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Music Law Conference brings together musicians and lawyers

by Andre Salhab
Student Writer


John Thomas, a professor of law at the Quinnipiac University School of Law in Connecticut, discussed a case about musician Robert Johnson, who died in 1938. (UF Law/ Lauren Jannelle)

Lawyers, muscians and students from around the nation attended the 2009 Music Law Conference to focus on hot topics in the world of entertainment.

The first panel was led by moderator Dean Robert Jerry. He introduced each of the panel members, which included Gary Roth, John Thomas and Mike Wasylik. The panel focused on rights after the death of a musician.

Roth, assistant vice president for BMI, used a diagram to explain the rights that musicians have in the music industry while living. He explained some of the essentials of copyright law and emphasized the importance of contracts.

“A writer (musician) may say that someone can publish something, but it’s not valid unless it’s in writing,” said Roth. “Paper, paper, paper; it’s all about the paper.”

Thomas, a professor of law at the Quinnipiac University School of Law in Connecticut, discussed a case about musician Robert Johnson, who died in 1938.

“Music isn’t worth a nickel until five years after the writer died,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that there were many known talents who made money off of Johnson through listening and learning. Some of these included, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.

The problem was the issue of publishing rights and to this day, this case is still wrapped up in the courts.

Wasylik, discussed the termination right of the copy transfer, which also dealt with rights after death. He said 56 years after the copyright begins, termination can occur, but warned an artist only has a five-year window.

“Make sure that when you do this you know exactly what you’re doing, so you time it right,” said Wasylik.


Martin Atkins, owner of Invisible Records and Mattress Factory Recording Studios, was the keynote speaker at Saturday's conference. (UF Law/ Lauren Jannelle)

The second panel was led by Associate Dean Kathie Price. Price led the panel in a discussion about managing artist. The panelist included three entertainment attorneys and a musician.

One of the first questions Price asked the panel was what expectations musicians have of managers.

“Artist most of the time don’t know what they want at first. The expectations of artists will expand as they get out there. As a manager, it’s all about controlling those expectations to an extent,” said David Beame, an entertainment lawyer and a manager.

Before breaking for lunch, keynote speaker Martin Atkins discussed a wide range of topics, including music being given away for free. He asked the audience if it was really a bad thing.

“I don’t think that there is a problem if 20,000 people download your music for free. When 20,000 don’t, then that’s when something is wrong,” he said.

Atkins wanted the audience to know what the meaning of success was.

“If you aim to build that Great Wall of China, all of the steps it’s going to take build, its going to seem meaningless,” said Atkins. “In one month it’s just going to be a pile of useless bricks, but in six months you’ve got something.”

This year’s new addition to the conference, the breakout session, was a huge hit. The breakout sessions were held after lunch and included topics on, IP litigation in the music industry, getting your foot in the door to the entertainment industry, succeeding in the industry and money management for musicians.

Jason Gordon, owner of Dalin Records, said it is a lot harder for new talent to get famous.

“To be able to get noticed now you have to work a lot harder and get creative,” said Gordon.

One of the questions Ravi, a singer-songwriter and guitarist, asked the panel was about the idea of downloading music and artists not receiving compensation for the exposure.

“Bands starting out today should give away their music for free because they don’t have anything to lose,” said Var Thelin, co-owner of No Idea Records in Gainesville. “If you give it all away for free now, you might get your money back later.


Associate Dean Kathie Price looks on as David Beame, an entertainment lawyer and a manager, talks about the relationship between muscians and managers at the seventh annual Music Law Conference. (UF Law/ Lauren Jannelle)

The last panel of the day was led by UF Professor Amy Mashburn on the topic of ethics in the music industry. The panel consisted of Kevin Leary, Brain Mencher, and Julee Milham. Mashburn led the discussion through a few hypothetical questions.

One of the hypotheticals discussed was the idea that a lawyer is representing a five person band, three of which are brothers. The lead singer, one of the brothers, gets all of the attention but two of the brothers are the writers and are jealous. Mashburn asked how the panel would you treat this.

Milham went first and said that she would tell them to get separate representation.

“If they are represented as a whole it may sacrifice some of the interest of the writers,” she said.

Mencher, who is the founder of the UF Music Law Conference, said that he would have them make a list of all of their problems and let them work it out.

“If you can, it’s better to represent the band as a whole,” said Mencher.

Leary decided to have a little fun with the audience.

“Every time you say you have a band you are in the process of breaking up,” Leary laughed.

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