Music law is an important factor in any artists career; copyright and disputes being a common factor. To provide you guys with the basics we've gathered first hand advice from music industry lawyer, Tahir Basheer from the respected music law firm Sheridans and on that note, if you're ever entering a legal case or new contract always make sure to seek independent legal advice first! Now, read on...
What are top 3 most important legal areas to have covered when starting out in the industry as a performer/musician?
Get registered with the collection societies as soon as you are able to; think about your main contracts and have something in writing (Management Deal, Recording Deal, Publishing Deal); if you band/act has a brand value consider protecting that brand by registering the domain names and getting trademark protection for the name.
What are the steps I should take when I first receive a contract or agreement to sign?
Read it. Take your time and do not be rushed into signing something without first getting independent advice from a qualified music industry lawyer. Make sure you understand what you are signing and don’t be afraid to ask questions about something you don’t understand or would like changed.
What are the main points to check in a band agreement?
Who owns the name, how is song writing and recording income split between the band, what happens if one of you leaves or the band splits or you want to bring in a replacement member. What are the arrangements for touring and what are the obligations for each member around touring? How are decisions (creatively and business related) made,
Is it only written agreements that hold weight in a dispute?
Where do I stand if a verbal agreement has been made?
It will then be a matter of evidence and being able to show and back up what the oral agreement was.
If I think someone has broken a contract or agreement, what should I do?
Assess what damage you have suffered or are likely to suffer. Is that something that is likely to be an ongoing? If so, then you might want to take legal advice on what your options are. Taking court action against anyone is not to be taken lightly and often no one comes out as a winner when litigation starts.
What options do I have if I suspect that someone has plagiarised my work?
Collate the evidence showing the plagiarisation. Get advice from a music industry lawyer on whether you have a claim and whether you can get monetary payment for that and/or an assignment of rights in the plagiarized version to you.
If I am working remotely with people in different countries, does it affect the contract or my rights?
Potentially it does and it is even more important to have an agreement in place between each of you which sets out the jurisdiction of the agreement and applicable law and also what rights have been crated and who owns what.
What is your best legal advice for an unsigned DIY artist in the digital age?
Concentrate on building up your fan base and keeping hold of and using the data you collect.
For an artist new to the business there are some important principles they should keep in mind:
1) more important than the numbers in any deal you do (whether recording, publishing, management, etc) is that the other side get whatever your creative "vision" (awful word, but you know what I mean) is - that they understand what you want to achieve and have a pretty clear strategy as to how to get there. You don't get the chance to fail these days so it’s important you get to work with people who get what you do and are prepared to support it; and on the flip side
2) In any deal you do, never forget that the other side are taking a share of your money - it's not the other way around (as many record companies would have you believe); so if a label is keeping 75% of the money, or a publisher 30% of the money, or a manager 20% of the gross - well what exactly is it that they are going to do for that money? Again, what is the strategy? If you're persuaded by it, then fine. Don't just take the cash.
As you’d expect, major record labels tend to be adept at selling records. But how about the way they deal with the other revenue areas that your recording contract entitles them to grab a percentage of? Is their merchandising team likely to deliver you a deal with the coolest, most proactive merch provider out there? And will your A&R and label management ‘get it’ if your ancillary revenues from touring are more impressive than your initial music sales?
Many artists see the signing of a decent-sized album deal as the holy grail – all they’ve been working towards since they first struck a note or penned a song. However, it’s really just the beginning – longevity and multi album status are the ultimate achievement and the foundation of a lasting career. It’s important to remember that the label offering the biggest advance isn’t necessarily the one who will support an act best over the long term. Don’t just go for the cash, and remember that your manager might have an interest in encouraging you to take the short term path to riches. Do your homework and take your time to try and truly feel the culture of a label and A&R department. Let your senses and not your bank account guide you.
Tahir’s practice has a particular focus on the convergence of creative content and technology, and he is listed in The Legal 500 for his expertise on digital and convergence matters and also for his work with interactive entertainment companies.
He advises a range of corporate and private clients both within the UK and abroad on everything from the development of new business models and distribution channels through to the management, exploitation and protection of their trademarks and brands. His clients range from international corporate entities, start-up technology companies, creative and digital agencies, entrepreneurs, high-net-worth individuals, musicians, designers and creative industry management teams.