La-La-Lawsuits: A Look Back on September’s Finest Litigious Moments

September 30th, 2011

Sacha Baron Cohen and NBC Universal won a lawsuit brought by Richelle Olson and her husband, owners of a bingo hall which was filmed as part of the movie Bruno.  Cohen, acting as the character  Bruno, selected the bingo numbers and after each number related the number to a fact about his former male partner.  Here is a more detailed description, from a footnote in the opinion: “After Cohen called out the Bingo number 36, he states that “36″ was the age of his former male partner. Later, when he calls out the number 3, he says that his former partner’s birthday was “May 3.” When he later calls out the number 59, he remarks that 59 was the number of his hotel room he stayed in when he met his former partner, and a few minutes later when he announces number 42, Cohen offers that “42 inches was his partner’s chest size. Finally, after Cohen announces the number 7, he comments that he met his partner on “July 7.” Some members of the audience can be heard laughing after each comment.”  The comments enraged Ms. Olson and Cohen was escorted by security from the building, after which Ms. Olson went unconscious while hysterically crying and hit her head on the concrete floor causing two brain bleeds and and leaving her wheelchair-bound.  The  California Appeals Court sided with Cohen though, claiming that his statements were protected by the Constitution as free speech in making the film and touched upon a socially important issue – homosexuality, gay culture and homophobia.  The Olsons are now responsible for paying Universal and Cohen’s attorneys fees for the case.

“The singing of a song does not create a trademark,” according to a California judge that Madonna may not have clothing line trademark rights in the phrase “Material Girl.”  Madonna and her company, Material Girl Brand, are being sued by LA Triumph, an L.A.-based clothing company that claims to have sold “Material Girl” clothing since 1997 and has a registered trademark.  Madonna sold $85 million dollars of “Material Girl” merchandise in the 80′s but the judge, in denying her motion to dismiss, found that merchandise sales ancillary to her music career did not necessarily create a trademark in the brand for clothing.  The case will go to trial in October where a jury will hear all of the facts and make a final decision.

Napolean Pictures, the production company behind Napoleon Dynamite, is suing Fox Searchlight for $10 million for allegedly underreporting royalties, taking improper revenue deductions, breach of contract, and negligent misrepresentation in connection with the hit 2004 indie comedy. Searchlight had agreed in a term sheet to pay 31.66 percent of net profits on home video, but the plaintiffs claim that a 2008 audit reveals that Fox was only paying net royalties on home videos at a 9.66 percent rate, in addition to underreported royalties and improper deductions.

Bruno Mars filed suit in the Central District of California Superior Court, in an attempt to get out of his publishing deal with Bug Music.  Mars alleges that the contract has actually been terminated because Bug did not properly exercise an option to renew the deal.

The Saul Zaentz Co., producer of the 1996 best picture winner The English Patient, has sued distributor Miramax and its former owner the Walt Disney Co. for $20 million in profits from the hit drama, alleging that the companies hid revenue, improperly allocated and deducted expenses and fees, and engaged in self-dealing with respect to the film.

Pandora, the web service that allows users to customize radio stations based on listening preferences, is facing a class action lawsuit in Michigan.  The lawsuit  claims that Pandora is breaching customer privacy by making users’ profile pages, including favorite songs and listener history, publicly available and searchable online. Additionally, the class action asserts that Pandora is violating privacy by integrating users’ listening records with their Facebook accounts.  These acts purportedly violate Michigan’s Video Rental Privacy Act and Consumer Protection Act. The plaintiffs are demanding statutory damages of $5,000 per person.

Charlie Sheen, Warner Bros. and Two and a Half Men co-creator Chuck Lorre are settling their $100 million legal dispute.  An official statement from WB: “Warner Bros. Television, Chuck Lorre and Charlie Sheen have resolved their dispute to the parties’ mutual satisfaction.  The pending lawsuit and arbitration will be dismissed as to all parties.  The parties have agreed to maintain confidentiality over the terms of the settlement.” Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but $25 million has been the rumor, which includes a reinstatement of the revenue stream from past episodes of Two and a Half Men (even those filmed before his media meltdown) that WB had denied Sheen after he filed the lawsuit.

In August, Lady GaGa submitted a complaint to the National Arbitration Forum that alleged that the website was registered in bad faith and in violation of her trademark.  The owner of the site responded that it was merely a non-commercial, unofficial fan site for Gaga that “does not have any sponsored links or links to third-party websites which market and sell merchandise bearing Complainant’s trademark.” The owner of got her reward on Wednesday when three panelists at the National Arbitration Forum ruled that Lady Gaga had failed to show that respondent lacked legitimate interest in the disputed domain name.

And event more Lady Gaga drama – The latest lawsuit targets Excite Worldwide LLC, which is using the Gaga name to sell cosmetics and jewelry.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment is suing former COO Thomas Emrey for allegedly breaching his contract and fiduciary duties by leaving the company for DineEquity, which operates IHOP and Applebee’s. Universal says his employment contract ran through May 2012.

September’s Notable Hirings, Firings & Promotions

September 29th, 2011

Warner Bros. Records laid off Senior Vice Presidents of Promotion Mike Rittberg and Ron Cerrito.

Stuart Rosen has been promoted to Senior Vice President and General Counsel at BMI

WMG said goodbye to digital executive Michael Nash, while Stephen Bryan is stepping up as Executive Vice President of Digital Strategy and Business Development, Recorded Music.

Rightsflow named Fred Beteille as Senior Vice President of Operations Technology.

As expected, incoming head of combined promotions at WMG, Reprise and Warner Bros. Peter Gray is bringing his own people to the company,  including David Dyer, who will head top 40 out of New York; Josh Reich, who will have a similar position in Chicago, and Paul Davidson, who will head a newly-created Promotion Operations Department.

Universal Music Group  named Simon Watt to Head of Technology.

Apple iTunes head Eddy Cue is moving to senior VP of Internet Software and Services, reporting directly to CEO Tim Cook.

The Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) elected its new 2011-12 Board of Directors last night.  New members are:  Ric Arboit, Nettwerk Productions; Jon Bartlett, Kelp Records, Pegi Cecconi, Anthem Entertainment; Shauna de Cartier, Six Shooter Records; Bernie Finkelstein, Finkelstein Management; Jake Gold, The Management Trust; Mike Greatorex, Sonic Records; Geoff Kulawick, True North Records; Jeffrey Remedios, Arts & Crafts Productions and Tony Sal, CP Records. Remaining on the Board for another year are:  Jeff Craib, Feldman & Associates, Bob D’Eith, Adagio Music; Grant Dexter, MapleMusic; Gord Dimitrieff, Aporia Records; Matt Drouin, Equator Music; Terry Flood, DKD Group; Alvin Jahns, Stony Plain Records; Grit Laskin, Borealis Records; Sander Shalinsky, Coalition Entertainment Records and Jim West, Justin Time Records.

Cell Phone Service in NYC Subways

September 27th, 2011

Beginning today, six subway stations in Manhattan will have AT&T and TMobile cell phone service.  All six stations are in Chelsea; however, Transit Wireless, the company setting up the services, plans on completing 271 more stations in the next 5 years.  Verizon and Sprint subscribers won’t get reception for now and the reception only exists on the platforms, not too far into the tunnels.

Upcoming Event: How to Social Media Yourself – Sept. 22

September 19th, 2011

This Thursday, join Women in Music at the gorgeous downtown BMI offices for a panel on social media. Free to WIM members, $15 for non members (or you can join at the door ).   RSVP:


Europe Extends Sound Recording Copyright Protection to 70 Years

September 15th, 2011

This past Monday, the European Union extended the term of copyright protection for sound recordings from 50 years to 70 years.  The main motivation for the extension was to benefit songwriters and musicians, according to a statement released by the Council of the European Union.  Unfortunately, this motivation may not achieve its end.  A New York Times article on the topic predicted that only 4 percent of financial benefits from the extension will benefit musicians like those mentioned in the statement.  Instead, 72% will go into the pockets of the record labels and the rest will go to superstar acts.

“This is extremely good news for record companies and collection agencies, but bad news for artists,” said the singer Sandie Shaw, who along with Nick Mason of Pink Floyd and Ed O’Brien of Radiohead is one of the leaders of the Featured Artists Coalition, a British group that advocates for musicians’ rights. “It means they have 20 more years in servitude to contracts that are no longer appropriate to a digital age.”

There is no provision in EU copyright law similar to the US “termination rights,”so musicians cannot reclaim their assigned works.  The directive vaguely assured that it “foresees measures” to guarantee that musicians “actually benefit from the term extension and may recuperate their rights subject to certain conditions,” and does include ”a “use it or lose it” clause that allows artists to reclaim ownership rights to recordings, but only after 50 years and only if a recording is no longer available commercially. It also sets up a new fund for payments to session musicians and a “clean slate” provision that is supposed to wipe out musicians’ debts to their labels.”

EU member states must put the extension into effect within two years.

For more information, check out this Digital Music News article.

Free Writing Classes @ Gotham Writers’ Workshop

September 14th, 2011

On September 20th and 21st, Gotham Writers’ Workshop is offering 1 hour writing classes for free.  Sign up here soon, as the classes are already filling up.   Classes include songwriting, tv writing, screen writing, creative writing 101, stand up comedy writing, and memoir writing, to name a few.

Event Tonight: Music Industry Secrets – Licensing and Performance Rights @ Knitting Factory

September 14th, 2011

Music Industry Secrets:  Licensing and Performance Rights
Showcase Following the Panel Featuring Artists: Sami The Great, Wojcik, Nothing Fades Away, Red Light Cinema

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
Wed, September 14, 2011
Doors: 6:00 PM / Show: 6:00 PM
$10.00 – $15.00

Paul-Anthony Surdi - Founder, Crowd Control
Samantha Cox - Executive Director, BMI
Joe Bognanno – Director of Digital Licensing and Data Management, Harry Fox Agency
Neeta Ragoowansi - Director of Artist-Label Relations, Sound Exchange

Making $$ as an Independent Band – The Real Numbers

September 14th, 2011

How much money do unsigned bands make off of album and single sales? Indie-folk band Uniform Motion disclosed all of its numbers in a blog post last week, following the official release of their new album.

With permission from the band, here are the exact numbers:


With Spotify, we’ll get 0.003 EUR/play.

If you listen to the album all the way through, we’ll get 0.029 EUR.

If you listen to the album 10 times on Spotify, we’ll get 0.29 EUR

If you listen to it a hundred times, we’ll get 2.94 EUR

If you listen to the album 1,000 times (once a day for 3 years!) we’ll get 29.47 EUR!

If you use the free version of Spotify, it won’t cost you anything. Spotify will make money from ads. If you use any of the paid versions, we have no idea how they carve up the money. They only disclose this information to the Major record labels…


Deezer seems to pay a little more.

We’ve been getting 0.006 EUR/play from them. That’s 0.052 EUR/album play. If you listen to the album 10 times on Deezer, we’ll get 0.52 EUR. If you listen to it a hundred times, we’ll get 5.2 EUR. If you listen to the album 1,000 times (once a day for 3 years!) we’ll get a whopping 52 EUR!

If you use the free version of Deezer, it won’t cost you anything and Deezer will make money from the ads. If you use any of the paid versions, we have no idea how they carve up the money either.


eMusic is a subscription service. The cost of the album will depend on the plan you have. We get roughly $0.29/song or $2.60/album (9 songs).


You’ll pay 7.11 EUR to download the MP3’s. We will get 4.97 EUR of that. That’s a 70-30 split.


The album will cost you 8.91 EUR to buy from Apple.

There’s a 70-30% split there too, so we will keep 6.28 EUR/album.

That being said, it costs us 35 EUR/year to keep an album on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon (105 EUR per year for all 3 of our albums!) so we don’t make any money until 24 people have bought a digital copy of the album on iTunes, or 150 single songs, or if we get tens of thousands of listens on Spotify! In most cases, it’s actually more economically viable not to sell the music at all.

But what about if you buy the Digital version directly from us?


We allow people to pay what they want for the digital version. If you choose to pay 5 EUR, Paypal takes 0.37 EUR, Bandcamp takes 0.75 EUR. Uniform Motion keeps 3.88 EUR. it doesn’t cost us anything to have a page on bandcamp.

If you decide to pay nothing, well, we get nothing, but at least you didn’t give money indirectly to major record labels, which seems to be the case with Spotify!!


If you buy a CD, directly from us for 10 EUR, Paypal takes 0.515 EUR, Bandcamp takes 1.5 EUR. So there’s slightly less than 8 EUR left for us. But hold on a second, it costs a fair bit to make the CD.

The CD itself costs 1.2 EUR, the booklet costs about 50 cents, the CD packaging is 1.8 EUR and the sticker on the front costs 35 cents.

That’s a total of 3.65 EUR

So in reality, there’s 4.34 EUR left for us.


If you buy a 12” Vinyl from us at 15 EUR, Bandcamp takes 2.25 EUR, Paypal takes 0.646 EUR so there’s 12.10 left. The cost of the Vinyl itself is 3.06 EUR

The labels cost 1.3 EUR. For a total of 4.36 EUR

So there’s 7.75 EUR left for us.

However, we had to press 250 of these (because that’s the minimum order), so it’s very unlikely we’ll make any money on them.

We need to sell 72 copies before we break even on the vinyl edition. We’ve sold about 30 so far.

If we break even, we’ll lower the price a little bit. :)

These figures highlight how difficult it is to make money as an independent artist.  Granted, even if you’re signed you’re probably not getting much cash outside of your advance and then the label owns the masters and perhaps also the publishing, merch, tour and anything else they want to write in (i.e., the elusive 360 deal).

Support the bands you love! We love music and want it to be created.  Fans can have a great impact on bands’ careers, so its important to give where you can.

As a side note, I’m loving Uniform Motion’s music and it seems like they have a very unique live show too. Definitely worth checking out!  Description of the band/show:

Uniform Motion is an illustrated indie-folk band combining music with visual arts created by Andy Richards and Renaud Forestie in 2008, joined by Olivier Piotte (drums, percussions, keys) in 2011.
During our live performances, Renaud live-sketches using a video projector, while Andy builds up a soundscape with with his guitar, loopstation and voicebox resulting in a hypnotising audio-visual experience.

Established Artists Using Kickstarter: Amanda Palmer Raises $100k!

September 12th, 2011

With 20 days left to fundraise, Amanda Palmer has already raised more the $99,ooo on Kickstarter to fund an upcoming 5 date tour.

Palmer describes the event on the Kickstarter page:

we’ll have a piano, a ukulele, and maybe some other weird instruments, as well as some unpublished and uncollected Neil Gaiman stories and poems. we’ll both probably switch up what we’re presenting from night to night. we’ll be taking questions from the audience, chat-style, and trying to do special things in each venue, busting out a few surprises, and more or less trying to feel like we’ve connected with you, the people we love and usually only get to talk to directly on twitter & blog-land.

Pledges start at $1 and all pledging options about $200 have already sold out (including 5 $2,500 rewards).  I’m guessing they’ll need to add some more if they want to continue to raise much more money.

Kickstarter is mostly used to benefit independent creative projects, but, as evidenced here, even more established artists can take advantage of the service.

BMG Acquires Bug

September 12th, 2011

BMG Rights Management, with acquisition partner Spectrum Equity Investors, has purchased Bug Music.

“With the acquisition of Bug Music and its vast collection of evergreen and contemporary compositions, BMG further establishes itself as a leading music rights management company,” said Hartwig Masuch, CEO of BMG Rights Management.

The Bug Music catalog includes the estates of Johnny Cash, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Woody Guthrie, Del Shannon and Stevie Ray Vaughan, as well as more contemporary artists Iggy Pop, Kings of Leon, Ryan Adams, Wilco and the National.