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Music and the law

|Written By Jeffrey H. Waugh

The makers of Rock Band may want to consider adding an additional player to their lineup of vocalist, guitarist, bassist, and drummer: the lawyer who helps to negotiate the royalty fees, copyright issues, management contracts, and inevitable disputes between the band members.

Cameron Hutchison, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, will be holding a class next semester exploring just that — the legal elements behind the music industry.

“It’s fundamentally a copyright course — an advanced copyright course,” says Hutchinson, but it will also take the negotiation side of the industry into account. “It’s about how lawyers . . . come prepared to negotiations with positions, and then they end up agreeing on terms and drafting the contacts.”

Hutchison says the course will offer real-life scenarios with practical application. “The structure of the course is to be fairly comprehensive in terms of covering different negotiation scenarios in the music business,” he says.

He mentions a case from a few years ago involving the drummer from The Doors, who won a permanent injunction against the remaining band members preventing them from using the band’s name following the death of Jim Morrison.

“What does a group do when it wants to sort out the issues between them? Who owns the copyright for songwriting? If some of the members of the band or one member leaves, does the rest of the band get to keep the name?” asks Hutchison.

These are just a few of the issues his students will be exploring.

“Then you have issues about negotiation terms of the personal manager, and business managers negotiating a contract with the record company, and with the producers,” he says.

“And so, in a lot of these negotiations, the focus would be on copyright, but it will also be based on royalties and based on revenue, and coming up with a percentage that you pay your manager for the work that they do.”

As the course develops, Hutchison sees the potential for a clinical component to the course. He says there’s already been interest from his colleagues in involving students with various projects.

“For example, in the music department at U of A, we have a professor who goes to Africa and records music in refugee camps in Ghana,” says Hutchison, “and he was interested in having some of my students do a project for drafting terms for an agreement with these musicians and composers.”

The class size is being limited to about 20 students, and Hutchison tells 4Students that enrolment is maxed out. Anyone hoping to add the course to his or her schedule will need to have a background in intellectual property, a prerequisite for Hutchison’s “musicians and the law” course.

Evaluation will be based on participation and involvement in one of six prepared scenarios being distributed to students. They’ll be expected to complete a position statement from their given scenarios, participate in a negotiation exercise stemming out of the position paper, and then follow it all up with the drafting of a final contract.

Hutchison admits he doesn’t have a great deal of experience working the music industry.

“I like music,” he jokes, adding that he does play the guitar. But he’s well versed in intellectual property law and says he’s spent a great deal of time researching the area while he prepares the course content.

“There’s quite a vibrant music scene out here in Edmonton,” he says. “It’ll be interesting to see where this goes.”


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