigned the copyright ownership of the work to you or your band.   The assignment of copyright will often include a higher fee and/or a payment of future royalties in exchange for the creator giving up his or her intellectual property rights.

If there was no transfer of copyright and the artist or photographer retains ownership of the work, you would need to get a license from the creator to use the work for your album cover, as well as for promotional and other uses associated with the album.  Again, this usually will involve a fee and/or possibly a royalty payment. Keep in mind that if the creator retains ownership, (s)he will be able to use or license the work for other purposes besides your album cover.  An example of this would be the creator giving a magazine permission to use a photograph of your band that the creator photographed.

Whether working with a photographer or artist, you should get the terms of the agreement in writing.  If the creator has given you a contract to sign, it would be wise to have a good music lawyer make sure the proper rights for uses related to album covers are granted in the language.   If not, these rights will need to be added.  If the creator retains copyright ownership, your lawyer may also be able to limit other uses granted by the creator. If the creator does not give you a contract, you should have your lawyer draft a contract so that the terms that are spelled out clearly.

3.  You got the work from the Internet or another source.

If you purchased a stock photo on the Internet, you will need to check the license provisions that come with that photo. Some photos do not allow for commercial uses, while others do allow for commercial uses, and yet others allow for commercial uses but with higher fees required.  You will have to choose a photo that allows for the rights that you will need for using the photo on your album cover and associated promotional uses. Using a photo that you like from the Internet without getting permission to use it is copyright infringement, even if you credit the source.

If there is a work that you like on the Internet that is not from a stock photo website or that you find offline, you will need to find out the identity of the owner of the work and contact that person to get a license for permission to use that work on your album cover.  Transfer of copyright ownership is probably a long shot in this scenario, but some creators might be willing to transfer ownership for the right price.

Again, consult with a good music attorney to make sure you are getting the rights you need for your specific situation.

Do you have questions that you’d like to get answered in an upcoming “Ask a Music Lawyer” article? Please send topic requests to askamusiclawyer@gmail.com. Please note that specific case advice cannot be given, and if you have questions pertaining to an issue you are personally experiencing, you should seek a consultation with a music attorney.

This post was originally published on Sonicbids.com.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.

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