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Four Ways to Legally Protect Yourself as a Music Artist

The music industry is a lot different than how it was years ago.  With the increasing power of social media, the independent revolution has flurished.  More often than not, artists are self releasing their music and becoming celebrities over night.  And while the rise of the independent world has a multitude of benefits for the artst, there are some drawbacks. 

With no label behind them, artists often overlook the legalities surrounding their careers - a decision that could cost millions.  In this article, I will identify four key legalities to think about once you decide to take your career to the next level. 

TRADEMARKS

Trademarks are used to identify the owner of a particular good or service (think a logo or brand name).  A trademark lets the consumer know where the product or service is coming from by giving the owner a monopoly on its usage.  In plain english, when a person (or company) owns a trademark, only that person (or company) can put out products or services that contain that trademark.  For musicians, a stage or band name is often registered by the artist as a trademark.  

Don't believe me?  Look closely at the title picture I use in this article - it is a trademark listing for the word "50 Cent" from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  If you do a trademark search for the name of your favorite artist, more likely than not, you will find at least one trademark in that artist's name.  Just as a random soda company wouldn't be able to sell soda under the name Coca Cola, having a trademark over your artist or band name can prevent others from benefiting off your hard work.  

Additionally, while trademarking your artist or band name is highly recommended, it is also just as important to do a trademark search to make sure that someone else doesn't already have the rights to your name.  Unless your artist name is extremely unique, it is possible that someone else may have rights to your name (or a very similar name).  Before you spend thousands of dollars into marketing, have a trademark attorney research your stage name to make sure someone else doesn't have a trademark for it.  And if no one does, make the investment and register for that trademark.  

COPYRIGHT

Copyright is a form of protection very dear to musicians.  The copyright owner is the only person that can reproduce, distribute, perform, or display the copyrighted music.  In short simple terms, a copyright allows the owner to make money off their creations (and more imporantly in some cases, prevent others from making money off them without permission). 

While in the US, a copyright is automatically given to the person that creates a work of art at the time it is created, formal registration is often still highly recommended.  A formal registration with the US Copyright Office gives the owner an official notice as to when registration took place and the ability to bring a lawsuit in federal court - both of which could come in handy some day if you are ever sued for copyright infringement or need to sue someone else for illegally using your work.  As such, it is highly recommended that an artist register all of his/her songs with the US Copyright Office in order to gain formal copyright protection.  

For a more detailed overview on copyrights, please feel free to A Musicians Guide to Copyrights and Protecting their Work in the U.S.

PUBLISHING

Music publishing deals with the ways artists can make money off of their copyrights (as mentioned above).  From registering with a performance rights organizations (ASCAP, SESAC, or BMI) to setting up your own publishing company, there are a lot of ways to ensure that you get what's due to you as a music artist.  If you don't take the time to set up your publishing the right way, you could be missing out on a lot of money that is supposed to be coming your way should your music go viral.    

For a more detailed introduction on music publishing, please feel free to read: Music Publishing 101: The Basics of Music Publishing

CONTRACTS

I know a lot of musicans.  I also know a lot of musicians that hate contracts (in fact I am pretty sure it’s the exact same number of people).  Having a lawyer look over your contracts and paperwork is essential.  A good entertainment lawyer has seen contracts time and time again and knows exactly what to look for (and more importantly, what shouldn’t be there).  Unless you have some legal training, save yourself the headache and get a lawyer you can trust. 

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Julian Cordero is an Attorney, Music Producer, and Entrepreneur.  Oh and he blogs too!  Julian is licensed to practice law in New York and is the Managing Member of Cordero Law LLC, a New York City based law firm focusing on Business Law, Entertainment Law, and Intellectual Property.