The DIY era has its pros and cons. Musicians are able to take initiative, protect their works using seemingly simple/user-friendly instructions to do so, generate royalties from various streams, and do so while keeping more money in their own pockets. The downside, however, is that there is a plethora of music platforms available and unfortunately, managing one’s digital rights is often a fragmented process, opening the door for many mistakes (aka uncollected royalties). To combat some of those issues, musicians are strongly encouraged to familiarize themselves not only with these various revenue streams and differing platforms, but to also educate themselves on the industry itself and the ways in which they can properly protect themselves and their works.
To start, make sure you understand the copyright laws. This relates not only to your original works of authorship, but also to the extent you incorporate the works of others. This is incredibly important when you go to monetize your works. For example, you cannot debut a cover song if you do not have appropriate permission/license to do so. In the remix space, do not presume that your miniscule sample is not worthy enough for seeking a license to use it in your song. That is a very risky presumption (one that may end up costing you more than you might expect). Get those permissions in place before you go to monetize your works or you are inviting a host of problems. On another note, if there is a dispute as to ownership rights/copyright claims to a work, clear those conflicts and get the resolution in writing before you go to monetize that work. Be proactive.
That takes me to my next point – split sheets. First, properly assess the value of your work. If you are collaborating with others (which is often the case), know the value of their work as well. Capture those values in a split sheet and have all parties privy to that agreement sign it! Remember, without a writing to the contrary, the copyright laws treat co-authors equally (e.g. 4 writers with each taking 25%). However, more often than not, that is not the case. Having a split sheet or equivalent agreement in place at the start generally helps to resolve conflicting ownership claims, should one arise in the future. I presume this goes without saying, but for peace of mind I will reiterate it here – register your works with the U.S. Copyright Office! It is a relatively inexpensive and self-explanatory process (in most instances) and affords you opportunities that might not be available otherwise, should someone infringe your work. Keep in mind, too, that there are two copyrights to a musical work and make sure you are protecting both (e.g. performing arts copyright in the underlying musical composition and a sound recording copyright).
Once your works are properly copyrighted and/or you have obtained the permissions and licenses needed to incorporate other works (to the extent you do so), you should then focus on providing accurate metadata. Doing so helps to ensure proper and timely payout. In other words, thoroughly prepare and review all information you provide, including appropriate splits, names and contact information and the like. You can also ingest your content and apply protections as needed to avoid piracy and the non-authorized sharing of your content by third parties. You also have the option of ensuring that every instance of User Generated Content that identifies you as the rights holder will monetize that asset/work and redirect earning on that work to you. Doing so with further optimize your earnings.
Finally, keep the works flowing! The more content you have, the more opportunity to monetize that content. Of course, it also keeps your fans happy and eagerly anticipating what is to come next! If you are using your works via YouTube or elsewhere in hopes the use will garner more opportunities (e.g. performance, licensing, etc.), be sure the contact information you provide on all your videos is accurate and easily accessible. Given the volume of material available online, do not risk music users foregoing your works because it is too difficult to track you down. These are just a few things you can be doing as a DIY artist to ensure you are getting the most bang for your buck!
By: Michelle M. Wahl, Esq.
Michelle is a Partner at Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP and is licensed in Illinois and Indiana state and federal courts. With a Masters of Law in Intellectual Property, Michelle is the Vice Chair of the firm’s Entertainment and Media Practice Group and a member of the firm’s Intellectual Property Litigation and Transactional Services Practice Group. Her copyright and trademark practice focuses on intellectual property prosecution and related transactions, including performing trademark availability searches and providing advisory opinions, as well as preparing and filing trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and copyright registrations with the United States Copyright Office. Michelle also assists with the oversight of the firm’s extensive trademark docket and conducts required monitoring and maintenance of clients’ trademark portfolios, as well as provides clients with corporate counseling and innovative corporate solutions to address their respective needs.
Michelle further provides comprehensive representation in the drafting, negotiating and executing of various entertainment-related contracts and licenses, including but not limited to band member agreements, artist management agreements, session player agreements, performance agreements, sound engineer agreements, recording and personal services agreements, publishing agreements and licensing agreements. As a former artist manager, she has implemented many facets of national and regional tours, assembled benefit and charity concerts, communicated with various industry personnel, facilitated radio and internet publicity campaigns, arranged radio, print and internet interviews, and assisted in the development of press kits and websites promoting local talent. Michelle has also guest lectured on entertainment and intellectual property-related topics at The John Marshall Law School, DePaul University College of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law and Azusa Pacific University (CA), as well as served as a panelist on various other entertainment-related continuing legal education courses. Michelle is an author and editor of the Litigation and Industry Updates Column of the ABA’s Entertainment & Sports Lawyers Journal and has also had numerous articles published by the Chicago Music Guide.
In addition, Michelle serves as Chair of Swanson Martin & Bell, LLP’s Community Service/Pro Bono Committee and proudly volunteers her time as President of the Associate Board and as a pro bono attorney to Lawyers for the Creative Arts, a non-profit organization that provides free legal services to eligible clients in all areas of the arts. She also currently serves as Events Chair for the Chicago Chapter of Women in Music, a non-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering equality in the music industry through the support and advancement of women. She recently served as Chair of the Young Lawyers Division for the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, where she was recognized as the Rising Star recipient and received a Meritorious Service Award and President’s Commendation.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in these articles constitutes general information and guidance and shall not be construed as legal advice applicable to or provided for any particular person or entity, and shall not be deemed to create an attorney-client relationship between Ms. Wahl and anyone who elects to read and/or rely, to any extent, on the material provided herein. In that respect, Ms. Wahl hereby expressly and specifically disclaims any such legal relationship, but encourages any person or entity seeking a legal advocate pertaining to the issues addressed and discussed herein to contact her directly for further information. Ms. Wahl may be reached at Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP (330 N. Wabash, Suite 3300, Chicago, IL 60611 or via telephone at her direct line: (312) 222-8585 or e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.