Monday, June 28, 2010

Another Reason for People to Distrust the Legal Profession

Here is another reason people distrust the legal profession.

As the New York Times recently reported , several law schools, including New York University, Tulane, Georgetown and even Vanderbilt are inflating grades --- essentially to help their graduates in this tough economic environment. I cannot express how reprehensible I find this and how hypocritical it is. The traditional law school model is to make a student’s entire semester grade depend on how he or she does on a final exam. Fair enough, I know I sound like an old guy, but we dealt with it. I suppose that I am lucky that the jobs I have had in law, from my summer clerkships on, were never dependent on my grades. Nevertheless, I would think any employer would be suspicious of a student with an inflated GPA. The general public certainly will be.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Day in The Life

I have been listening lately to a lot of my fellow attorneys rant about the death of the music business lately. It is manifestly true that I no longer see the same kind of deals coming from record companies and publishing companies. But I keep feeling that I am, in fact, busy doing entertainment law work. Therefore, as a kind of practice management exercise (or maybe it was just therapy) one day, earlier this week, I kept a list of all the items that I worked on from morning till I broke for lunch.

Here’s what I came up with:

1. A telephone call with a client regarding advising his independent label on publishing and distribution issues.

2. Wrote a letter for a publisher client to someone who owed them money.

3. Wrote a letter for a client regarding a theatrical production he was involved with.

4. Wrote a letter to a client regarding several disputes regarding his Christian music project.

5. Responded to an e-mail from a client regarding a problem with their UK distribution deal.

6. Reviewed a re-draft of a Chinese licensing agreement.

7. Wrote a formal notice letter for a client to their publisher who is in breach of contract.

8. Reviewed a royalty statement for a producer client and forwarded it to him with his royalty check (clients love to receive checks).

9. Wrote a letter to SoundExchange to ascertain if certain Letters of Direction were in place.

10. Drafted an Amendment to a License with an independent record company.

11. Corresponded with opposing counsel on a litigation matter (regarding a band’s leaving member).

12. Corresponded with a client regarding a copyright infringement litigation matter.

Thus, not only did I end up having a very productive morning, I was pleased to note that all of the matters were squarely entertainment related. Plus, there was a global reach extending from Nashville to London to Hong Kong. Perhaps this is anecdotal evidence of the health of the entertainment business, even while the traditional music business suffers through its difficult current transformation.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Six Degrees of Separation

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a fan of the Beatles and I can revel for hours in all sorts of Beatles trivia and detail. Thus I was happy to learn that my former client, Bruce Sugar, recently co-produced Ringo Starr’s recent album “Y-Not”. I know that Bruce had worked on Ringo’s past albums, but it was nice to see him receive a co-producer credit. My first law partner and I worked with Bruce more than twenty (20!) years ago on what was essentially a huge collection case where an independent label with major label distribution basically stiffed about a dozen musicians, engineers, singers, and even a recording studio. It was a long hard-fought case, but I was always proud of the results we achieved for our clients. It was also an interesting introduction to the intrigue and slightly skuzzy inner workings of the record business. But I digress. I think it is amazingly cool to see Bruce Sugar rise from those humble beginnings to such an auspicious, fab assignment.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Richard A. "Pete" Peterson, R.I.P.

I am sorry to learn about the recent death of one of my favorite professors and mentors, Dr. Richard A. “Pete” Peterson, Professor of Sociology Emeritus at Vanderbilt University. Although I was an English/Philosophy major in college, I took every course I could from Dr. Peterson because he was the first person I ever knew who applied serious study to the music industry. This was not dry academia; his classes were a lot of fun. Sometime later, he published a fascinating book called “ Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity”. Somehow, with Dr. Peterson’s influence, I was able to take my fascination with music, my future training in law and my understanding of the structure of the music business, and figure out how to make some sort of a career for myself and for that I remain forever grateful.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

I have been following with interest the case of Robinson v. Petty in which the heirs of the late great Marty Robbins sued Jason Petty over his portrayal of Robbins in the tribute performance “Marty’s El Paso.” This case, which was pending in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, settled on June 7. At issue in this case was not only the rights to such songs as “El Paso” and “White Sport Coat,” the renewal rights of which are owned by the Robinsons, but also the use of Robbins’ name, image and likeness, which are protected somewhat by a Tennessee statute passed in 1984, after the death of Elvis Presley. The Plaintiff also sued for federal trademark infringement, common law trademark infringement, and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act and Tennessee common law of unfair competition. Marty Robbins died in 1982. Musical tribute shows of all types are becoming an important facet in the entertainment economy, from Beatles tribute bands to the successful run of “Million Dollar Quartet” on Broadway, from “Always… Patsy Cline,” to the legendary Cheap Trick performing the even more legendary “St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in its entirety. All of these examples, with the exception of the Cheap Trick performance, have engendered some sort of litigation. The Beatles’ company Apple is notorious for protecting its trademarks, as it probably should be. The common element uniting each of the presentations is that they require some degree of licensing from the underlying rights holders. Performers need to be sure that if their show is a dramatic/musical performance, that they have secured the grand performance rights from the appropriate music publishers. They also have to figure out if there are trademark issues or name, image and likeness issues involved. Although the various elements of these types of issues have been around forever, as performers seek new ways to earn a living playing music, the intersection of these rights will present a fascinating and complex emerging development in entertainment law.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tax Relief for Flood Victims

Victims of Tennessee’s recent floods may qualify for some indirect help from an unlikely ally, the Internal Revenue Service. It appears that because parts of Tennessee have been declared a federal disaster area, the IRS will let people who suffered a casualty loss take a deduction for the loss off their federal income tax. Also, the deduction can be taken off the 2009 tax return (and if you have already filed for 2009, you can file an Amended Return). There are wrinkles to this, so it is important to check with a tax professional. Note that there may also be additional residential energy credits if you replace windows and certain heating and cooling units. Finally, in Davidson County, the Davidson County Assessor of Property is developing a plan to assist owners of property “substantially damaged” or rendered unfit for occupancy. This plan would allow for a pro-rata adjustment of their 2010 property taxes.