Lessons From the Music Industry – Don’t Get Caught Out by A Restrictive Recording Contract

I just heard on Radio One Newsbeat that Roc Nation are suing Rita Ora. As usual in these types of matters the media got it wrong as in fact, it is Rita Ora suing Roc Nation and Roc Nation had just filed their defence. The facts in this case have been the subject of much speculation however rumours are abound that Roc Nations principal diva Rihanna has been insisting that she has exclusive first choice on all songs that are written for Roc Nation. The extent of this agreement being that Rihanna could actively prevent other artists from using tracks without having to use them herself. Rita Ora has claimed that she is left with the scraps that simply aren’t worth recording. Interestingly this state of affairs has been the reason that Rita Ora has recently been performing on a large number of collaboration tracks rather than producing her own music.

The recording agreement they are arguing about was signed in the state of California and whilst there is a federal copyright law applying across the USA, states have additional laws.

In this case the state of California has a 7 year rule on personal services. So Rita Ora was suing on the basis that more than 7 years had passed under her recording agreement with Roc Nation without Roc Nation releasing an album of hers.

Before anyone gets excited whilst reading this, the 7 year rule doesn’t apply in the UK! Anyway whether the 7 year rule applies to recording agreements (where the commitment is to record and release an album) rather than provided “personal services” is debatable, hence the fact it appears that this dispute will settle without appearing in Court.

Another ongoing case that highlights the restrictiveness of recording contracts is the ongoing saga involving the American artist Kesha. Kesha is bound by contract to produce music with the label Kemosabe Records. Kesha has made allegations of sexual abuse against the producer Dr Luke and is currently petitioning the court to allow her to select a different music producer. Despite Kesha’s obvious right to elect not to work with an alleged sexual offender this matter is made more urgent by the fickleness of the industry itself. As her lawyers have pleaded “Kesha’s window of opportunity is nearly shut, if Kesha is not permitted to resume working immediately with the backing of a major record label, her window will forever close.” The hearing is due to take place on February 19 in New York City.

It is important to remember that these disputes are taking place in the USA and will not have any direct legal impact on the UK. We can though use these cases to highlight the perils of entering into a highly restrictive recording contract. Given notable disputes in the UK about the length of recording agreements, i.e. Robbie Williams and George Michael and whether the record company has been fair in its dealing with the artist as regards promotion, marketing and rights obtained, it pays to really understand how long a recording agreement could last. Say the recording agreement is for 1 album with 4 album options, this means the recording agreement could last 20 years plus and if you , the artist don’t feel the record company is fulfilling its side of the bargain, this can seem like an eternity.

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