WHAT NIGERIAN MUSIC ATTORNEYS DO IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY.
Every year, Hollywood’s foremost trade publication – www.hollywoodreporter.com – publishes the annual power list of Hollywood’s top music business attorneys. The contribution of these venerated elite industry professionals cannot be discountenanced. They apply their talent, expertise, time, and other resources for the benefit of the industry as a unit. Little wonder why America is the entertainment capital of the world.
In Nigeria, there is a new wave of legal practitioners seeking a piece of the action. The new found interest in the Nigeria’s burgeoning entertainment industry is caused by the realization that the ever growing music and film industry in Nigeria needs the participation of lawyers. Young lawyers seeking new opportunities are at the forefront of the new ‘wave’.
The possibilities available to music attorneys are boundless. Their service, as advisers in business, is essential at every stage. From the conception of ideas, to the creation of original works, registration of intellectual property, and till when promises are exchanged for employment, licensing and distribution of works, administration of intellectual property assets, administration of estates, and other legal affairs.
Highlighted hereunder are various aspects of the music business where some lawyers in Nigeria already service. These areas require the intervention of seasoned music attorneys;
These are economic rights of performers/singers/session musicians and record label owners. It refers to the public performance or broadcast (internet radio, TV, live performance) of a sound recording. The record label and the artiste(s) performing on those recordings earn neighbouring rights royalties.
In the same breath, George Howard, an Associate Professor of Management at Berklee College of Music said, “You can think of neighbouring rights in the same way as public performance rights, with the difference that while public performance rights compensate the writer of the song when his/her music is publicly performed, neighbouring rights compensate the master holder (typically, the label) and the performer when music is publicly performed”.
In Nigeria, the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) is responsible for the collection of these rights. Music attorneys ensure that their clients are properly represented under this body so that they can benefit from the public use of music at hotels, nightclubs, broadcast stations, restaurants, concert venues, etc.
Music attorneys advise their clients on how best to distribute their works. Sometimes they leverage relationships and private information for the benefit of their clients.
PROTECTION OF COPYRIGHTS AND TRADEMARK.
In the words of Ken LaMance, a US Intellectual Property lawyer, in his article “The Basics of Music Law” “Copyrights protect music and other original works of authorship. Registering a copyright for a piece of music allows the composer or songwriter to seek monetary damages”, Music lawyers would help an artist secure the rights to use music that other artists have written, comply with copyright laws as well as bring a copyright infringement suit.
They also help artistes understand what intellectual property rights they have and how the trademark and design laws in Nigeria can be of help. An example can be found in the widely reported case of Wizkid and the US singer, The Weeknd, over the use of the name “Starboy”. It is widely reported that Wizkid never trademarked the name in the United States of America. Many believe that the Weeknd had the name “Starboy” trademarked after its use as title of his 2016 album, and as such would now be associated with its use in every class of entertainment and incidental merchandise.
“Never sign any contract given to you without having a knowledgeable entertainment lawyer who you retain to represent you and review it first”, these were the words of Wallace Collins (a UK notable entertainment lawyer).
A music attorney would draft and review music contracts agreements between an artiste and a producer to ensure both parties are on an even scale as well as draft and review documents utilized in the course of the client’s business. Examples of such agreements and documents are Music Licensing Agreements, Territorial Coverage, Producer Agreements, Royalty Split Agreements, Non-Disclosure/ Confidentiality Agreements, Label & Distribution Agreements, Recording and Music publishing Agreements and Marketing Agreements.
A music attorney would help new artistes in the industry understand the workings of the business. The lawyer would advice on which types of contracts to choose, how to identify any hitch in business deals, what performing rights they have, where to find a manager, accountant or other business contact, act as general counsel helping with marketing and merchandising deals, as well as real estate transactions and tax issues. A music lawyer will help navigate the minefield that is the entertainment industry.
PROTECTION OF A DECEASED ARTISTE’S LEGACY.
The expiration of copyright in a musical work is 70 years after the end of the year in which the author dies; therefore, to use or exploit the copyrighted music of a dead artist, due authorization for use must be obtained.
The role a music attorney plays here is to ensure that artists, or other handlers, seeking to use the works of dead artists in their music go through the legally provided procedures, failure of which may attract unpleasant consequences. An example of this is the case of the Nigerian artiste Skales, who was embroiled in a legal copyright battle with the estate of Fela Anikulakpo Kuti in 2017, on the remix of his music “Temper” which sampled Fela’s “Sorrow, Tears & Blood”. The music attorneys of Fela’s estate responded by instructing YouTube to take down the infringing content.
ACCOUNTING AND PAYMENT OF REVENUE TO MUSICIAN AND OTHERS.
When negotiating music contracts, music attorneys ensure that the percentage to be paid to writers, record producers, session musicians, talent managers, and other collaborators are agreed upon and stated out in contracts.
They also ensure that all streams of income are properly channelled to rightful owners.
The attorneys also prescribe the manner and time of payment of revenues due to the artiste, record producers, talent manager, and where applicable, the record company.
In conclusion, the roles played by Nigerian music attorneys in maximizing the full potentials of talents and investors, and in helping to build a viable and sustainable ecosystem in the Nigerian music industry, cannot be exaggerated. They must install their expertise and time in all spheres of the music industry for the benefit of all.
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