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Music Law: Getting into the groove of the digital age

by Kara Carnley-Murrhee
Editorial Assistant

music law conferenceThe digitization of music has transformed the music industry, marginalizing the role of record labels and placing greater power in the hands of consumers. This sea-change in how music is marketed was the topic of the day at the eighth annual UF Music Law Conference, held at the UF Levin College of Law on Feb. 27.

Musicians, entertainment lawyers, students and others participated in a full-day discussion on issues relating to the digitalization, monetization, licensing and sharing of music online.

With an impressive list of panelists — including keynote speaker Josh Greenberg, co-founder of Grooveshark.com, one of the fastest-growing Internet music services — the conference tackled a variety of issues affecting the music industry.

With the collapse of the record labels’ outdated business model of tightly controlled artists and retail distribution, one of the biggest challenges now facing the music industry is the monetization of digital content, a topic that emerged as a common thread among the panelists’ discussions.

File sharing and the illegal downloading of music may have contributed to the consumer mentality that music downloads from the Internet should be free. Panelists during the first session, "File Sharing: The Uploads and Downloads of Music Sharing," however, rejected the commonly-held belief that piracy and the use of illegal networks have led to the current disarray of the music industry.

Davey Spicciati, associate for the Orlando firm, Triveti & Associates, noted that the availability of music online in digital format has dramatically changed customer buying habits. In the past, consumers were forced to buy an entire album, she said. Now, they can purchase a digital single of their favorite song from an album.

music law conference"There are also a lot more "players" who want to piece of the digital pie," said Brian Mencher (JD 02), founding partner Beame & Mencher, UF College of Law alumni and founder of the Music Law Conference These players are the artists, the new tech companies, and the record labels and music publishers.

So, if the monetization of content is the problem, how does the music industry create sustainable economic platforms in the new media environment?

In the session, "Musicians' Perspective, Digital Media Strikes a Chord with Musicians," which included singer-songwriter Ravi as a panelist, the consensus was that music industry professionals will be forced to develop alternative avenues of revenue stream.

"Music has almost become a promotional tool for the rest of what you do — be it the show, the concert, the merchandizing — it’s kind of the giveaway," Ravi said. "It’s no longer a durable good, it is a consumable good. To me, that is great opportunity because you can keep making it over and over again, and people will keep on buying."

Ravi said merchandizing and brand development and management are essential commodities to the artist.

Attoney Chrissie Scelsi understands the importance of an artist maintaining and controlling his own image. In fact, brand management is the crux of the licensing and litigation issues at the center of her research on music video games.

Video games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band have spawned a whole new set of lawsuits, launched by recording artists such as Courtney Love on behalf of Kurt Cobain, and Gwen Stefani. The lawsuits claim “inappropriate” uses of artist names and likenesses. In her lawsuit Gwen Stefani claims her likeness was depicted doing things she, the actual performer, would have never agreed to do. Courtney Love has likewise threatened to sue Activision, the developer and publisher of the game, for the posthumous use of Cobain’s likeness.

Contracts outlining use of an artist’s likeness are extremely detailed, right down to hair style and way the person is dressed, Scelsi said.

music law conference"Sometimes a little bit of humor emerges with technology going before the courts. I can see both sides on this, but, even if you’re a savvy manager, how far out of the box do you have to think? How much research into the technology could you possibly do? And even if you did your research, unless you’ve played the game for hours and hours upon end — you might not know how the character could be used and the implications of the license," Scelsi said.

One of the highlights of the conference was hearing from Josh Greenberg, the co-founder of Grooveshark.com, an online streaming music service that allows users to search, stream, and upload music instantaneously and free of charge.

Although the company was founded in March 2006 by three UF undergraduate students, it is now one of the fastest-growing online music services on the Web, striving to be the "YouTube" of on-demand music streaming, Greenberg said.

"In order for a service to truly compete with the illegal networks, it has to be better. So what is better?" Greenberg said. "Well you have to start with what peer-to-peer offers. …. If you could have an illegal network get you a song in 30 seconds, then you have to have it in two seconds legally, and these are areas that Grooveshark has taken very seriously."

"All that having being said, the future is not on your computers - the future is in your pocket. And that's why Grooveshark has put a lot into mobile development," he said.