Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Indemnity Clause

Do you want to see a client’s eyes glaze over? Heck, do you want to see a lawyer’s eyes glaze over? Then spend a little time reviewing the indemnity cruise of a typical recording contract or music publishing agreement. Here’s an example:

Indemnity: Writer hereby indemnifies, saves and holds Publisher, its successors and assigns, and its parent, subsidiary and affiliated companies and its and their respective officers, employees and agents harmless from any and all liability, claims, demands, loss and damage (including, without limitation, reasonable attorneys' fees and court costs) arising from or connected with any claim, demand or action or by a third party which is inconsistent with any of the warranties, representations or agreements made or assumed by Writer in this Agreement which is reduced to a final adverse judgment or settled with Writer’s written consent. Pending the determination and/or settlement of any claim, demand or action which is inconsistent with any of the warranties, representations, covenants or agreements made or assumed by Writer in this Agreement, Publisher shall have the right, at Publisher's election, to withhold payment to Writer of any monies otherwise payable to Writer under this or any other agreement between the parties, and or any of their affiliates in an amount reasonably related to the amount of that claim, demand or action and the reasonably estimated amount of Publisher's costs, expenses or other damages in connection therewith (including, without limitation, legal costs and attorneys' fees). Upon the resolution of any claim, any monies withheld by Publisher as aforesaid may be used by Publisher to satisfy Writer's indemnity obligations hereunder and to the extent that the withheld sums exceed such indemnity obligations they shall be treated as additional Receipts. Publisher shall have the right, at Publisher's election and without limitation for any reason, to withhold and recoup and recover the amount of any and all costs and expenses (including, without limitation, legal costs and reasonable attorneys' fees) which are paid or incurred by Publisher or on Publisher's behalf to defend, respond to, negotiate or prosecute any claim, demand or action which is inconsistent with any of Writer's warranties, representations, covenants or agreements hereunder from any monies payable to Writer hereunder or under any other agreement to which Publisher or Publisher's affiliates are a party. Notwithstanding the forgoing, any amount so withheld shall be released if (and to the extent that) legal action shall not have been commenced with respect thereto in a court of competent jurisdiction within one (1) year following such withholding, it being agreed, however, that Publisher shall have the right to again withhold monies thereafter in the event such claim continues to be asserted, is reasserted or suit is later filed. Writer shall reimburse Publisher, on demand, for any payments made by Publisher at any time with respect to the actual amount of any claim, demand or action to which this indemnity applies. Writer shall have the right at Writer's expense, to participate in the defense of any such claim, demand or action with counsel of Writer's choice. The defense and settlement of that claim, demand or action, however, shall be controlled and determined in Publisher's sole discretion.

This is the clause, usually buried somewhere towards the end of the agreement that nobody wants to deal with but it is hugely important. Most people have some hazy idea of what indemnity means, informed perhaps by the classic film noir “Double Indemnity” rather than Black’s Law Dictionary. Nevertheless, here’s how Blacks’ defines indemnity “ A collateral contract or assurance by which one person engages to secure another against being damnified by the legal consequences of an act or forbearance on the part of one of the parties or some third person. Term pertains to liability for loss shifted from one person held legally responsible to another person”.

In plain English, this means that the indemnifying party assumes the responsibility for any legal consequences caused by their acts or warranties. The problem of course is that in its unmodified, un-negotiated form, the indemnifying party can be responsible for even all unsubstantiated or invalid claims asserted against the indemnified party. As everyone knows, anyone can sue anyone else for anything under the sun, so it is important to try and limit one’s exposure for all the various claims that can arise, especially those that are bogus.

I have always argued from an artist’s perspective that an artist should not be responsible for nuisance claims filed against a record company or a publishing company. At some basic level, those companies should be in a better position to absorb the cost of defending these claims as a cost of doing business. I have been involved in defending against many of these types of nuisance claims and while they are almost always dispensed with, the cost can be staggering.

The negotiation of this section of an agreement is always different and can head off in a multitude of directions. Very often, an artist can limit their liability to claims actually reduced to judgment or settled with their consent. The important part is to know what to ask for.

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