[This article was written by Yannick Ilunga. It originally appeared on The Jazz Spotlight.]
The Internet is a key component of today’s music industry. Social media, websites, email lists, platforms for music promotion… music has been strongly impacted by the web, in a good way.
At the same time, however, the Internet can threaten musicians’ art with online piracy and copyright infringement.
If you ask artists if they are serious about their music career, most will answer affirmatively. Not many take care of the legal side of their career, though. In the latest episode of the Jazz Spotlight podcast, I sat down with New York-based attorney Jo-Ná Williams to talk about what independent musicians can do to protect their music. Whether you’re about to graduate from music school or have been an indie artist for years, you can follow these simple tips that will avoid you huge legal headaches in the future.
Consider having a trademark to protect your band or stage name. During our chat, Jo-Ná mentioned Brit artist Tahliah Barnett, who is now in a legal battle with alternative pop duo The Twigs over her stage name FKA Twigs.
The first thing you have to do, in order to trademark your band name is search for it on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s website (if you’re in the States). On the site, you can check for trademarks that have already been registered or for which an application is pending, and can submit your own trademark application. For more information on the topic, I suggest you read this post by attorney Michael I. Santucci.
2. Copyright Your Work
Jo-Ná made it clear: copyright your work, no matter what stage of your career you’re in. “Some artists think that as long as they have created their work and it’s in tangible form, then it’s copyrighted,” she said. “However, it’s not necessarily so. It can happen that people, who had submitted their lyrics or beats to companies hoping for breakthrough, end up hearing those same lyrics or beats in someone else’s song”.
In order to make sure that nobody is going to misappropriate your music, consider registering your copyright.
As Jo-Ná Williams explained, there are two types of copyright:
– copyright underlying the artwork (the song/composition)
– the copyright of the actual sound recording (for example someone performing a piece of music)
Copyrighting your music is cheaper than you think. The application to copyright one work – be it a song or an entire album – is $35 and can be submitted at copyright.gov. Organizations such as the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts can also help you with such legal matters.
3. Have a Lawyer Look at Your Contract(s)
Ok, not everybody can afford a lawyer, especially those in the early stage of their career. It’s important though, as Jo-Ná pointed out, to have someone look at your contract(s) before you actually sign. Again, the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and similar organizations can provide assistance with these issues.
If you ignore this recommendation, you may end up just like the artist Jo-Ná mentioned in the interview, who had to pay her producer more money than what initially agreed upon, in order to release her album. Had she had someone look at her contract, she could have avoided being taken advantage of.
4. Avoid Misappropriation of Your Music Online
At this point, you may be asking yourself “how in the world could I possibly monitor every single piece of music I upload on the Internet?” Well, Jo-Ná had a couple of recommendations for this: digital watermarks and Google Alerts.
Another thing you can do to “monitor” your music online is setting up Google Alerts. To avoid clattering your inbox, I recommend you create a new Gmail account that you use exclusively for this activity. You can create alerts pretty much for everything you want to keep an eye on: your band name, your album or song title.
And having Google Alerts can also come in handy in case you’re mentioned in a music blog or online magazine. Whenever your name (or album title) is mentioned somewhere, you receive an email notification with the link to that webpage.
5. Don’t Forget About Your Royalties!
Protecting your music also means taking care of your music royalties. Sign up for SESAC, ASCAP, or BMI — and SoundExchange — to collect different types of royalties from your music and get paid what you deserve.
From February 23rd until March 4th, Jo-Ná’s has organized a FREE online initiative called Artist Empowerment Challenge. Check out www.artistempowermentchallenge.com to learn how you can go from “starving musician” to “empowered artist” and connect with like-minded people (and if you’re on Twitter, look for the hashtag #AEChallenge).
This post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice of any kind. The Jazz Spotlight, Jo-Ná Williams and J.A.Williams Law, P.C. assume no liability for use or interpretation of any information contain in this interview. This post should not be an alternative to obtaining legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state based on the specific facts of your legal matter. Jo-Na Williams is licensed to practice law in the State of New York only.