Artistes and contracts: Know your rights
Every artiste is different, and their expectations from a contract are different. Mostly young artistes are just focussed on the lump sum payment and the financial benefit that they will get in the beginning. However, established artistes do not look just for financial benefits, they also look for creative control from their contract
If you are an artiste, you should always ask yourself this question before beginning any work: Do I have a contract with the person to whom I am offering my services? As a creative professional involved in the entertainment industry, contracts or any kind of draft or paperwork can feel quite intimidating and tedious. I have found that most artistes are apprehensive about signing a formal legal agreement as they find it confusing and do not understand half of the jargons used in it.
There are reasons why artistes avoid contracts.
The first being peer pressure.
Nobody else around them is using it. Record labels or publishing houses insist on email signoffs, rather than actual paperwork to avoid hassles in the future. The other reason being the thought that contracts look complicated and formal.
The most common excuse that I have heard from artistes for avoiding contracts is that they are expensive.
As an artiste if you are ready to spend so much on your audio production and music video, you must invest in protecting your craft. The last and the most important reason being: “I know how the system works, and the odds are always supporting the big guys, so why bother?”
Every artiste is different, and their expectations from a contract are different.
Mostly young artistes are just focussed on the lump sum payment and the financial benefit that they will get in the beginning.
However, established artistes do not look just for financial benefits, they also look for creative control from their contract.
The Nepali art and music industry is rapidly growing.
Every year we see new faces, new artistes and new music and art. In the current state of the industry, it would be beneficial for artistes to avoid long-term contracts as they can be restrictive and hamper their long-term career. The case of Jared Leto and Virgin Records clearly depicts this.
Virgin Records had sued Leto for breaching the band label contract, a longterm one, as the band refused to release its third album.
As an artiste, your focus will always be your music or your art and the whole process involved in their production. However, if you want to reap the fruits of your hard work over a long period, you should know what your rights are and the terms that you are agreeing to. Here are ways to be more wary and sign foolproof contracts.
The most important tip is to get your contract in writing if you are into a formal arrangement. Even though the National Civil Code does include verbal contracts as a valid form, it is always easy to prove something if you have it in writing.
The next thing is to be aware about your rights.
Remember one song can have multiple copyrights.
When you create music, each aspect of your work can be protected under various copyright heads.
Copyright is divided into two heads: Composition copyright and sound recording copyright. Composition copyright consists of everything involved in pre-studio production - the arrangement of notes, chords, melody in a specific order and lyrics. Sound recording copyright includes everything in the composition copyright along with studio production output like bass line, music track and sound waves.
Similarly, for illustrators, if you are working as a commissioned artist you should know who owns what right in your work. If you are working as an employee, have you waived the rights of your art and assigned it to your employer? If not, is it mentioned in your contract that you own the rights? Apart from these, you also have moral rights and performance rights. Your moral right is your right to the song, this right stays with you even if you have sold all your other rights. If the contract states that you agree to waive your moral right, you should reconsider signing that contract. Always read everything and make sure you have understood what you are signing up for. If necessary, consider seeking legal counsel.
If you are looking to work with a label, a media house or any similar company, you have to make sure that you are retaining the larger piece of the pie, that is you are retaining the rights for mediums and the usage you want to yourself, and for as long as you want. The main idea is to make sure that you are not giving away all your rights forever or for the term of the copyright, which is honestly equal to forever. Also, look out for the word “in perpetuity”.
If the contract states that somebody other than you are retaining your rights in perpetuity, that is a big no.
The most recent example of a contract clause issue is the Taylor Swift and Scooter Braun’s legal battle. Swift was not allowed to perform her old songs on television because that would amount to re-recording, and the contract did not give such rights to her.
Pop legend Michael Jackson was not given the masters to his original song for many years, and the contract was later voided as the same attorney was representing both the parties, creating a conflict of interest.
So, yes tip number three, make sure your lawyer does not have a conflict of interest with the opposite party.
Other than that, always negotiate, understanding the contract is only half of it. Use your voice, your skills to negotiate a better deal that works best for you.
To sum up, the main intention behind entering into any contract is to have a clear and easily understood set of terms that are to be agreed upon by both parties. A contract does not necessarily need to be difficult to understand with fancy legal jargons. Before signing a contract, you need to have a clear idea about certain things: a clear sense of the project, clarity about your rights and obligations, and a good idea of what you would do if things and payment do not work out.
Bhattarai is a legal professional into protecting art and the artiste