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Erin M. Jacobson Speaking at Taxi Road Rally

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Categories: Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Libraries, Speaking, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I will be speaking at the 2017 Taxi Road Rally, November 3-4, 2017!

Here is my schedule:

Friday, November 3, 2017 from 2:45-4:15 pm / La Guardia Room (Mezzanine Level / 2nd Floor)

Don’t Get Screwed! How to Protect Yourself as an Independent Musician with Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.  An explanation of the most common types of ways independent musicians and songwriters get screwed and how to protect yourself before it happens. This class will include real examples from artist’s careers, as well as a discussion on what contracts are necessary to prevent these scenarios, along with an opportunity for Q&A with music attorney Erin Jacobson.

(I will also participate in the mentor lunch on Friday.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017 from 4:30-6:00 pm /  La Guardia Room (Mezzanine Level / 2nd Floor)

Understanding Music Library Agreements with Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.  Music attorney, Erin M. Jacobson will talk about the types of deals offered and explain what contract terminology and certain clauses mean. You may bring printouts of particular clauses that have you stumped and Ms. Jacobson will read them and explain what they mean! This class could save you a world of hurt down the road. It’s a Do-Not-Miss session if you’re pitching to music libraries!

Looking forward to seeing you there!

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Want to Get Your Copyrights Back? (Here is What You Need to Know)

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Terminations, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By: Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

There has been a lot of buzz lately about songwriters and artists (and their heirs) reclaiming thei copyrights and striking new deals or self-administering/self-releasing. What many want to know, is who can reclaim copyrights and how?

There are certain provisions in the copyright law where, under certain circumstances, an author or that author’s heirs can reclaim copyrights that have been granted away at some time in the past. It’s a really complicated section of the law, and not all attorneys are well-versed in it, so it is important to make sure whoever you hire really knows the intricacies of filing terminations.

For purposed of this article, I’m going to go over the basics.

There are two main sections of the copyright law that apply to copyright terminations:

  • Section 304c applies to copyrights and grants before January 1, 1978. Termination under this section can be effected between 56 and 61 years after the original date of copyright, and termination may be effected in regards to one author’s share of the work.
  • Section 203 applies to grants made after January 1, 1978, regardless of the original copyright date of the work. Grants falling under this section may be terminated between 35 and 40 years after the grant date. If the grant includes the right of publication for the work, then that five-year period begins either on 35 years after the date of publication, or 40 years after the date of the grant, whichever is earlier.
  • Note that under Section 203, grants signed by more than one author require a majority of those authors or their heirs to terminate the grant. It is not like section 304, where one author’s share can be terminated independently. However, there are exceptions to this rule if separate grants were signed, such was the point at issue in the Victor Willis/ “YMCA” case.

Who can terminate?

  • The author
  • The author’s heirs, if the author is no longer living. (There are only specific people in a specific order of succession that are considered heirs. Again, make sure you have an attorney experienced with terminations advise you.)
  • If the author’s share is being terminated by the author’s heirs, those heirs must make up a majority (at least 50%) of that author’s termination interest.

Some additional points that apply to terminations under both sections:

  • When you want to effect a termination, you actually have to send a notice to the current owner of the copyright in advance of the termination date. This notice must be served not more than ten, but not less than two years before the effective date of termination. If you miss this notice window, you lose your right to terminate.
  • The notice must be recorded with the Copyright Office before the effective date of termination to be valid.
  • Works made for hire or grants by will are not eligible for termination.
  • Termination is a matter of law, so it can be affected regardless of any contract or agreement to the contrary.

Why is the right to terminate important?

Recapturing rights and starting to exploit them again can revive older compositions or catalogs, and help them to start making money again when they’re currently lost and forgotten in the catalogs of large music publishers. Also, this increased exploitation (or an advance in a new deal) would mean more money for the authors or heirs. The decision whether to terminate must be carefully considered based on the catalog at issue as well as the situation of the authors/heirs.

I regularly work with legacy clients and their heirs to determine the best plan for the catalog and filing termination notices, if that is the best choice for the client, so please contact me if I can help you with your catalog.

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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How Spotify Has Waged War With The Music Industry

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Royalties, Streaming, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was first published on Forbes.com.

Spotify has waged a war with the music industry. The streaming company has a history of not paying mechanical royalties to songwriters and music publishers, and has already settled two separate class action lawsuits for failure to pay mechanical royalties – the first brought on behalf of music publishers by the National Music Publisher’s Association (NMPA) and the second, known as the Lowery/Ferrick case, brought by independent songwriters. Now, a host of top songwriters, including Tom Petty and members of Rage Against the Machine, Weezer, The Black Keys, and more, have come forward urging the court not to approve the terms of the Lowery/Ferrick case. These songwriters oppose the settlement amount in the Lowery/Ferrick case because when the costs are broken down, Spotify’s liability for not paying mechanical royalties would be to pay a mere $3.82 per infringed composition. The maximum liability under the law for copyright infringement is $150,000 per infringed composition. Quite the difference.

As I previously reported, Spotify was also hit with two independent lawsuits – again for failure to pay mechanical royalties — brought by songwriter/publisher Bob Gaudio and music administrator Bluewater Services Corporation. Even more recently, seven other music publishers have sued Spotify for the same violation.

The Gaudio/Bluewater suits accused Spotify’s practices being reminiscent of Napster, which caused Spotify to fire back with the outrageous claim that Spotify should not have to pay mechanical royalties to songwriters and music publishers at all. More realistically, Spotify has argued that copyright law does not define streaming and places the burden on the plaintiffs to show that Spotify is creating a “reproduction” and therefore required to pay mechanical royalties.

As I explained in my last article, 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. Spotify now argues that it is akin to other streaming services like Pandora, who only have to pay performance royalties. However, Spotify’s argument is flawed for several reasons.

  • First, Pandora and similar services online radio services are classified as non-interactive services because a user cannot choose to listen to a specific song on demand. This is similar to terrestrial radio, except it’s online instead of on the FM dial. In contrast, a Spotify user can choose and play any song the user wishes on demand, which makes Spotify an interactive service. Copyright law makes important distinctions between non-interactive and interactive services, and for the relevant purposes here, the most important difference is that non-interactive services are only required to pay performance royalties (as the use is only a performance, again, like terrestrial radio) and interactive services are required to pay both performance and mechanical royalties (because the nature of the technology actually consists of a reproduction of the data file in addition to the performance itself). Therefore, Spotify cannot rely on the requirements of a separately classified type of service when those requirements don’t apply to Spotify’s service.
  • Second, Spotify has previously stated that it “needs” mechanical rights as part of its operations and has argued in rate court proceedings to weigh in on what mechanical rate amounts it should have to pay. It is both hypocritical and faulty reasoning for Spotify to say it needs certain rights and subsequently argue the opposite.
  • Third, Spotify has previously settled the two class action lawsuits mentioned above in order to rectify its previous non-payment of mechanical royalties. Spotify’s excuse in these cases was that it was too difficult to pay everyone owed due to the lack of a comprehensive music industry database. Once again, Spotify previously accepted that it needed to pay mechanical royalties, but made excuses for its failure to do so, which is in direct opposition to its current claim that it does not need to pay mechanical royalties at all.
  • Fourth, the music industry has long ago come to a consensus that an interactive stream does require a mechanical license and there is evidence that Spotify actually does create reproductions of the files, specifically on users’ mobile phones.

While Spotify’s argument that a stream does not require a mechanical license was recently rejected in court, Spotify can still continue asserting that argument going forward. If a legal decision in Spotify’s favor set a precedent on this issue, it could mean massive losses of income to songwriters, music publishers, and the music industry as a whole. While there are several theories as to why Spotify has taken this approach, the simplest answer seems the most obvious – Spotify doesn’t want to pay. The scariest part of this whole situation is that with Spotify’s massive amount of funds, it has the power to continue litigating this issue with efforts to change the laws and practices of the industry to conform to its unwillingness to pay for the music it uses. It is unacceptable that Spotify has built its entire business on the usage of music content, but yet continually tries to get out of paying for the very content that sustains its customer base. Without music, there is no Spotify and it’s time Spotify stopped making excuses and started to value the music that built its business.

*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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Sync Licenses Explained!

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Film, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Performance, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

A synchronization license is a license to use a composition in an audiovisual production. (A master use license is a synchronization license for the master recording.) A placement can be quite lucrative, but it’s important to understand how your music is being used. Here’s a basic overview of the main points in a synchronization license:

  1. Licensor

The licensor is the person who owns the music and giving permission for it to be used in the audiovisual project. The music publisher owns the composition and the record label owns the master recording. Independent musicians might own both.

The licensor’s information will also include the licensor’s ownership share of the composition or master that is the subject of the license. Also, the writers of the composition and their performance rights organization information will be listed.

  1. Licensee

This is the person receiving the permission to use the music in the audiovisual project. This is usually a production company, studio, or network.

  1. Timing

Timing is how much of the song will be used in the audiovisual project; for example, it could be thirty seconds or an entire song.

  1. Type of Use

This is basically how the music will be used. There are many different terms thrown around to designate the type of use, but without using a bunch of industry-specific terms, examples would be playing in the background, with or without people talking over it; a live performance; played on a radio; an opening or closing theme; or in the credits.

  1. Territory

The territory covers where in the world can the music be used within the audiovisual project. This might be worldwide, for a specific country, or even a local area.

  1. Term

The term is for how long can the music be used within the audiovisual project. This might be in perpetuity or only for a specific length of time.

  1. Media

This is a big talking point because it includes the types of media in which the music can be used as part of the audiovisual project. This can include TV (and what types of channels), theatrical (movie theatres), film festivals, the Internet, all of these, or only some of these. The rights section also includes language about whether the music can only be used in the specific project itself, or also whether it can be included in promotions for the projects and if so, what types of promotions.

  1. Money

Everyone’s favorite topic, i.e. the fee you are getting paid for the use of your music!  This is going to be a negotiated fee based on the type of use, popularity of the song, and other factors.

  1. Direct Performance

Direct performance rights are not present in every sync license, but are being seen more frequently. Basically, some licensees want to pay a buy-out fee of your performance royalties in an effort to move away from paying blanket license fees to the performance rights organizations (who would normally collect your performance royalties and pay those to you). One problem with this is that the licensees still have their blanket licenses with the performance rights organizations, so a buyout of performance royalties would leave you out of any income generated from performances over the amount of the buyout.

  1. Some legal language

This is for your attorney to handle!

 

One should always have an experienced attorney look over any license you receive. Contact me if you have a license you need 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. 

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Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. on TAXI TV

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Categories: Copyright, Law, Legal Issues, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Libraries, Music Publishing, Performance, Royalties, Streaming, Videos, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I appeared on TAXI TV yesterday discussing YouTube payments, royalty free music, cover records, and more!

Here’s the replay of the show:

 

Thanks to Michael Laskow of TAXI Music for having me on the show!

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Erin M. Jacobson featured on Forbes.com

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

I am honored announce I am published on Forbes.com.  My first article for Forbes discusses Frank Ocean’s decision to go independent after his split from Def Jam.

Below is the text of the article and stay tuned as more will be published!

Checkmate:  Frank Ocean Goes Independent

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

Originally published at Forbes.com.  Also reposted at Hypebot.com.

Frank Ocean has chosen the road less travelled for major label artists. He recently split with Def Jam, independently released his latest album, Blonde to chart success, and has refused to submit the album for Grammy voting consideration. While a major label deal was once the holy grail of industry success, what does it mean for artists in today’s industry?

Def Jam released Ocean from his deal in September 2016, a relationship described as “a bad marriage” by Spin magazine who also reported that Ocean’s release from his deal was negotiated. A condition of the split allowed Def Jam to distribute Ocean’s album Endless, while then freeing Ocean to release Blonde under his own imprint. In a recent interview for the New York Times, Ocean described his deal with Def Jam as “a seven-year chess game” and used his own money to buy himself out of his contract and reclaim his master recordings.

Ocean’s “seven-year chess game” refers to the seven-album deal structure typical for major labels. Major labels will sign an artist to a seven-album deal, meaning that the artist is obligated (often subject to pick-up options exercisable only by the label) to release seven albums with the label. This concept can be deceiving to those who don’t understand the structure because the length of the contract is tied to the number of albums released rather than a term of years. Fifty years ago the industry moved at a pace where an artist could release at least one album per year and then be done with the contract in seven years. However, artists today often take more than one year to write and record a new album, often not getting back in the studio until being on the road for almost a year after a prior album’s release. The reality of this schedule means that it often takes two years or more before a follow-up release and thus locks the artist into the contract for as long as it takes to complete the seven albums.

What is more unique about this situation is that Ocean not only bought himself out of the contract, but bought out the rights to his recordings as well. Major label (and most independent label) recording agreements stipulate that the label will own the artist’s recordings, as the label is usually fronting the money to make the recordings. Recording agreements don’t automatically come with the right to buy back masters; that clause is usually included via a good music attorney that knows to negotiate for it. However, many artists that have buy-back rights included in the contract don’t get to exercise those rights due to lack of funds. Ocean was in a privileged position in that he was able to accumulate enough of his own money to meet what was probably a hefty price for his freedom.

Ocean’s move towards independence echoes the increasing trend within the industry to control one’s own destiny and retain ownership of one’s work, a view shared by the majority of my artist clients. Today’s artists relish being independent, but the challenge is remembering that a music career is not only creative, it is also a business and needs to be run as such. Ocean seems to have that mentality. “I know exactly what the numbers are,” Ocean states. “I need to know how many records I’ve sold, how many album equivalents from streaming, which territories are playing my music more than others, because it helps me in conversations about where we’re gonna be playing shows, or where I might open a retail location, like a pop-up store or something.” This level of attention to detail is essential for independent artists looking to build a lasting career.

Ocean’s fame earned while he was backed by a major label puts him in an advantageous position because he has already accumulated a fanbase whose continued support will earn him a lucrative living as an independent artist. Artists in this position no longer need major labels because they have enough fame, opportunities, customer loyalty, and cash flow to finance their future efforts. It is much more difficult for artists still building their followings to achieve the same level of success outright, but many independent artists now look more towards making a living off of their music rather than superstardom. In today’s market, ownership and control of one’s work coupled with keeping a majority of the profits entice artists more than a major label’s deep pockets. As Ocean said:

It started to weigh on me that I was responsible for the moves that had made me successful, but I wasn’t reaping the lion’s share of the profits, and that was problematic for me.”

*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 catalogues, 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.

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Erin to Speak at TAXI Road Rally Convention, November 4-5, 2016

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

Erin will speak at the TAXI Road Rally on November 4-5, 2016.

Here is Erin’s presentation schedule:

Friday, November 4, 2016, 2:45pm-4:15pm

Don’t Get Screwed! How to Protect Yourself as an Independent Musician
with Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

Saturday, November 5, 2016, 4:30pm-6:00pm

Understanding Music Library Agreements
with Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

(in this session, you can bring actual library agreements and ask questions about the language in those agreements)

Both sessions with have ample opportunity for Q&A.

The TAXI Road Rally is for TAXI Members and will be held at the Westin LAX.  For more information on the Road Rally, including schedule and entrance information, visit TAXI.com.

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The DOJ’s Discordant Decision: An Overview of the Ruling and Its Repercussions

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

doj-decisionPerformance rights organizations (“PRO’s”) are organizations that track and collect performance royalties on behalf of songwriters and music publishers. In the United States, there are four PRO’s: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and Global Music Rights (“GMR”). ASCAP and BMI are the two largest U.S. PRO’s and are also non-profit organizations. Since 1941, ASCAP and BMI have been subject to consent decrees issued by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”). These consent decrees are agreements that allow the government to regulate ASCAP and BMI’s license fees and how they operate in order to prevent monopolization and encourage competition. SESAC and GMR are both independent, privately owned companies that operate on a for-profit basis and are not subject to consent decrees.

In 2014, the music community asked for a review of these decrees and requested the removal of digital licensing from the blanket licenses offered by the PRO’s, allowing publishers to negotiate directly with and be paid higher rates by companies licensing music for digital uses.  This is referred to as “Digital Rights Withdrawal” or “DRW.” Digital giants like Google, Pandora, and Sirius/XM, joined by terrestrial radio, lobbied against DRW in order to pay smaller licensing fees to music owners.   The DOJ denied the music community’s request for DRW and has now mandated that music publishers be either “all-in” or “all-out” with the PRO’s, meaning that publishers must allow the PRO’s to license all types of performances of their catalogues or none at all.

In its recent ruling, the DOJ also chose to enforce “full-work licensing,” also known as “100% licensing.”   Under the practice of 100% licensing, any person with a percentage of ownership of the work has the right to license 100% of the work, not just the percentage owned. That licensor is then liable to account to other co-owners of the work for those co-owners’ share of compensation. This principle is in line with the provisions of copyright law governing joint works, and the longstanding language of the consent decrees supports the practice of full-work licensing. Despite the language of the consent decrees, the music industry has never operated on a 100% licensing basis. The principle of allowing one co-owner to license an entire work can be overridden by a contract between the parties, and the music industry has always operated on a “fractional licensing” basis where most owners agree in writing that each owner will administer its own share. Music users obtaining licenses have also historically accepted the practice of fractional licensing, and those users experienced with PRO licenses know that one must get a license from each PRO so that all shares of co-written compositions are covered. PRO’s also collect license fees from music users and pay its members/affiliates on a fractional basis, i.e. the amount collected or paid is proportional to the share of the composition controlled by that PRO.

While the language of the consent decrees and the practice of the industry have long been out-of-sync, the DOJ’s sudden decision to enforce 100% licensing may force an entire industry to change its longstanding way of doing business. The DOJ’s ruling stipulated that if a PRO cannot license 100% of a composition, then that PRO cannot license that composition at all. This means that any compositions written by co-writers belonging to different societies would potentially become unlicensable by the PRO’s.

What Problems Does This Create?

Those that lobbied against reforming the consent decrees failed to realize that their efforts to pay less may also prevent them from using or playing a large percentage of music, or may require them to remove music from rebroadcasts of older programming, because much of the music they wish to use may become unlicensable by the PRO’s.   If compositions are unlicensable by the PRO’s, then music users will have to go directly to music owners for performance licenses. While obtaining direct licenses may be feasible for more experienced users, many music users will not know where to find composition owners or how to go about obtaining licenses from them. If compositions become unlicenseable by the PROs and licenses are not obtained directly from the music owners, it is possible that many compositions may not be used, or many compositions may be used without permission resulting in copyright infringement.

All of these scenarios may hinder music owners from receiving payments for performance royalties, and without the PRO’s, music owners will be responsible for tracking and policing all uses of their music, which is normally too labor intensive and financially burdensome for most music owners.

Foreign performance societies, writers, and publishers are also affected by the DOJ’s ruling. Via reciprocal agreements, U.S. and foreign PRO’s work together to track and collect royalties for performances in a work’s home country and foreign countries. If certain works become unlicensable by U.S. PRO’s, then foreign societies and owners may have to track U.S. performances of their works in the U.S. Anyone in the U.S. wishing to use a foreign work not licensable by a U.S. PRO will have to get a direct license from the foreign licensor. In addition, U.S. owners issuing direct licenses may have to track and collect on foreign performances outside of the societies. Again, this creates burdens on all societies and owners, as well as opening the door for mass amounts of infringement and owners not receiving payments.

The DOJ proposed a solution of modifying all past agreements between co-writers of different societies to allow administration by one owner or PRO. This would apply to both U.S. and foreign writers and publishers. However, this is an impractical solution because many writers will not want another PRO that is not their chosen PRO collecting on their behalf; many writers do not speak to past co-writers or know where to find them; many writers are deceased, leaving one or more co-writers to deal with heirs that may not understand the principles involved or cannot be found; and many writers will not have the financial resources to have their agreements amended.

From a creative standpoint, many writers feel the DOJ’s decision will restrict them to only writing with co-writers from their chosen PRO. Restricting the freedom of writers to collaborate would be a fatal blow to creativity itself and cause many musicians to relegate music to a hobby rather than a career.

Where Are We Now?

The DOJ has allowed ASCAP and BMI a period of one year to comply with the new mandated changes, and if they are still non-compliant after one year, the DOJ can sue ASCAP and BMI for non-compliance with its decision. However, the one-year compliance period has not started yet, and will be delayed by the current efforts of BMI and ASCAP to get this decision reversed.

As of this writing, BMI has sued the DOJ and is appealing the ruling through legal proceedings. ASCAP is developing a lobbying strategy to seek much needed Congressional support and achieve changes from the legislative side. Those of us on the forefront of this issue feel it is best to wait until we have a definite outcome before spending time and resources on modifying agreements or making other changes to longstanding industry practices.  However, consult with me on this issue if you are concerned.

Some resources to take action and stay up to date include www.standwithsongwriters.org and www.artistrightswatch.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.

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 Songwriters Just Got Screwed

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Categories: Articles, Legal Issues, Music, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Streaming, Videos, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Department of Justice has recently come to a decision regarding the review of the 1941 consent decrees that regulate the license fees and operations of ASCAP and BMI. Because ASCAP and BMI are non-profit organizations, they are subject to government-regulated consent decrees, meaning the government regulates ASCAP and BMI’s license fees and regulates how they operate in order to prevent monopolization and encourage competition. When ASCAP and BMI cannot settle on a equivalent fees, the dispute is taken to a rate court where the fee is settled. There have been massive lobbying efforts on the part of the music industry to reform these consent decrees and update them to the needs of writers and publishers in the Internet age.

A review of these decrees opened in 2014 in order to modernize the decrees so that they were more applicable to the ever-changing and evolving music industry – an industry where music is vastly consumed through Internet and streaming services. The goal of the modernization was to bring royalty rates up to fair market value and for the ability of music publishers to remove digital licensing from blanket licensing in order to earn more money from online music and digital streams. Much to the music community’s dismay, no changes were made to the consent decrees and the DOJ has also declared the implementation of full work licensing, also known as 100% licensing, which will end the current practice of fractional licensing that has occurred in the industry for decades.

Under the practice of 100% licensing, any person with a percentage of ownership of the work has the right to license 100% of the work, not just the percent owned. Even a 1% owner of a composition can now license 100% of the work without consent from the other co-owners, and is responsible to account to the other co-owners for their share of the payment. This creates problems because it enables music users to shop for the lowest price between owners and will make it harder for music owners to get paid due to frequent lack of communication between co-owners.  It also disrupts the effective system of fractional licensing, a system that has helped insure that owners receive equal income shares and rights.

The other aspect of the DOJ’s decision removes the option for music publishers and composition owners to do direct deals with digital and other service providers, while still allowing PROs to collect other aspects of performance income. Now, music publishers have to choose to be “all-in” or “all-out” with the PROs, allowing PROs to collect all performance royalties on their behalf or none. This will wreak havoc by further complicating the licenses needed by music users, complicated the tracking of performances from these users, and disrupting the income flow that would otherwise be collected by the PRO’s.

The DOJ’s decision will cause drastic decreases in the income streams for music creators. It not only affects the PRO’s themselves but also the thousands of music publishers, writers, companies, and foreign performance societies that hold business with these societies and rely on these rates.  Not only does the ruling further cripple the already narrowing income streams for music creators, but it also inhibits the industry from growing and progressing within the digital age, and prevents streaming from becoming a financially viable method of music consumption.

So what can you do?  As a music consumer, you can #valuemusic and pay for any music you listen to. If you own an establishment that uses music, make sure you are paying what licenses you can so the music owners and creators are fairly compensated. Everyone can go to standwithsongwriters.org and write to your congressional representative as well as sign up to get updates on this issue and how to stay involved in supporting this much needed reform in valuing music.

I became a music attorney because I am passionate about protecting and advocating for the rights of my clients — the creators and owners of musical works.  Contact me to protect your rights.

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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Don’t Get Screwed Over : 3 Scenarios Where a Handshake Deal Isn’t Enough

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Get It In Writing - Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

Musicians often ask me when they need to “get it in writing” as opposed to just having a verbal agreement or handshake deal. The real answer to that question is that you should always get agreements in writing, but there are three frequently occurring scenarios where it’s essential. Doing so will provide you with much needed protection later on when money or fame create unanticipated problems. Here’s how to handle each situation.

1. Co-writing songs

When co-writing songs with others, it’s imperative to have a songwriter split agreement. This is a short agreement listing the writers of the song and in what percentages they are sharing ownership and royalties. There are longer versions of this agreement that lay out more terms, but a songwriter split agreement is the minimum that you should have in place.

This agreement is important because it offers some proof if someone who’s not a writer tries to claim he or she is owed a credit or portion of ownership or royalties on a song. Here’s a story of an actual situation that happened to a band several years ago.

A new band wrote some songs for their first album while in the studio. As is fairly common, the band had some friends and band members’ girlfriends in the studio with them. One of the songs the band wrote that day in the studio ended up being a huge hit for them that produced a large amount of royalties. The band never completed a songwriter split agreement.

A short time after the song became a hit and the money started rolling in, a girlfriend – now ex-girlfriend – of one of the band members contacted the band and said that the band had promised her 10 percent ownership of the song for contributing a certain line. The band said that they never promised her anything, but she threated to take them to court. The ex-girlfriend had no proof she actually contributed to the song, but the band had no proof that she was lying.

In order to avoid an expensive lawsuit, the band had to give her the 10 percent she wanted. While a written agreement doesn’t prevent someone from making a claim, if the band had completed a songwriter split agreement at the time the song was written, they would have had some sort of proof that the ex-girlfriend was not one of the writers of the song or owed any ownership interest in it. They could have potentially avoided giving up 10 percent ownership and income to someone who didn’t earn it.

2. Working with a producer

Musicians often come to me with problems they’re having with a producer. Often, the producer isn’t turning over the masters because there was a misunderstanding between the parties, or sometimes a producer’s claiming more ownership or income share than he or she should.

The source of these problems is usually that the band didn’t get the terms of the agreement with the producer in writing. As a result, the parties had different understandings of what they each thought the agreement entailed, important terms hadn’t been discussed and left to work out at some later date, or someone changed his or her mind because he or she didn’t have anything in writing to dispute the new terms.

Producer agreements are really important because the creator of the music is bringing in a third party who contributes (some more significantly than others) to the masters and sometimes to the compositions. Producers sometimes have claims to master ownership or require a songwriting credit when they haven’t written part of the song. Producer fees and royalty structures can vary based on genre, stature of the producer, and whether there’s a record deal involved. So, again, having the payment clearly defined is essential.

A band came to me recently after working with several producers on their album, with no written contracts. After spending a lot of money on recording, the band had allowed the main producer on the album to dictate terms of compensation with all the other producers. When the album was finished, the band was left with only 10 percent ownership of all compositions and masters on the album when they were the main songwriters and only performers.

I asked the band why they didn’t seek my counsel or other assistance earlier instead of waiting until this point, and their answer was that they had hoped things would improve on their own. Had the band sought advice on this situation earlier and gotten producer agreements in place with fair terms, this situation could have been avoided.

3. Forming a band

Band agreements are also really important because every band is different. In some bands, everyone writes and all members share equally in royalties, and in other bands, only the main members share credit and royalties while other members are treated more like employees. Bands also have unique issues regarding the band name and who can use or perform under that name if the band breaks up or a member leaves.

The time to create a band agreement is right in the beginning stages of the band when all members are still on good terms with each other. The conversation about the issues covered in a band agreement may seem uncomfortable at first, but ultimately clarifies expectations and protects everyone in the band. If certain band members are unreasonable or cannot agree during this initial conversation, that’s a red flag you’ll be glad you discovered sooner rather than later.

Although being in a band is a creative and fun experience, what many musicians forget is that it is also a business, and needs to be run as such in order to stay organized and find success.

Here’s a story about why having a band agreement is important: I received a call from a musician whose band was in the process of breaking up. The band had been together for several years, and this musician wanted to know if he could continue earning income from the band’s songs and whether he could use the band name in the future.

I learned the band didn’t have an agreement and hadn’t discussed ownership of compositions, masters, artwork, the band name, or how any of these things would be treated if the band broke up. The relationships between the members had turned contentious, and there was no way any of them were in an emotional state to agree on anything.

Because the members weren’t talking, it would have taken a lot of investigation or possibly litigation to figure out how the material should be split and who could use the name going forward. It was very probable this musician would no longer be able to profit from the hard work he had contributed to this band over the last several years.

Had the band created a band agreement in the beginning, they could have discussed these issues and decided how all of their material would be treated in the event of a breakup. While the agreement wouldn’t have prevented a breakup, it would have clearly explained how the material was to be treated and how the members could proceed when the event occurred instead of potentially stripping the members of the proceeds of their contributions.

How and where do you get it in writing?

The best option is to hire an experienced music attorney to draft these agreements with language and terms specific to the situation at hand.

If you cannot hire an attorney due to the cost or other reasons, you can download high-quality contract templates drafted by a music attorney at Indie Artist Resource. Each template covers the most common issues faced in those situations by musicians and comes with instructions to facilitate easy completion of the agreement.

If a formal contract is still not possible, having some evidence in writing is beneficial. You can follow a verbal conversation with an email saying, “To recap the terms of what we discussed…” and then briefly summarize the terms so there is a written record of it. While it is not the same as or as strong as having an actual signed contract, it does help to leave some trail of proof if things go wrong down the line. This is a good idea especially for situations where contracts aren’t always used, like casual agreements with venue talent buyers or promoters.

This article 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.

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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