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Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. on ABC’s Nightline

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Categories: Catalogue Acquisitions, Interview, Music Catalogues, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Record Labels, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. appeared on the 7/1/19 episode of ABC’s Nightline to discuss the current news issue of Scooter Braun’s purchase of Big Machine Records (and Taylor Swift’s master recordings).  You can see Erin’s segments at 5:40 and 6:30.
Click here to watch!

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Music Industry Cases to Watch in 2017

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Infringement, Law, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music Industry, Performance, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was previously published on Forbes.com.

Following are the top music legal cases to watch in 2017, what to expect, and how they could affect the industry as a whole.

Global Music Rights v. The Radio Music Licensing Commission (and The Radio Music Licensing Commission v. Global Music Rights)

Background: As explained here, The Radio Music Licensing Commission (“”RMLC”) sued performance rights organization Global Music Rights (“GMR”) on anti-trust grounds for creating an artificial monopoly over and charging “exorbitant” licensing fees for works in its repertoire. In a separate and non-retaliatory suit (and explained here), GMR sued the RMLC claiming that the RMLC’s committee of radio stations seeks to discourage competition amongst these stations with the common goal of keeping payments to songwriters and music publishers artificially low and using its collective power to do so.

What you might expect: The parties will probably settle, as the implementation of judicial rate supervision would significantly curb GMR’s objectives in negotiating higher rates for its writers. If GMR had to submit to judicial rate setting proceedings, it is probable Irving Azoff would find a way around the regulations to command higher compensation for GMR writers.

How it could affect the industry: If radio does not want to pay GMR’s rates, then radio stations can refuse to play works in the GMR repertoire. As a result, these artists would lose the promotion and performance income provided by radio airplay. It could also affect writers belonging to other performance rights organizations that have co-written songs with GMR writers or covered songs by GMR writers.  The band Anthrax has already issued an open letter to Irving Azoff seeking to have its name disassociated with GMR, as the band is not a GMR client but is listed in the GMR repertoire because Anthrax covered “Phantom Lord” by Metallica (a GMR client) early in Anthrax’s career. Anthrax is afraid this association could stop radio stations from playing all Anthrax songs.

However, the radio stations themselves would also suffer because it would harm stations’ popularity with listeners if stations cannot play the music their listeners want to hear, resulting in a significant loss of advertising revenue.

The Turtles v. SiriusXM

Background: Flo & Eddie of The Turtles sued SiriusXM for playing their sound recordings without paying royalties. In the United States, all sound recordings made after February 15, 1972 are protected by federal copyright law. Prior to that date, sound recordings only had protection under state laws. In 1995, sound recordings were granted a digital performance right to earn royalties when played on digital media like satellite radio or streamed online. This case raised the question as to whether all sound recordings were entitled to the performance right or only those recorded post-1972. Flo & Eddie have been successful in several states to champion the right to royalties for owners of older recordings, but a New York appeals court just ruled against themsaying that the pre-1972 recordings are only entitled to protection provided by state laws.

What you might expect:  The outcome could go either way here, but its definitely one to watch. A settlement might also be possible for those involved in the lawsuit, however, a settlement would not dictate the future of royalties for other pre-1972 recordings not included in this class action suit.

How it could affect the industry: If it is found that pre-1972 sound recordings are entitled to a digital performance royalty, then owners of these recordings and the artists who recorded them would be entitled to an income stream much needed for older catalogues that do not currently make much money in terms of sales or other uses. Satellite radio and other Internet services would have to pay an appropriate amount of royalties, which seems doable for a company like SiriusXM worth billions of dollars, but potentially less so for smaller providers. If the appeal is upheld, then satellite radio and Internet services would continue to play these early recordings without paying royalties to the owners and artists of these recordings and would further the financial hardships for older artists without current hits.

“Blurred Lines” v. “Got To Give It Up”

Background: Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke wrote and recorded a song (“Blurred Lines”) that they, as stated in interviews, wanted to sound like Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” The Estate of Marvin Gaye sued Thicke and Williams for copyright infringement and the closely followed trial yielded a jury verdict in favor of the Gaye family, with a judgment ultimately set at $5.3 million plus future royalties. The verdict inspired a string of similar lawsuits, including one challenging the originality of “Stairway to Heaven.”

A major issue within the trial was whether to consider only the lead sheet (musical notes) deposited with the Copyright Office (protocol at the time “Got to Give It Up” was registered) and not the recording of the song. Insiders of the music community debate the finding of infringement when many of the actual notes were not an exact match in both compositions versus looking at patterns and other music elements that were similar and repeated within both songs.

The case is now up for appeal. Thicke and Williams’ attorney claims that the trial court’s verdict will “chill” creativity. The attorney for the Gaye family argues in his appellate brief that the copyright for “Got to Give It Up” is not “thin,” and states a reminder that the
test for infringement is substantial
similarity and not virtual identity.

What you might expect: This case will once again be closely followed, but the verdict cannot be predicted at this time. A settlement is doubtful because the stakes have become too high for both sides.  This case has become much bigger than just the two songs involved.

How it could affect the industry: The impact of this decision could set an important precedent. If Thicke and Williams win, it would open the door to frequent usage of elements from older songs with little recourse for the copyright owners of the original songs. If the Gaye family wins, it would probably inspire even more lawsuits for infringement. Regardless of whichever party wins, this case may influence all future copyright infringement lawsuits involving music, as it may dictate which sources (lead sheets, recordings, etc.) can be considered in a copyright infringement suit and based on what is included in those sources, which elements of a composition can be protected and/or infringed.

The Department of Justice v. ASCAP and BMI

Background: Performance rights organizations ASCAP and BMI asked the Department of Justice (which oversees the consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI) to reform the decrees based on today’s digital age. Music publishers asked for the ability to negotiate directly with companies licensing music for digital uses. The Department of Justice ruled against all that was asked for by the music community and decided to implement a model of 100% licensing, which mandates that a performance rights organization can only license rights to perform a work if the organization controls 100% of that work.

BMI appealed the decision and got an immediate verdict in BMI’s favor allowing the industry practice of fractional licensing to continue. The Department of Justice has appealed BMI’s victory and that appeal is currently pending.

What you might expect: This is going to be an ongoing fight to the bitter end.

How it could affect the industry: As explained in more detail here, a ruling in favor of the Department of Justice would force the entire music industry to completely change the way it does business, render hundreds of thousands of works to be unlicensable by ASCAP and BMI, place incredible burdens on composition owners to track performances, potentially require hundreds of thousands of contracts to be amended, and would also affect the music industry throughout the world due to the reciprocal agreements ASCAP and BMI have with performance rights societies in other countries.

*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 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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June Music Legal and Business Roundup

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Categories: Copyright, Infringement, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music, Music Industry, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

cowgirl, lasso, roundup

Image via freeimages.com

Here’s a recap of my article’s this month:

 

The most talked-about topic in the music legal world this month was certainly the copyright infringement case where band Spirit is sued Led Zeppelin over allegations that “Stairway to Heaven” infringed on Spirit’s song “Taurus.”  The good news is that Led Zeppelin Wins ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Jury Trial!

Here’s a recap of the week’s trial coverage:

What was also exciting is the recent push by artists to urge online content providers like YouTube to #valuemusic.  This call to action also involves the request to reform the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which allows safe harbor provisions for YouTube and other online content providers.

In other news, those on the other side of the spectrum are filing lawsuits to force certain musical compositions into the public domain so that they don’t have to pay the license fees for them.  This is one of a few lawsuits to follow the “Happy Birthday” case.  This is certainly not a way to #valuemusic.

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Is It Ever Worth It to Give Up Copyright Ownership of Your Songs? A Music Lawyer Explains.

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

ESQ-givingupownershipRetaining ownership of the copyrights may be one of the most important decisions in an artist or writer’s music career. The person who owns the copyrights is the one with the control over how those works are used and also the one entitled to the money earned from those uses.  However, sometimes holding on too tightly to copyright ownership may prevent an artist or writer from taking advantage of opportunities to grow his or her career. The age-old adage that sometimes you have to give a little to get a little is true, but one needs to look at the opportunity cost and decide if giving something in a specific situation is worth what will potentially be gained.

Here are a few instances when giving up copyright ownership may be permissible.

1.  When it will make you a lot of money.

I’m not suggesting one should sell out just for a hefty paycheck, as sometimes dollar signs can’t substitute for artistic integrity.  I’ve also seen a lot of deals (especially in music library situations) where an artist or writer is being offered just a few hundred to a few thousand dollars in exchange for full or partial copyright ownership of a song that is really valuable to the artist or writer’s catalogue and career.  In this instance, such a small amount of money may not be worth the control and potential revenues lost later if the song does well in the marketplace.

On the other hand, I have some clients that write consistently and don’t care about giving up ownership as long these songs will churn out money, especially for placements.  They feel they can always write another song and are more concerned with making their music earn money for them over crafting songs to define their careers.

2.  When it will give you opportunities you wouldn’t get otherwise.

This is a situation where working with a certain company, or in many cases a certain producer, will be able to propel an artist’s career forward and help that artist achieve notoriety that wouldn’t be achieved otherwise.  As mentioned, a typical example of this is working with a big producer who is considered to be a hit-maker in the industry.  Often these producers don’t even co-write on the compositions, but granting them a percentage of songwriting ownership is mandatory for being able to work with them. After all, one could retain 100% of a song that most people will never hear, or one could give up 20% and have the song hit top ten, make a lot of money, garner name recognition, and bring the artist more opportunities than the artist would have gotten otherwise. In this case, it seems like a small trade-off and can be used as a means to an end – one might have to give up some ownership in the beginning of a career, but that could lead to a level of status in the industry where one can retain ownership and call the shots on future projects.

3.  When it is in line with your goals.

A new artist seeking a label deal, especially a major label deal, will not own their masters.  An up-and-coming writer wanting a publishing deal will have to give up all or part of songwriter ownership.  This is what comes with the territory of growing one’s career via the traditional industry structures.  It also makes sense from a business standpoint because a label or a publisher is not going to invest time and money into an artist or writer without getting something in return , and part of their return on investment is ownership of intellectual property.

However, if an artist has a vision of making a living off of music in a completely DIY structure, or that the freedom of complete control is more important than working with others more established in the industry, then sharing ownership might not be the right choice.

Longevity and sustainability in the music business, especially in its current state, comes with catalogue ownership.   Giving up ownership comes with some loss of control, but that loss of control may lead to notoriety and other opportunities putting one in a position of control higher than would have ever been achieved otherwise.

Whether to give up copyright ownership is a big decision, and it is one that should be discussed with the artist’s advisors. The choice right for one artist may not be right for another.  The decision will come down to what is right for each artist’s career.

If you need help deciding whether to give up copyright ownership in a deal you’ve been offered, 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.

This article was previously published on Sonicbids.com.