Saturday, May 29

Releasing Your Own Record: A Legal Checklist

Written by Bart Day, Entertainment Attorney, 2002

For artists who are releasing their own record for the first time, without the involvement or assistance of a label, the process can be a little intimidating. It can be easy to miss some key legal details in the process.

Here, therefore, is a very basic checklist of issues to be considered when releasing a record. Bear in mind, though, that your own particular circumstances may dictate that you take certain steps that are different from, or in addition to, the various steps mentioned below. Also, it has been necessary to greatly oversimplify some of the issues discussed below due to space limitations.

1) Agreement Between Members of Group. If it is a group (as opposed to a solo artist) releasing the record, and if the group has not already formalized its relationship by way of a partnership agreement, incorporation, or limited liability company ("LLC"), there should at least be a clear and simple written agreement among the group members about how the finances of the recording project will be handled. Also, it is always a good idea to deal with the issue of the ownership of the group's name as early in the group's career as possible.

2) Investors. If there are investors involved, documents will need to be prepared in order to comply with certain Federal and State securities laws. Be especially careful here.

3) Distribution and Promotion Strategy. Think ahead about how the record will be distributed, advertised, and promoted, and how much money will be needed to effectively market the record. Sometimes all (or almost all) of the budget for a project is spent on recording and manufacturing costs, and there is little or no money left to effectively advertise or promote the record. This, of course, is not really a legal issue but is such a common (and often fatal) problem that I feel obliged to mention it here.

4) Mechanical Licenses. For any cover songs appearing on the record, you must obtain a mechanical license from the owner of the song (i.e., the song's publisher), authorizing the song to be recorded and providing for the payment of mechanical royalties. In many cases this license can be obtained fromThe Harry Fox Agency (212/ 370-5330). Allow six to eight weeks for this process.

For songs not licensable through Harry Fox, you must contact the publisher directly. Usually the easiest way to do so is to obtain the publisher's contact info from the "song indexing" departments at ASCAP and BMI.

5) Sampling Clearances. If you are including any samples on your record, you need to obtain sample clearances from the publisher of the musical composition being sampled AND, separately, the record label that owns the master being sampled. Do this as early as possible, as there will be some instances in which either the publisher or label will not be willing to issue a license, or the licensing fee which they require may not be affordable.

Also, some duplicators will require you to sign a form stating that either you have not used any samples, or that if you have done so, you have obtained all necessary clearances. If there is any obvious sampling done, the duplicator may require you to show them the clearance documentation.

6) "Work for Hire" Agreements. For any session people, engineers, etc. whom you are hiring, it is wise to have them sign a short and simple "work for hire" agreement, to preclude any possible future claims by them that they are owed royalties or that they have ownership rights in the masters. Do this BEFORE you go into the studio.

7) Producer Agreement. If you are using an outside producer, there needs to be a producer agreement signed, defining (among other things) how the various costs of the recording sessions will be handled, what advances (if any) will be paid to the producer, and what producer royalties will be paid to the producer. Just as in the case of the Work for Hire agreements mentioned above, do this BEFORE you go into the studio.

8) Production Credits. Make sure that the production credits listed in the liner notes--for session people, producers, and others--conform to any contractual requirements. For example, the producer agreement will often be very specific about how the producer's credits are to be listed. For musicians performing on the record who are signed to a label, they will normally need to be credited as appearing "Courtesy Of" their label.

9) Liability Releases/Permission Forms. You need to consider the possible necessity of getting a liability release or permission form signed in any of the following scenarios: (a) If a photograph and/or artistic image of an individual outside the group is included in the artwork; (b) If any of the artwork which you are going to use is owned by any third party; or (c) If any logos or trademarks owned by third parties appear in your artwork. There can be some tricky legal issues in this area, so be very careful here.

10) Copyright Notices for Songs. Be sure that the liner notes contain the correct copyright notices for all of the songs on the record, i.e., both for your original songs and any cover songs that you are using. Information about copyright notices can be obtained here. Also, make sure that the song credits correctly state for each song the name of the song's publisher and the publisher's performing rights society (i.e., ASCAP, BMI, etc.).

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