Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Music Business/Law Tips - Copyright Reversion (35 Year Rule)

The 1976 Copyright Act added a provision that allows an artist (or songwriter) to reclaim ownership of masters (or songs) created from 1978 or thereafter once the 35 year term on those copyrights expire. Although it’s a bit more complex and the Act should be read to fully adhere, basically in order to trigger the reversion process, the artist/songwriter must file a termination notice with the label or publisher (and the Copyright Office) no earlier than 10 years and no later than 2 years before the 35 years of date of creation. A failure to miss this deadline waives the right to reclaim. The labels and music publishers who survive off their catalog of old hits cannot afford to lose the golden goose so they are fighting back under the theory that the original agreements with the artists/writers contained “work for hire” language that essentially made the label/publisher the author forever (i.e., the artist/writer waived the right to later claim ownership). A few lawsuits are starting to trickle through the system but there is no clear precedent yet (and they will probably will be resolved case by case if not settled out of court). Some artist/writers are using the threat to cut new deals. Note that Artists (or songwriters) who created masters (or songs) prior to 1978 can also reclaim their copyrights, yet under different and more lengthy timelines (but that is beyond the scope of this piece). Ben McLane Esq

Monday, July 14, 2014

Music Business/Law Tip - "Shazam"

Music Identification App “Shazam” is becoming a major player in the music space. Shazam helps people ID music playing on radio and TV, and the App lets people then share the song’s name on social media, download the song form iTunes, or stream it on Spotify. The power of Shazam for the health of the music business is twofold: 1. Last year alone it caused more than $300 million is iTunes sales (according to its website); 2. It’s a great way for new artists to be discovered (so it’s key for new artists to have their music available in the Shazam system/database). This year all the major labels bought a stake in Shazam so expect to hear more from Shazam. Ben McLane Esq

Friday, June 27, 2014

Music Business/Law Tips - "Songwriting Splits"

If 2 or more songwriters collaborate and complete a song, it’s important to sign off on a “split sheet” so that everyone knows each writers' share and resulting income so there are no disputes later. These days - especially in producer-led genres of music such as hip hop and dance - the roles of who a writer are can be difficult to determine so its key to clarify in writing if there is any participant who could make a claim. Be aware that a well-known artist may insist on a larger split or a split even if they did not contribute, since their involvement or “name attached” increases the chances of the song being successful. Under the Copyright Law, a song is deemed to be jointly-authored where there are 2 or more writers, and the splits will be equal for each writer – so if that is not the case (i.e., if each writer did not contribute the same which is often the case) - its imperative to get the actual splits agreed to in writing. If the goal is to have 1 person administer the song for all writers make sure that is clear in the paper (otherwise each writer administers their own share). Try to get the split sheet signed as soon as the song is complete and recorded as it’s hard to chase down people later or when their memories fade/change,, and not having this info handy could delay or block a release. Ben McLane Esq

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Music Business/Law Tips - "Sample Clearance"

If an artist is going to use some existing music as part of the new song, that is a “sample” and permission is needed. Unfortunately, there is no "standard" sample situation. Its case by case depending on who the artist and songwriter is being sampled, who the sampler is, how long the sample is/how much its used and if it’s the hook or not, who the sampler’s label is vs. self-release, etc. The only way to know if one can get permission and what the splits will be is to contact the label that owns the master being sampled and the publisher that controls the song being sampled (there are 2 clearances needed for most samples). Once they hear and it and evaluate what they want/is fair, they propose a split and the sampler will either go with it or negotiate it. It can actually be a pain and expensive to sample as some samples require to pay an advance up front and often its takes forever to get the approval which can screw up a release schedule. Note, there are some clearance houses that can clear samples and make the process easier (but they charge a fee). Ben McLane Esq

Friday, June 6, 2014

Music Business/Law Tips - "Producer v. Production Agreements"

The 2 main producer related agreements are: (1) Producer Agreement and (2) Production Agreement. What is the difference? 1. A Producer Agreement is where a producer is hired by an artist or label to produce master(s) for the artist/label. The producer is a “work for hire” which means the producer will not own/control the masters (the artist/label will), but will get paid a fee for his/her work and back-end royalties on sales and licensing of the masters to film/TV/ads. 2. A Production Agreement is where the producer acts like a label and discovers/develops the artist, and signs the artist exclusively to his/her production company for a term/number of albums. The producer normally gets 50% of the profits here (a lot more than under a Producer Agreement situation). The producer will normally cut a few demos and then pitch/showcase the artist to a record company who can partner with the producer to distribute and market the artist. If the producer cannot find a distributor within a certain amount of time the artist can usually terminate. Of course there are other key issues that affect the above like recoupment of costs and songwriting/publishing, so if you are an artist or a producer make sure you have good legal counsel before doing either type of deal. Ben McLane Esq

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Music Business/Law Tips - "Royalty Streams"

If an artist is fortunate enough to write, produce, record and release a song that connects with the public he/she can earn income from many different sources. The primary income streams are as follows: 1. Mechanical (i.e., songwriter) income from sales of CDs and downloads 2. Radio airplay (i.e., performance) income [BMI or ASCAP] 3. Performer income from sales of CDs and downloads 4. Streaming income from listens 5. SoundExchange income from digital radio (i.e., Sirius/XM) 6. Producer royalties from sales of CDs and downloads 7. Synch income (i.e., use in TV/film/ads) Now go get that mailbox money! Ben McLane Esq

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Music Business/Law Tips - "Foreign Entertainer/Artist Visa"

A foreign entertainer/artist must obtain an O1B Visa in order to legally stay and work in the US for an extended period of time. The entertainer/artist must file an O1B application with the US Immigration Office to begin the process. An O1B Visa is only granted to someone who can prove they have “extraordinary ability in the arts”, have “national or international acclaim” and a “record of prominence in his/her field.” Bottom line the Immigration Office is very strict about who they issue a Visa to (especially after 9/11), so the applicant has to be very careful with the paperwork submitted. There are lot of people trying to get these Visas who don’t really deserve them, so the applicant has to find a way to set him/herself apart from the pack so it’s clear he/she is worthy. The main thing the application needs to show is real evidence of working and making some kind of artistic/valuable contribution in the US. Normally an experienced immigration attorney who has dealt with entertainers/artists is recommended to assist with the process. Since the process can take some time, its best to apply early to make sure future plans are not screwed up by a rejection. Ben McLane Esq