When Billboard enumerated its picks for the top music lawyers in the industry, it also provided an illuminating look at the various legal issues music attorneys tackle. See Billboard Staff, “Billboard’s 2017 Top Music Lawyers Revealed, Led By Joel Katz,” Billboard Magazine, Jul. 17, 2017. This article examines some of those issues and addresses how expert witnesses can play a crucial role in addressing them.
To illustrate how many different aspects there are to a music lawyer’s work, Billboard discussed many of the diverse activities of one of the attorneys whom it considered among the best for 2017. See id. Several of these follow:
(1). Licensing Agreements: One task that music attorneys often encounter is brokering licensing agreements, particularly between two recording companies. In such cases, there are several expert witnesses that can be of assistance, both in getting the parties to agree to licensing and in advising attorneys on strategies to use in attempting to obtain such agreements. In addition, if a conflict arises over a particular licensing agreement, experts can help inform courts as to what is standard and fair in the industry as well as other relevant factors. There are licensing experts that can offer invaluable guidance in this vein, and attorneys should consult such experts as early as possible.
In the digital age, licensing agreements and other contracts such as terms and conditions (TOC) or terms of service (TOS) agreements have become particularly important. Experts in these matters, who have an understanding of how digital media is unique (such as applications like Spotify or Pandora), can be invaluable assistants.
(2). Business Formation & Construction: Billboard’s top attorney traveled to the Gabonese Republic in order to build a music institute with a music college in Boston. In cases of this nature, there may be several legal issues: the actual formation of the music institute, international legal issues, and even matters such as how to construct the building that will house the institute’s material. In such an instance, experts in business associations, contract law, international law, and even engineering and construction may all come in handy.
(3). Negotiating Record Deals: Many attorneys in the industry primarily work with artists and record labels to negotiate deals on musical content. Some issues that arise are the terms and length of the contract, the remuneration provided, and the ownership of the content. Experts in the music industry will certainly be of assistance, as will intellectual property (IP) experts, who can help determine the most equitable ways of determining the rights of the parties with respect to issues such as copyrights and other IP matters.
(4). Estate Planning: Although it may seem unusual, attorneys in the music industry do, at times, have to deal with settling the estate of an artist who has passed away. For example, one of the attorneys mentioned by Billboard was co-counsel for Michael Jackson, and he worked with the estate’s executors on various issues, including music rights and/or projects that were to take place after Mr. Jackson’s death. See id. Experts on wills and estate planning could certainly be of assistance in issues of this nature, particularly when dealing with artists who were very famous and/or had produced a prolific amount of material.
It goes without saying that experts in the entertainment field, particularly those who specialize in music, can offer guidance to attorneys and courts for many of these matters. However, due to the incredibly diverse nature of some music lawyers’ tasks, there are a number of types of expert witnesses who can play indispensable roles in resolving legal issues in the field.