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Tag Archives: erin m. jacobson esq.

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Are Your Musical Works Protected?

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Infringement, Music Industry, Trademark, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

Music creators and rights owners ask me on a daily basis about whether their musical compositions and recordings are properly protected by copyright.  Lately, there have been some companies popping up claiming to offer protection for musical works, and these companies are promoting misinformation that actively hurts music creators and rights’ owners.  In this article, I set the record straight.

Copyright Protection

When a work created with sufficient originality to qualify for copyright protection and is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression,” it technically has copyright protection under the law.  “Fixed in a tangible medium of expression” means that the work has been reduced to a physical format capable of being reproduced, such as writing it down, recording it on an audio or video recording, etc.  

However, even though a work may have copyright protection when it is created, registering works with the United States Copyright Office provides certain benefits that one only has with a federal registration.  These benefits include:

  • Being able to sue in federal court for copyright infringement;
  • Public notice of who owns the work;
  • Listing in the United States Copyright Office’s online databases;
  • A legal presumption of ownership of the work in court (if certain conditions are met);
  • Statutory damages and attorney’s fees (i.e. more money!) can be awarded to the winner of an infringement suit (if certain conditions are met); and
  • The date of creation listed on a federal registration certificate is the strongest evidence a court will consider.

Let me emphasize two of these points again:

A person (or company) cannot sue in federal court for copyright infringement without a registration with the U.S. Copyright Office, and the date of creation listed on a federal registration certificate is the strongest evidence a court will consider.

The Nature of Copyright “Registration” Companies

To be clear, there are some companies that will provide the service of filing copyright registration applications with the U.S. Copyright Office on a creator’s behalf.  While one should still do one’s due diligence on these companies to make sure they are experienced and will file the registrations correctly, the services these companies provide is not the focus of this article.

In this article, I am specifically talking about companies that offer “registrations” with their own service in order to “protect” a work.  There are companies offering a “date stamp” – some of them even advertise an encrypted date stamp – to show evidence of the date of creation of a work.  These companies charge just a few dollars per registration and make it appear that using their service will save the user a lot of money in comparison to the fees of the U.S. Copyright Office (currently ranging from $45-65 per application).

However, here is the problem:

First, as already explained,  the date of creation listed on a federal registration certificate is the strongest evidence a court will consider.  While a court may look at other outside evidence, there is absolutely no guarantee they will accept this evidence, and a court will still want the federal registration certificate.  When I have inquired with these companies about whether they have any instances of a court accepting the registration they offer as valid, I have not received a response, and the fine print on these companies websites will state there is no guarantee their registration will be accepted as evidence by a court.  In other words, the answer here is no.  

Second, also as already mentioned, a federal registration certificate is required to pursue a copyright infringement claim in federal court.  If one does not have a federal registration certificate and an infringement (or potential infringement) occurs, the owner of the allegedly infringed work will then have to immediately register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to pursue the claim, AND, will have to rush the application to pursue that claim timely.  The Copyright Office calls this rushed status “Special Handling,” and charges a fee of $800 to rush the application.

While someone thought spending less than $5 on a “registration” with a private company was saving money, that person would end up having to pay $845-865 just to obtain a federal registration to have the ability to defend an infringement for one work.  If the person initially registered the work correctly with the Copyright Office, the fee would have been $45-65, and would have come with all the protections afforded by federal registration, saving that person $800 (plus the money already spent on the other “registration” company).

A Note about Trademarks

Trademarks, which in the music space mostly apply to band names and company names, have a little more leeway here because trademarks can gain protection by use “in commerce”, i.e. out in the marketplace.  However, the same benefits outlined for federal copyright registrations apply to trademark registrations as well.  

Therefore, while these trademark “registration” services provide an example of using a name at a certain time, they do not provide the good will that can only be built by using the mark in commerce, which could include performing under that name, selling music under that name, etc.  Plus, one also cannot sue to protect a trademark in federal court with out a federal trademark registration.

Therefore, the same arguments above also apply here as to why these companies are a waste of money.

What if There Is No Federal Registration?

For both copyrights and trademarks without federal registrations, there may be some protections under state “common” law, however, these protections only extend within a certain state (hugely important in the case of trademarks especially), and provide a much lower level of protection than federal registrations.

Conclusion

Music creators and rights’ owners receive bad information all the time — from friends, other people in the business, and the internet.  However, what really makes me mad is when companies – many of them owned by musicians or former musicians – make promises to music creators and rights’ owners under the guise of helping them, when really the “service” they provide does not afford the level of protection suggested and is profiting off the ignorance of music creators who are simply trying to protect their work. 

Are these companies malicious in their intentions?  Probably not.  They probably just saw what they thought was a creative business idea.  As I mentioned, the fine print usually indicates that these services only provide an indication of a date of creation and no guarantee of acceptance as evidence by a court, but let’s face it, almost no one is going to read the fine print.  Independent musicians already working with smaller budgets do not need to spend money on worthless date notations when they should be putting their money toward receiving all of the benefits afforded by federal copyright registrations.

A person can file one’s own registration applications with the U.S. Copyright Office, and those on a budget may be able to file some applications containing multiple works (if certain conditions are met).  However, because the details of such registrations can often become nuanced, one can also hire an experienced music attorney to assist with correctly protecting one’s works.

All music creators and rights’ owners deserve the real and true information on how to protect their works.  The correct information is available and can be obtained with a little research or by working with professionals acting in accordance with the definitive procedures provided by U.S. Copyright Law.

Creators and rights’ owners owe it to themselves to protect their work correctly, rather than looking for a cheap solution that will ultimately leave them and their work unprotected when it counts.

This article does not constitute legal advice.

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Speaking Event: Music Licensing in the Digital Age

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Categories: Music Industry, Music Libraries, Music Licensing, Music Publishing, Royalties, Speaking, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Music Licensing in the Digital Age, Erin M. Jacobson, music attorney, the music industry lawyer

Erin will speak on the panel “Music Licensing in the Digital Age” at the virtual Thriving Roots conference, produced by the Americana Music Association.

Panel information:

“Music Licensing in the Digital Age”
Date:  September 18, 2020
Time:  3:15-4:45 PM Central


Panelists:
Jeff Brabec, Esq., BMG, & Author of Music, Money, and Success
Todd Brabec, Esq., Author of Music, Money, and Success
Erin M. Jacobson, The Music Industry Lawyer
Kirk Schroder, Schroder Brooks Law Firm 

Click here to view the event website.

Click here to register.

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Billboard names Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. to its Top Music Lawyers List for 2020

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Categories: Music Industry, Press, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Billboard names Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. to its Top Music Lawyers List for 2020

I can finally announce that Billboard has named me to its Top Music Lawyers List for 2020.

It is an honor to be recognized by Billboard, who has served as an authority in our industry for many years, and to share this honor with my colleagues.

Here’s a link to the full article.

Thanks to Billboard and to all of my clients, and you who are reading this!

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Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. to contribute to Synchtank’s Synchblog!

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Categories: Articles, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am very happy to announce that I will regularly be contributing articles to Synchtank’s Synchblog! To get started, here is my first article for Synchtank — “Copyright Terminations:  What Rights’ Owners Need to Know“. Synchtank is a software solution that helps music owners organize, maintain, and pitch their catalogues.  For more information on the services Synchtank provides, click here.  To check out their blog, click here.  

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Erin M. Jacobson has been named a 2018 Rising Star and one of the Top Women Attorneys in Southern California by Super Lawyers.

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Categories: Honors and Awards, Press, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Erin M. Jacobson has been named a 2018 Rising Star and one of the Top Women Attorneys in Southern California by Super Lawyers.

Super Lawyers rates outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. This selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.

Erin will be featured in Los Angeles Magazine as a Super Lawyers Rising Star, and again later this year as one of the Top Women Attorneys in Southern California.

Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. in Los Angeles Magazine as 2018 Super Lawyers Rising Star

Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.  Los Angeles Magazine  2018 Super Lawyers Rising Star

Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. in Los Angeles Magazine as 2018 Super Lawyers Rising Star

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Spotify May Have To Pay Songwriters $345 Million

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Categories: Articles, Business, Infringement, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Royalties, Streaming, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was previously published on Forbes.com.

When you stream music on Spotify, are you aware that as you are enjoying your favorite song, Spotify might not be paying the person who wrote that song?

Spotify has been sued for upwards of $345 million by Bob Gaudio and Bluewater Music Services Corporation for failure to pay mechanical licenses when their compositions are streamed on Spotify. Gaudio, a former member of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, wrote and publishes some of the group’s biggest hits including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man,” as well as Valli’s solo hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” Bluewater administers the publishing for compositions like Player’s “Baby Come Back,” Miranda Lambert’s “White Liar,” and Guns ‘N Roses’ “Yesterdays.”

Streaming requires several licenses –sound recording licenses from the record labels; performance licenses for the compositions from performance rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI; and mechanical licenses for the reproduction of the compositions. While Spotify has deals with the major labels, and blanket licenses with ASCAP and BMI, Spotify has not complied with the requirements for mechanical licenses and payments for all compositions streamed on its platform. Obtaining a mechanical license in the United States is compulsory, meaning that a person or company wishing to reproduce a composition must follow the guidelines in Section 115 of the United States Copyright Act to serve a “Notice of Intent” on the copyright owner and pay said owner the compulsory license fee. Spotify has followed this procedure for compositions affiliated with the Harry Fox Agency (the closest body the United States has to a mechanical rights society), but there are many compositions not affiliated with the Harry Fox Agency that Spotify would need to contact and pay directly – and Spotify largely has not done so.

This is not the first time Spotify has come under fire for its inadequate licensing practices. In 2016, Spotify reached a $30 million dollar settlement with the National Music Publisher’s Association (NMPA) for unpaid mechanical royalties, and Spotify just settled another class action suit for $43.4 million dollars. While maximum statutory damages rates are $150,000 per infringed composition, Bluewater claims that Spotify will only have to pay songwriters $4 per infringed composition after litigation fees are paid. Per the previous settlements, Spotify must also implement a better system to properly track and pay mechanical royalties, and Bluewater asserts this has not yet happened.

The attorney for both Gaudio and Bluewater is Richard S. Busch, most recently in the news for his representation of Marvin Gaye’s estate in the “Blurred Lines” case. Echoing my previous sentiments, a press release citing Busch’s complaint sums up the issue in a single sentence: “Songwriters and publishers should not have to work this hard to get paid or have their life’s work properly licensed, and companies should not be allowed to build businesses—much less billion-dollar businesses—on the concept of ‘infringe now and ask questions later.’”

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Erin M. Jacobson is a music attorney whose clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy clients and catalogs, songwriters, music publishers, record labels, and independent artists and companies. She is based in Los Angeles where she handles a wide variety of music agreements and negotiations, in addition to owning and overseeing all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection. Ms. Jacobson also serves on the boards of the California Copyright Conference (CCC) and Association of Independent Music Publishers (AIMP).

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A Day at NAMM with Erin M. Jacobson

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Categories: Music, Music Industry, Speaking, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the annual National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) convention in Anaheim, CA (right by Disneyland!).  NAMM is a fantastic time to see incredible instruments, hang with musicians and industry folk, and conduct business.

Check out my video above where I take you behind the scenes at the convention, and here are some fun photos from the weekend below.