Legal Doctrines and Lawsuits in the UK Music Industry

Published: 2019-08-28 06:05:19
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Intellectual property is the term used to describe ownership of rights to inventions of various kinds. Many artist, songwriters, and singers are expected to own varied intellectual property rights on their pieces of compositions. However, for their success, the music industry usually subject musicians and songwriters to different contractual agreements. Some of these agreement aim to take over the copyright and property ownership rights from the artists. Some of the laws they are subjected to are deemed harsh and unrealistic. Many of these contracts have aimed to benefit the recording companies and managers more compared to the extent to which they benefit the artists themselves. A number of these contracts have unrealistic expectations on the artist and leave them with less to admire. However, the artists usually have no options but to sign these agreements because they want to grow their talents and earn a living through performance, selling, recording music, and writing songs.

Before a musician can release a song or an album, and before a songwriter get a musician to sing his or her song, they have to sign contracts that allow them to operate within the music and creative industry. These contracts are usually referred to as agreement and come in different forms. The first known agreement is the exclusive recording agreement, which refers to the process where a recording artist enters into an agreement with a recording label, normally a studio owned by a person or a group of people (Challis, 2010). The artist allows the recording label to take full ownership and full exploitation of rights for the sound recording of the artist in exchange of royalties payable to the artist.

A publishing agreement is the type of contract signed between the publisher and a songwriter or songwriters who relinquish ownership of some or all of their current, future and past songs to the publisher. This means that the publisher can therefore exploit any opportunity on behalf of the songwriter or songwriters and pay a given percentage inform of royalties to the songwriter or singer. The third type of agreement is the management agreement in which the artists, usually a band, solo performance or a duet enters into an agreement with a manager or a management company to manage their music career (Challis, 2010)

Many music managers, publishers, and record labels have faced several federal lawsuits filed by artist such as recording artists and songwriters over the nature and terms of these agreements. As stated above, some of these agreements are cruel and unrealistic. Most singers and songwriters find that they have been ripped of their rights to own their intellectual property after signing these agreements. For example, most of the deals are hostile agreement referred to as take it or leave it deals. These contracts require that the musician and songwriter transfer their entire vocal, recording, and song writing rights to labels and companies they are signed with (Challis, 2010). Many artists later realize that after risking transferring their legal intellectual property rights to such players in the music industry they end up receiving less money compared to the transferred rights. Such realizations have lead to various legal issues among managers, musicians, and songwriters.

In many old and recent cases, various artists have brought their producers and managers to book by using the doctrine of the inequality of bargaining power between them and the record labels or managers. This usually occurs after the musician starts bringing in more profits yet receiving less of the profit accrued (Lawyers for the Creatve Arts, 2013). The artist normally signs the deals without having proper legal knowledge of signing such contracts. For example, the 1994 case between George Michaels and Sony entertainment in which Michaels went to court to regain his copyright powers from Sony. On the same note, the record label usually does not inform the musicians of any expected increments on their share of royalties when they start making more profits. Other case examples showing lack adequate bargaining powers include the Stone Roses v Zomba limited and Holly Johnson v Zang Tumb Tuum Records (ZTT) Ltd. Holly and the Stone Roses were too young to bargain effectively for their deal and agreement signed by their labels (Dissertation, 2001).

Since they sign an original document that states the amount of money the singer is supposed to get from the beginning, most recording companies and managers exploit their artist by sticking to the original agreement irrespective of positive changes in the profit accrued (Challis, 2010). Upon realizing that they work hard but earn less, musicians usually seek legal actions based on the grounds of inequality of bargaining powers at the beginning of the contract. They normally state that the record label and the managers knew from the onset that the profit accrued from recording would increase. However, they failed to factor in such knowledge in the royalties payable to the artist as he or she continues to record with the firm or person. As such, the person will feel cheated, overused, and denied enough bargaining power from the onset to earn what he or she is worth. Similarly, inequality of bargaining power makes it hard for artist to bargain on the percentages received after their recording with the labels plus what they give their managers. Various record labels do subject musicians to a take it or leave it deal that s rigid and does to factor n future changes n royalties paid to the artist (Lawyers for the Creatve Arts, 2013). They also subject artist to calculating royalties based on reducing percentages of the profit accrued. In many instances, the artist end u loosing and will end up taking such labels and managers to court (Challis, 2010).

Some artists have sued their managers and record labels based on the doctrine of duress on their performances. For example, some of them have cited the fact that the record label company teaming up with managers in coercing them to produce more songs and make more profit. The artist take longer hours in the studio while recording or writing new music (NME, 2014). They feel under pressure to work since they risk losing recording deals with the label and even having to look for a new manager if they do not meet the required standards imposed on them by the labels and the managers. Duress also stem from the lack of equal bargaining power from the time the contract was signed since the labels and the managers reserved the right to cancel the musician any time while the musician lacked the right to cancel their recording and management deals with either of the parties respectively (Lawyers for the Creatve Arts, 2013). Many artists state that duress is bad for their health life because it leads to various physical and mental strains. This means that the artist will have to spend longer hours working on recording and or writing new music. This will lead to physical strain and extra input from the artists side. When they demand either extra pay for the extra recording hours, they receive less or no payment from their record labels and managers. Lawsuit examples include Pap Roach v Interscope in 2010, Wiley v Warners in 2013, Mia v Interscope, and Azalea Banks v Universal in 2012 (NME, 2014)

Other artists enter the music scene when they are too young and lack adequate knowledge about the legal requirement before signing performing and recording agreements. They also lack adequate legal counsel and knowledge on how to get the best lawyers to give them advice on creative art laws, regulations, and other important information on signing contracts. Once they become of age, they are able to acquire legal information that will make them understand that they were either duped into signing the contract or were not provided with the right information (Challis, 2016). They can therefore sue both the record label and the managers for misleading them by presenting them with no opportunities to have access to adequate legal information.

Many labels and managers also subject the artist to undue influence and lack of fiduciary duty when they are signing contracts for the first time (Dissertation, 2001). The artist are provided with false information that influence them into signing large unreadable documents with contains numerous other clauses that later affect the performance, recording and ability of the artist to earn enough royalties from their hard work. They are not given any chance to negotiations and no explanation given on the contracts. The managers also fail to play their fiduciary duties of helping the artist obtain such information. Similar artists have reported being influenced to signing deals with the promise of better future but end up having failed hopes. Some record companies promise to record, market the songs for the artist and in the end make them rich. However, when their hopes are dashed and, the record labels and some managers usually aim to abandon such musicians (Challis, 2016). They feel influenced to sign contracts that would never work. Hence, they sue the managers and the labels. On the same note, there are some record labels that influence their artist to sign deals with the by promising them bigger shares. However, the agreement contained other minor clauses that contain deduction hidden from the singer. The singers then ends up suing the record label and the managers for misleading them by wrongly influencing them. An example of such a lawsuit is the 1986 case between Elton John and Dick James in which Elton believed that the contract was signed under undue influence with lack of fiduciary duty from the manager. Another case is that of Gilbert OSullivan v. Management Agency and Music Limited in 1982 (Dissertation, 2001).

The doctrine of restraint of trade makes it impossible for artists to sell their own music to other people, companies and organizations. This agreement requires that the artist should not engage in the sale of their recorded music unless it is done through the recording label. They have no rights to sell, record, or market their music even to new potential buyers they have met. According to this doctrine, all marketing and trade of music must be done either by the recording company or by the artists in full knowledge of the manager and the record label (Challis, 2010). The artist therefore does not have the rights to sell his or her music using any platform without the knowledge of the recording label and even the publishers knowledge. This doctrine restricts artists because they do not enjoy the ability to use other people in their cycle to promote their music. An example of a case law is the Holly Johnson v Zang Tumb Tuum Records (ZTT) Ltd case of 1989. In this lawsuit, Holly Johnson and his group called Frankie Goes to Hollywood, had signed recording and publishing agreements with their record label (ZTT) Ltd early in their careers. I the agreement, ZTT did not allow the group to conduct any form of trade outside the contract agreement. Other cases include Mountfield v Silverstone Records Ltd of 1993 and Panaiyiotou and others v. Sonny Entertainment Ltd (UK) in 1994 (Dissertation, 2001).

Part 2: 360 Degrees Deals

Many musicians in recent years have turned to the usage of 360-degree deals to market their music. The 360 degree is an agreement between the musician and recording labels to help them succeed in the music industry. The Association of Independent Music (AIM) (2016) defines 360-degree deal as a deal which grants transfer of rights issues and the artist is required to transfer and assign their copyrights of current and future sound recording to their labels. They night also be required to tran...

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