Category Archives: Kamal Moo

What are ASCAP and BMI?

If you’ve ever read the liner notes of an album (especially back in olden times when CDs were still prevalent), you probably noticed either “(ASCAP)” or “(BMI)” next to each music publisher’s name. If you’ve ever wondered what those jumble of letters means, then this article is for you.

What is the “right of performance”?

When you create a musical composition, copyright law grants you certain rights (see my “Copyright & The Music Industry” article for a broader discussion) and one of those rights is the right to perform your work publicly. Now, this right doesn’t only refer to when an artist performs a song live at a club. It also includes when a song is played on the radio, on television, and pretty much at any public place. And, because there are hundreds of thousands (if not millions!) of public places that play music, it would be practically impossible for a music publisher to grant a performance license to each and every one. That’s where performance rights organizations (or “PROs”) come into the picture. Continue reading

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Copyright and the Music Industry


By Kamal Moo, Esq.

If you’re a musician who’s serious about your work, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of copyright law and how it can protect you. This article is intended to provide a brief overview of copyright and how, from a practical standpoint, it impacts songwriters, recording artists and the music industry in general. Continue reading

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Copyright and the Music Industry

If you’re a musician who’s serious about your work, it’s essential to have a basic understanding of copyright law and how it can protect you. This article is intended to provide a brief overview of copyright and how, from a practical standpoint, it impacts songwriters, recording artists and the music industry in general.

What is a copyright?

A “copyright” is “a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship in a tangible medium of expression.” What does that long, funky-sounding sentence mean? It basically means that when you create a work of art, whether it’s a screenplay, a song, or a novel, the law gives you certain exclusive rights to that work. So, if an unscrupulous book publisher steals the manuscript for your latest novel and publishes it without your permission, copyright law allows you to sue that publisher.

What rights does a copyright give you?

Generally, you have: 1) the right to make copies of your work (as the name “copyright” would imply), 2) the right to distribute copies of your work, 3) the right to make derivative versions of your work (sequels, remixes, etc.), and 4) the right to perform your work publicly.

How does copyright law apply to music?

The music industry exists because of two types of copyrights. 1) the musical composition, and 2) the sound recording. A musical composition copyright protects the lyrics and melody in a song, and the sound recording copyright protects the audio recording.

Sometimes people get the two types confused. I find that the following analogy helps clarify things: if a musical composition is like the blueprint to build a house, then the sound recording would be the finished house. The musical composition gives us the blueprint for the song and the sound recording is the audio recording of an artist’s performance of the song. So, for example, if Beyonce and Barbra Streisand record their own versions of the same musical composition, as you can imagine, the resulting sound recordings would be very different.

How do music companies benefit from copyright law?

Like any other kind of property, copyrights can be sold and licensed. The practical result is that music publishers own musical compositions and record labels own sound recordings. So, when a songwriter is offered a “publishing deal,” they are signing an agreement to write musical compositions exclusively for that music publisher. And, when a singer is offered a “record deal,” they’re signing an agreement to exclusively make sound recordings for that record label. Now, of course, sometimes the songwriter and singer are the same person, so it’s important to know which rights are involved in a contract, because the deals are very different.

Should you register your work with the Copyright Office?

Under the law, you automatically receive a copyright upon creation of your work, BUT (and this is a big “but”), you won’t be able to sue someone unless you register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office (www.copyright.gov). Many types of works can be registered online and the cost is approximately $35 per registration.

Some people have asked me whether mailing a copy of the work to themselves would give them copyright protection (a.k.a. “the poor man’s copyright”), and I always say the same thing: there is nothing in copyright law that recognizes that method as a substitute for registration with the Copyright Office. So, if you’re serious about protecting your work, you should register it properly.

How long does a copyright last?

Under current law, a copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. So, if I write a song today and I die in the year 2020, my heirs would own the copyright to my song until 2090.

In the case of works for hire, a copyright lasts for 120 years after the date of creation, or 95 years after publication, whichever is shorter. So, for example, if a movie studio commissions me to write a movie score as a work for hire, that score would be protected for 120 years after I complete it, or 95 years after the movie is released to the public.

Once a copyright expires, the work enters the public domain and anyone can use it without permission.

Conclusion

As a reminder, this article is only intended to be a brief overview. There are many nuances in copyright law that would require an entire textbook to explain in-depth. Needless to say, if you are offered any kind of music contract, it would be in your best interest to consult a knowledgeable attorney. I can’t even count the number of times clients have come to me regretting the fact that they didn’t hire an attorney to review a contract before they signed it.

Note: Kamal Moo is a California licensed attorney. The information contained in this article is not legal advice. Reading this article does not create an attorney-client privilege. You should consult with an attorney if you need legal advice: www.Johnson-Moo.com

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Band Agreement: What is a Partnership?

In my experience, most musicians just want to make music and not be bothered with the business aspect of running a band. But, like it or not, at its most basic level, a band is a business. Continue reading

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Manager v. Agent

Many times people have asked me, “Kamal, what’s the difference between a manager and an agent?” Yes, I know that sounds like the set-up to a bad joke, but anyone who wants to be in the entertainment business should definitely take the time to learn the difference. Please be aware that everything that follows applies to California law unless otherwise noted.

One main difference between a manager and agent is that an agent has to be licensed by the state and a manager does not. This is why so many artists are managed by an uncle, brother, or best friend (think of the character “E” from HBO’s hit show “Entourage”). If you want to become a manager, just find an artist willing to hire you and, congratulations, you are a manager. If you want to become an agent, you’ll need to meet certain requirements and go through an application process with the state.

California law defines a “talent agent” as “a person or corporation who engages in the occupation of procuring, offering, promising, or attempting to procure employment or engagements for an artist or artists.”

“Artists” is defined as “actors and actresses rendering services on the legitimate stage and in the production of motion pictures, radio artists, musical artists, musical organizations, directors of legitimate stage, motion picture and radio productions, musical directors, writers, cinematographers, composers, lyricists, arrangers, models, and other artists and persons rendering professional services in the motion picture, theatrical, radio, television and other entertainment enterprises.”

What does all that legal mumbo jumbo mean? Basically, it means that an agent is the only person who can seek out employment opportunities for artists. The practical result is that in the music business an agent’s job is to book tours and look for gigs for the artist. One exception to the rule is that a manager may seek out and negotiate record contracts on behalf of music clients. So, now we know an agent’s job is to hunt down gigs. But, what does a manager do? Short answer: they do whatever it takes to make sure the client is happy and that his or her career stays on track.

Here’s a real world example: I managed bands for a few years and part of my job was coordinating with agents to make sure tours happened as planned. An agent would book a tour (which involves negotiating and securing dates with concert promoters across the country), then I would step in and make sure the tour was properly executed. My duties as manager included making sure the band had a working tour bus, that all travel plans were made, that they had all necessary musical equipment, that their merchandise arrived on time, etc. Usually if anything goes wrong on a tour, 99 times out of 100 a band will yell at the manager and not the agent, because it’s the manager’s job to make sure things run smoothly.

In terms of compensation, an agent is usually paid 10% of the artist’s income, and a manager is paid 15%. Sometimes a more established manager may receive a higher commission (Elvis Presley’s manager allegedly took 50% of his income!), but if a manager wants a rate higher than 15%, you should do your research and make sure he or she is worth the money. Also (please make special note of this), reputable managers and agents will NEVER ask for any up-front money from their clients. Legitimate managers and agents work strictly on commission. Period.

Another common question is: how do I get an agent or manager to represent me? The old joke in the entertainment industry is you’ll probably get an agent and a manager when you don’t need them. (This joke is very accurate, by the way). Many times, a band will need to achieve some degree of success on their own before reputable agents and managers will even consider working with them. If agents and managers start sniffing around, you know your career is headed in the right direction.

Building a reliable, hard-working team can contribute greatly to your success as an artist. The right manager and the right agent can keep your career on track and help you reach your full potential. Therefore, it’s very important to choose each one carefully. Hopefully this article has shed some light on the key differences between them and what you should look for.

Note: Kamal Moo is a California licensed attorney. The information contained in this article is not legal advice. Reading this article does not create an attorney-client privilege. You should consult with an attorney if you need legal advice: www.johnson-moo.com

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