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Before You Sign That Recording Contract

The average Nigerian takes pride in being able to perform a simple task without external help. This “do-it-yourself” phenomenon is more pronounced when the average Nigerian is trying to save costs which they would otherwise have spent in hiring professionals. Whilst this is commendable, there is a reason some persons spend a long time in universities studying professional courses. Hence, it would be foolhardy for a lay-person to attempt to perform a task exclusively reserved for those with special training.

It is has become habitual for Nigerian artistes to regale tales of how they are being exploited and cheated by their record labels. These tales often do not end well for the artistes who are forced to reap the bitter fruits of their lack of due diligence when signing contracts with the record labels. Most of these stories have a recurring factor which is that the artiste neglected to contact a lawyer to advise them properly or review the contracts before they appended their signatures.

Admittedly, many struggling and up-coming artistes are picked from the streets by record labels and given the opportunity of a lifetime in a deal that is sometimes accompanied by some flashy perks such as an apartment and/or a car. These artistes who are used to hustling under the hot sun hardly think twice before appending their signatures to the contracts and it is not until they have bound themselves to such obnoxious terms in the contract that they realize that they are not being properly compensated for their true value under their contract. But by then, it would be too late because the law is clear that in the absence of fraud, a person is bound by the contract which he agrees to.

The reverse could also be the case, as record labels sometimes sign contracts provided by artistes without reviewing same to ensure that the labels are properly compensated for their investment in the artiste. This usually happens when the artiste has already made a name for himself prior to being signed, or when artistes switch labels. Either way, Lawyers play a crucial role for both parties in the entertainment industry.

The advantages of contacting a lawyer before signing a contract with a record label are numerous. A record contract is drafted by one party, usually the record label and is designed to be one-sided in favour of the record label. It is up to the artiste to pick which terms the artiste is comfortable which terms are to be amended. Almost every Entertainment Lawyer is trained to look out for these one-sided clauses (sometimes referred to as “restrictive covenants”) and to propose amendments which would favour both parties in the long run.

Another advantage of having an Entertainment Lawyer before agreeing to any record deal is that Lawyers know where to find the law. They know which laws and regulations govern the entertainment industry. Some artistes are actually better off without signing any contract with record labels because the law actually provides benchmark protection for the intellectual property created by an individual which an artiste can take advantage of. However, some record contracts are drafted in such a way as to suspend the operation of the benchmark protection which the law affords the artiste. Thus, once an artiste agrees to the terms of contract, they would be prevented from relying on the benchmark protection of the law. An Entertainment Lawyer would easily notice when the terms offered by a record label are nowhere close to the standards proposed by the law and best practices.

Furthermore, the role of an Entertainment Lawyer does not end with reviewing contracts and advising artistes on the implications of contracts. Many artistes are actually entitled to receive special benefits and proceeds for the use of their intellectual property. These benefits which are referred to as intellectual property rights are often abused and infringed by third parties. Entertainment Lawyers are skilled at spotting and enforcing infringements on the IP rights of their clients.

It is important to state that the rules governing the protection of intellectual property keep evolving as technology develops further. The rapid spread of social media has made it so easy to infringe on intellectual property rights in the 21st Century, hence, it is imperative for both artistes and record labels to have lawyers on retainership who would be tasked with updating the protections available to the works produced by that artiste/label.

When is the best time for an artiste to contact a lawyer? Ideally, lawyers are to be contacted even before you negotiate a deal with a record label. Lawyers are experienced negotiators who can drive a hard bargain and make your interests the epicenter of the negotiations. Thus, having a lawyer by your side or on stand-by when going to the negotiation table is greatly advantageous to any artiste.

Where an artiste neglects to have a lawyer represent his interests on the negotiation table, or review his contract before he signs, such artiste would be constrained to hire a lawyer when he realizes that he has signed his freedom away. However, it would be costlier to remedy the situation than it would have been to avoid it.

Nonso Anyasi Esq writes from Lagos and can be reached via nonsoanyasi@gmail.com

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