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A music attorney is responsible for overseeing the legality of contracts and other transactions between musicians and the parties who pay them. They can negotiate contracts between artists and record companies, as well as copyright agreements and other binding documents. Music law is a specialization found within the larger category of entertainment law. Lawyers in this industry can be available for a one-time contract negotiation, or on retainer for any length of time.
Someone who is qualified to be a music attorney must have a degree in law and be board certified. He should pay particular attention to the laws concerning licensing, copyright, and contracts. The goal is to ensure that both the artist and the recording industry are given due compensation for the work that they perform, and are equally protected.
Music lawyers can work with all types of artists, including those who produce, write, or play music. They can sometimes help artists to find a record deal, but are generally not scouts. They are considered transactional lawyers, as opposed to litigation lawyers who spends time in the courtroom. These attorneys typically speak to their clients on a regular basis, and spend the majority of time talking, reading, and writing in an effort to represent them.
A music attorney can negotiate contracts between a musician and a variety of entities, and even amongst themselves. Bands often decide to create partnerships with each other in order to protect all members of the group. Band managers, agents, and other employees of the band usually serve under contracts as well. Record deals require contracts that negotiate payment to the band, and outline the responsibilities of the company to the band.
Copyright is one of the largest areas of concern for a music attorney. Music created by the band generally belongs to the band, but its usage is negotiated out to the record company and others. Usually, an artist places restrictions on how the company can use a song, or reproduce it, such as on compilation albums. The attorney will work all of these conditions into the agreements with the recording industry. He will also negotiate new usage contracts with others who wish to use the song, such as in advertising or film soundtracks.
Attorneys also oversee any trademarks held by the band. These usually protect the band's name and logo from unauthorized use or reproduction. The music attorney will be sure to trademark these intangibles, and supervise the process of any merchandise production that features them.
Those music attorneys who handled the copyright infringement cases against people downloading music may be great legal minds but they stink at public relations. It is incredible how quickly they were able to turn public sympathy against record companies by filing lawsuits against folks who downloaded music.
I was reading an interview with the bass player for the Undertones (remember them?) who said one of the biggest mistakes the band made was not running their first recording contract past a good music attorney. Record labels will try to bind performers to contracts that are favorable to the labels, and a music attorney can negotiate a better deal for artists.
In that way, music attorneys serve much the same function as attorneys who represent athletes. The goal is to get the most favorable contract possible in a field where companies try to get the most money for the smallest investment.
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