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 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 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.


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


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. 

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.

Apple's New Headphone Plug and the Problems It Just Created


Apple has shrunken down the headphone connector, deviating from the standard 3.5mm headphone plug most smartphone users know and love.  

Before I go any further, let me start out by giving a small disclaimer (as a lawyer, I am trained to give disclaimers a lot).  I am writing this on my Apple MacBook Air, after finding out about this on my beautiful Apple iPhone.  In short, I am trying to say that I love Apple.  From the time I bought my very first Apple product, I never looked back.  I loved everything.  However, today I am a bit confused.  I am confused because Apple is about to change everything... again.  

In the smartphone world, there is a race to build the thinnest possible smartphone.  Apple, along with all of the other smartphone companies, are limited to the size of the inner components that make up the phone.  One of these components, is the headphone connector.  Having a headphone plug has become a standard in modern smartphones. And while the 3.5mm headphone plug has been the standard, it is clear that Apple now views this as an inconvenience - hindering their ability to create a thinner smartphone.  Should Apple decide to use this new headphone plug on their future releases, Apple could drastically affect millions of companies and consumers.  

Why is this change so big? 

To understand why, it helps to understand a little bit of patent law (i'm sorry... I don't like patent law either).  Under US intellectual property law, a patent is a right granted to the inventor of a process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter.  When an inventor holds a patent, the patent owner can exclude anyone else from, among many other things, making or selling the invention.  Patents are designed to encourage inventors to continue inventing technology that would benefit the world by giving the owner an incentive to keep creating and sharing.  This incentive is a monopoly.  The earliest a patent monopoly can last in the US is 20 years from the date of application, however, this date can be extended.  

So, in short, no one else can make this new headphone plug for a very long time.    

NO Seriously, this Is a big deal

In Apple's last quarter, it shipped 47.5 million smartphone units, occupying 14.1% of the smart phone market share.  In recent trends, this number has been steadily increasing.  If Apple implements this new headphone plug, at least 47.5 million smartphones will eventually ship, unable to use the standard headphone plug.  

Audio companies selling headphones are thus left with a few options when the new headphone plug comes out: ignore, license, or buy.  

Ignoring the Change

Audio companies cannot ignore the change.  Well, at least the major ones can't.  Apple will likely create an adapter that will assist in the transition of this new headphone plug.  The problem with this is that the plug will likely cost money (not to mention that it will be big and bulky compared to the phone).  Smaller headphone companies, unable to handle any of the other options (as discussed below) without having their profit share crippled, will be forced to depend on users to get the headphone connector.  However, from a practical standpoint, this doesn't work.  The people likely to shell out money for these headphone connectors are people who are particular about the headphones they use.  These same people are thus, likely to purchase headphones from some of the bigger audio companies.  So what happens to the people who are using these smaller headphone companies?  Well, I can't say for sure, but my best guess is that these people will likely just use the standard Apple headphones that will be released to go with the phone.    

Licensing and Buying

 An audio company that is well known and recognized for the quality of their products will likely not ignore this change in headphone plugs.  Several of these companies have benefited over the large number of smartphones sold because of the double function these smartphones serve as a music player.  This makes the iPhone market share too large to ignore.  Thus, these companies will be left with two options.  License or buy.  

Apple will likely license the ability for companies to make their new headphone plug, should they decide to make it the iPhone standard.  Companies would then be able to make their own version of the redesigned headphone plug to incorporate them in their products.  This will likely be at a heavy cost to these companies.  

Another option these companies could explore would be buying pre-made headphone plugs from Apple (or similar companies that licensed the ability to make them).  The audio companies would then incorporate these purchased headphone plugs into their products.  We know Apple will likely do this because they did just that when Apple rolled out the lightening plug over their old iPhone charging/sync connector.  Remember that big annoying plug?  Me either. (Just kidding I still have like 50 of them around my house somewhere).  


Whether a company licenses or buys these new headphone plugs to use with their products, due to small margins, the cost is likely to be passed onto the consumer.  

However, there is no need to panic yet.  Apple has a lot of patents.  Many of which, are never going to be used and were merely designed in anticipation of possible directions Apple could take.  It is possible Apple will not implement this change on their iPhones.  Only time is going to tell what route Apple will take.  

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.