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

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

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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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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Key Clauses in Management Agreements Part 4: Key Man Clauses

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Categories: Articles, Management, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. - Key Man ClauseIn the last set of articles regarding management agreements, I have explained the term, commissions, and sunset commissions. In this article, I will explain what is known in the industry as the “key man clause.”

A good music attorney representing the artist will make sure there is a “key man clause” in the artist’s management agreement.

What happens if you sign with a management company and then your manager leaves the company? What if the other people at the company don’t understand your artistic vision or image, don’t jive with your personality, and/or don’t advocate for your career? I bet you’d wish you could continue working with the particular manager that has left the company, right? Right.

The scenario described in the paragraph above is exactly what the key man clause protects against. While it won’t be labeled as a “key man clause,” a good music attorney representing the artist will make sure that there is language in the agreement ensuring that if the artist’s specific manager leaves the company, the artist has the right to also leave the company and follow the manager wherever (s)he goes.

This language does not obligate the artist to leave the management company. If the artist feels there are others at the company who can manage the artist’s career just as well (or maybe better) than the leaving manager, then the artist is free to stay with the company. However, the artist does have the option to leave and follow the leaving manager at that point to protect the artist against being stuck in a management arrangement without someone that advocates for the artist.

Many management agreements don’t include this language and many artists (and some attorneys!) don’t know to ask for it.

If you need a management agreement drafted or reviewed click here to contact me now.

If you need a DIY solution in the form of a template agreement, get one from Indie Artist Resource ( CA residents click here  and non-CA residents click here).

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Are You Sure You Own Your Masters?

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

Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. - Master Ownership

What are Masters?

Throughout the music business, master recordings or “masters” are typically regarded as to as the original or official recording of a performance fixed in a tangible medium like tape, ProTools file, or even mp3, from which copies can be made. Masters are usually recorded in a recording studio or similar setup and these are the original tracks that get mixed and mastered (another sound processing step using the same term but with a different meaning than a master recording). Released recordings purchased on a CD or digital download are not masters, these physical goods are copies of the original masters.

Who Owns the Masters?

Common sense and matters of principle usually cause most independent artists to feel they should own their masters because they are the ones that contributed the performance and are often paying for the recordings. However, oftentimes other owners can be involved as master ownership can vary based on law as well as contract.

Some important aspects in copyright law refer to joint authorships and contributions to collective works. True joint authors that meet certain requirements will co-own a copyright and will be able to exercise the same rights in regard to that copyright. People other than the artist who were involved in the recording of the masters can make the argument that their contribution to the recording counts as a copyrightable contribution and thus makes them joint owners.

Contributors

Independent producers and engineers

These contributions can include influencing the sound whether by musical contribution or other direction, recording techniques, microphone placement, etc. Some producers and engineers are more involved than others. With engineers, it’s mostly about the recording and/or mixing techniques used. In the case of producers, they might just be advising on the sound and encouraging the best performances from the artist, or they might actually be playing instruments on the recordings or co-writing the songs. Producers and engineers may be able to argue partial master ownership based on their contributions, but many independent producers are also using contracts to ensure they own all or part of the masters in an attempt to build an income-producing catalog in addition to their producer fee and royalty. For some producers with great influence in the industry, this may be a requirement for artists to work with that producer, however, I always advise artists to make sure that giving up this ownership is actually worth the success this producer will add. Do not give up ownership (or at least not a large portion of it) without being certain that it will be worth it from a career standpoint.

Performing musicians

The contribution here is usually singing or playing instruments, but in either case it is considered a performance and the performer has rights in and to his or her performance. In some cases the vocalist or musician may simply be singing or playing exactly as instructed, and in some cases may be contributing riffs or other variances adding to the work. In either instance, just paying the vocalist or musician for services rendered may not prevent them from coming back to claim rights in their performances later. Having the vocalist or musician sign an agreement making sure they are giving up all rights to their performance and any contributions they have made is essential.

Recording Studios

Recording studios sometimes say that they own the masters and they will then release the ownership to the artist once the bill has been paid. Studios argue this because the masters were recorded on studio property, with studio equipment, and studio employees. While these arguments have been successful in past cases regarding photography, success of these arguments from a music industry standpoint would depend on the actual circumstances of the situation. While the studio does have an argument based on this contribution, these tactics serve mostly as a way for the studio to make sure it gets paid.

Most artists think because they may have paid these other people for their services, that their ownership rights are covered. However, paying for something doesn’t always mean ownership of it, especially under copyright law. Section 202 of Copyright Law says “Ownership of a copyright, or of any of the exclusive rights under a copyright, is distinct from ownership of any material object in which the work is embodied.” So while you may have tape (or hard drive) in hand, that won’t stop someone from claiming an ownership stake of the copyright.

Record Labels

Usually, a recording agreement will provide that the label will own all master recordings recorded by the artist during the term of the agreement.

“Work made for hire” is another buzz word that artists (and labels) think applies because there was payment for services – and because mostly all recording agreements include this language. A work made for hire must be made by an employee under the scope of his or her employment, or in the case of independent contractors, must be specifically commissioned by the party seeking to own the work and fall within certain categories listed in the law. In most situations where artists are recording music, the parties involved (whether it be artist v. label, artist v. recording studio, artist v. producer/engineer, etc.) are independent contractors, so the employee provision will not apply. Sound recordings are also not included in the specific categories that copyright law lists as eligible for work made for hire status. Most labels make the argument that record albums are collective works (one of the allowed work made for hire categories), but this ambiguity leaves masters open for joint ownership without a proper copyright assignment.

In the Real World

A recent example occurred where A&M Records sued a recording studio claiming one of the studio owners had rights to the master recordings for the album “Temple of the Dog”, by the band of the same name, a side project between musicians Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave) and Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam). The label claimed it bought the masters and the rights from the studio and had an agreement to prove it, but those on the studio side said that not all owners of the studio had signed the agreement and the owner who had not signed the agreement had not given up his rights to the recordings. The lawsuit recently settled out of court, and the tapes were returned to Chris Cornell.

 

What should an artist to do to ensure master ownership?

Artist intending to fully own their masters should have written agreements in place with everyone involved in the recording process — the studio, engineers, producers, and hired musicians. These agreements should clearly state that the artist owns the masters and include language whereby these contributors will transfer their rights in the masters to the artist.

These agreements do involve many components and complex language, so they should be drafted by an experienced music attorney. If the artist’s financial situation prevents him from hiring an attorney (or other reasons prevent hiring an attorney), then DIY templates of the appropriate agreements can be downloaded from Indie Artist Resource (For IAR templates, CA residents click here and Non-CA residents click here).

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 published on Sonicbids.com.

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Key Clauses in Management Agreements Part 3: Sunset Commissions

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Categories: Articles, Business, Management, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

erin m jacobson, erin jacobson, music attorney, music lawyer, los angeles, music industry, managementLast time I discussed commissions in management agreements, but what may be a surprise is that management agreements often also have another kind of commission involved – one that remains after the term of the agreement is long over and the manager and artist are no longer working together.

Management agreements often have something we attorneys in the business call “sunset clauses,” which are provisions dictating that the artist must continue to pay a commission to the manager after the term of the agreement has ended. The purpose of this clause is actually for the benefit of the manager, to protect him or her from putting in a lot of work on certain projects, only to have the term end (or the agreement terminated) and not earn any commissions from those projects in which the manager invested a lot of time, effort, and possibly money. A sunset provision is not unfair in itself. If the manager has worked on certain projects for the artist, the manager should be able to share in the money earned from those projects. However like anything in life, there are limits and the sunset provision should be fair based on the circumstances.

Sunset commissions can range in the amount of the commission and the duration for which the sunset commission needs to be paid. Often management agreements dictate the sunset commission at the full rate (often 15- 20% as I explained here) and often lasting in perpetuity, which means forever. A good music attorney will negotiate this commission down both in percentage and in duration because an artist should not be paying a manager his/her full commission rate forever when the manager is not currently working for the artist anymore. Chances are the artist is probably also working with a new manager at this time and paying a full commission to that person as well. A good music attorney should also negotiate the circumstances around sunset provision and to what the commission applies.

The negotiated sunset commission may be a certain percentage for a certain period of years and then end, or start at a certain percentage for a certain period of time then reduce to a lower percentage for a certain period of time before finally ending. This is why it is called a sunset clause, because the commission tapers off and fades away just like an actual sunset. The percentage amounts, durations, and negotiated surrounding circumstances vary depending on the negotiating power of the parties and the attorneys involved, which is why you need a good music attorney experienced with negotiating management agreements.

The sunset clause often surprises artists because they aren’t familiar with the concept and become upset when they see it in the contract, or they sign a contract with a sunset provision that is longer and larger than it should be because the artist does not understand the agreement. I will reiterate, that the sunset itself provision is not unfair, and it is fair to compensate the manager on projects the manager helped to make a success. Again, having the contract drafted or reviewed by a good music lawyer experienced with management agreements is paramount to protecting one’s interests.

If you need a management agreement drafted or reviewed click here to contact me now.

If you need a DIY solution in the form of a template agreement, click here (non-CA residents click here).

 

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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May Music Legal and Business Roundup

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Categories: Articles, Business, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music Industry, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

cowgirl, lasso, roundup

Image via freeimages.com

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

 

May was actually a little quiet on legal issues making the news.  However, the big news was really a tragic one.  The world lost another amazing artist, Prince.  His death was unexpected and shocked his fans and all of us in the industry.  A great artist who leaves a great legacy.

Here’s the other top stories in music legal and business:

 

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Erin M. Jacobson elected to the California Copyright Conference Board of Directors

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

I am pleased to announce that I have been elected to the Board of Directors of the California Copyright Conference.

The California Copyright Conference is a longstanding organization of music industry professionals focusing on copyright and other industry issues.  I am honored to have been chosen by my colleagues for this position.

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Key Clauses in Management Agreements Part 2: Commissions

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Categories: Articles, Business, Law, Management, Music, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

erin m jacobson, erin jacobson, management commissions, management agreement, contract, music attorney, music lawyer, los angelesIn a recent article I explained the term of a management agreement, and in this article I’ll discuss management commissions; arguably the other most important clause of a management agreement.

The commission is the amount of money the artist will pay the manager under the contract. This is usually done as a percentage of the artist’s gross income. Standard percentages are usually 15-20%, with 15% being more common than 20%.  I have seen the percentages range from 10-25%, but with both extremes requiring special circumstances. Some more creative deals featuring other percentages have also crossed my desk, but again, these deals require other career aspects or services not typically included in management deals.

Aside from the percentage, it is important to know if the commission is being taken on gross or net income, and what gross or net income actually includes. Management agreements in the music industry typically have a list of exclusions on gross income that are specific to aspects of an artist’s career in the music business. This is different than management agreements in other areas of entertainment and in my experience, not all attorneys (even music attorneys) know what to exclude. It is also important to note when, if any, the manager is able to share in other income aside from the main commission.

It is also common for managers to take a commission after the term of the agreement has ended – and I’ll cover that in the next article on management agreements.

Contact me now to draft or review your management agreement.

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Ask a Music Lawyer: Is the Poor Man’s Copyright Enough to Protect Your Songs?

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Music, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

ESQ - poor mans copyrightIs the “Poor Man’s Copyright” enough to protect your songs? The short answer is no.

A work that meets the standards of originality is considered to be copyrighted under United States law when that work is “fixed in any tangible medium of expression,” (17 U.S. Code §102) which means that the work is put into a physical medium that can be reproduced, like writing it down, recording it on an audio or video recorder, etc.

What is the “Poor Man’s Copyright?”

The Poor’s Man’s Copyright is a practice where someone would take a work they had created, put it in an envelope, and mail it to himself via the United States Postal Service. Because the Postal Service would stamp the envelope with a postmark that had the date of mailing, it is argued that the date on the envelope proves that the work was created on or before that date. Otherwise, if the person hadn’t created it yet, how would he have mailed it to himself?

Poor Man’s Copyright 2.0*

Now with the Internet, the argument people try to present to me is that once a person posts something on the Internet, the timestamp of the posting is enough to show that the work was created on or before the date that it was posted online.

Why the Poor Man’s Copyright Isn’t Enough

There are a few reasons why the date or time stamp is not enough to protect a work. Firstly, while as a matter of logic the work had to have been created on or before it was mailed or posted, it doesn’t dictate when the work was actually created. For example, if Person A creates a work in January of a certain year, but does not mail or post it until September of that year, the date/time stamp Person A seeks to use as evidence will be in September. If Person B someone how access to Person A’s work, copies a portion of that work, and releases and/or registers his new work for copyright in July, then Person B’s work will have a date of July and Person A’s work will have a date of September without concrete proof that his work was actually written in January and before Person B’s work.

While it is true that Person A could show that Person B had access to their work, a date on a federal copyright registration certificate will almost always trump the date/time stamp and other date evidence. In addition, if Person A had registered for federal copyright protection, he could have indicated that the work was created in January even if he filed later. Furthermore, Person A could not even sue for infringement in federal court without having a federal copyright registration, leaving him without strong options to defend his work if it was infringed.

Why Register Your Work?

Federal copyright registration with the United States Copyright Office is always advisable because

  • A person cannot sue in federal court for copyright infringement without a federal registration.
  • The date of creation listed on a federal registration certificate is the strongest evidence a court will consider.
  • And federal registration provides additional benefits including but not limited to:
    1. Public notice of who owns the work;
    2. Listing in the United States Copyright Office’s online databases
    3. A legal presumption of ownership of the work in court (if certain conditions are met);
    4. 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).

A person can register his own works for copyright protection, and the online registration fee ranges from about $35-55. However, the terms and application can get complicated, especially for someone who has never filed a registration application before. You don’t want to later find out that your copyright is invalid, like Rick Ross just did.

Contact me to file the registration so it is done correctly the first time.

Registering works for federal copyright protection won’t prevent someone from infringing, but it does provide the strongest ammunition to protect creative works.

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.

 

*Term coined by Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

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New Video: How Much Do Artists Earn from Spotify?

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Categories: Royalties, Streaming, Videos, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I talk about the numbers.

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