Lifetime’s Aaliyah biopic, Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, aired Saturday night and sent the internet into an uproar. Viewers took to their social media accounts and expressed extreme disappointment in the film.
One of the problems with the film is that executive producers were not able to obtain life story rights from Aaliyah’s estate. Generally, to make a film based on someone’s life producers need to acquire the story rights from the individual or individual’s estate. A life story rights agreement contains several different clauses such as the producer has creative discretion to determine how to depict the story of the individual’s life. The life story rights agreement also gives the producer the ability to tell the individual’s story in different mediums such as, film, television, and theater. Sometimes, the agreement will give the individual the right to consult on the project.
Another way, to make a film based on someone’s life is to gain rights to a book based on that person’s life. That was the case with the Lifetime Aaliyah biopic. The film was based on author, Christopher John Farley’s book, Aaliyah: More than a Woman. Wendy Williams, who was an executive producer of the biopic commented about this on her talk show. Given all the negative feedback, I wonder if Mr. Farley is regretting granting Lifetime the movie rights to his book.
The second problem with the film is that Aaliyah’s estate prevented Lifetime from acquiring the rights to Aaliyah’s music – so none of the singer’s original songs were included in the movie. In most cases, it is considered copyright infringement to use music created by someone else without their permission. The executive producers of the Aaliyah biopic resorted to using some of the covers she did, like the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best (You Are Love)” and Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give it Up,” since they were able to obtain a license for these songs.
As one viewer posted on Twitter
Hopefully, fans can get an Aaliyah biopic do over. It would be nice to see a film that base on life story rights that have been obtained from Aaliyah’s estate, licenses classic Aaliyah songs fans love, and allows her family, Missy Elliot, Timbaland, and Dame Dash to consult on the project.
FOUR LOVE & LEGAL LESSONS LEARNED FROM LOVE & HIP HOP NEW YORK SEASON 4
This season of Love & Hip Hop New York played out like the title of cast member, Brian “Saigon” Carenard’s sophomore album, The Greatest Story Ever Told 2: Bread & Circuses. We saw Saigon try to work on his relationship with Eric Jean, the mother of his son. Then there was the whole love triangle between rapper-turned-manager Peter Gunz, his wife Amina Buddafly, and Tara Wallace, the mother of his two sons. Joe Budden tried to win Tahiry back. Yandy embraced the challenges of being a single parent, while her fiancé, Mendeecee Harris was in jail awaiting trial on federal drug trafficking charges. Of course, we cannot forget the Rich Dollaz, Erica Mena and Cyn Santana love triangle.
Despite all of its drama and craziness, Love & Hip Hop New York Season 4, provided some valuable legal lessons.
LEGAL LESSON #1 – IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
Many of us may not be familiar with Saigon’s professional background prior to Love & Hip Hop. He played aspiring rapper Turtle in HBO’s hit series Entourage. Siagon also signed a record deal with Atlantic Records in 2004. As is common in the music industry, creative differences arose between Siagon and Atlantic. Siagon explained to Billboard, “It’s not that I didn’t want to put out music, but Atlantic wanted me to do ringtone songs, but they didn’t sign me as a ringtone artist.” He added, “That he was left without much support when, the A&R rep who signed him, Kyambo Hip-Hop Joshua left to join Columbia records three months afterwards.”
Saigon hired a lawyer to help him get released from his contract with Atlantic. In 2008, after numerous delayed release dates for his debut album, Saigon was finally let go from his contract. According to Rolling Stone, “Saigon walked away with 100% ownership of his [unreleased] album The Greatest Story Ever Told.”
Like Saigon, many emerging artist are eager to land that coveted record label deal and fail to scrutinize the contract terms. Some of Saigon’s contract anguish could have been alleviated if he had negotiated a man main clause into his contract. A main man clause stipulates that when a certain individual leaves the record label the contract terminates.
Even though, an artist signs a recording agreement the record label does not have an obligation to release the artist’s album. Saigon should have had a clause guaranteeing the release of his debut album incorporated into the contract. Or at the very least, he should have negotiated a clause that allowed him to go to another label if his album was not released.
Most record label contracts contain work-for-hire clauses, which states all music recorded by the artist is owned by the record label. It would have been in Saigon’s interest to request a contract clause that allowed him to regain ownership of all the masters he recorded, if he and the record label parted ways. This way he would have still been able to exploit the masters even though he was no longer signed to Atlantic. Thankfully, his lawyer was able to secure this in his release agreement.
LEGAL LESSON #2 – ASK BEFORE YOU BORROW
So Tell me where you from
Uptown baby, Uptown baby
We gets down baby, up for the crown baby
Who can forget the infectious hook from Peter Gunz and Lord Tariq’s hit single “Déjà Vu.” The song’s track contained an unauthorized sample of Steely Dan’s “Black Cow.” Steely Dan brought a lawsuit against the rap duo and was awarded a six figure settlement. They also received all of the publishing rights to “Déjà Vu” and 90% royalties for the song. As a result, Love & Hip Hop cast member, Peter Gunz has been unable to financially profit from the song.
Sampling music is common place in the hip-hop industry. However, under the law, an artist is required to obtain two types of copyrights prior to sampling a song, a sound recording copyright (typically owned by the record label) and a musical composition copyright (owned by the songwriter or publishing company). The fees to license a song/sample varies greatly.
The track to “Déjà Vu” was produced by Brian Kierulf and Joshua Schwartz of KNS Productions. A producer agreement could have helped Peter Gunz and Lord Tariq to avoid the “Déjà Vu” fiasco. Producer agreements often have clauses requiring the producer to provide proof that any sample used in a track has been cleared. An indemnification clause allows the artist to recover legal fees and cost from the producer if the artist is sued for use of an uncleared sample.
Check out this clip from the “Classic Albums” documentary series showing Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen singing along to “Déjà Vu” while discussing the making of Black Cow.
LOVE LESSON #1 – LOVE IS NOT A YO-YO
I could not end this blog post without providing a summary of my Secretary, Yvette’s insights on this season of Love & Hip Hop New York. I give the legal and Yvette provides the real.
Seeing as how today is Valentine’s Day it’s fitting Yvette chose to provide some love advice
Yvette first love lesson, “When you love someone, you can’t treat them like a yo-yo and use them only when you are in need and then throw them away, and expect them to still be there.”
LOVE LESSON # 2 – LOVE IS LIKE A FRAGILE PACKAGE
Yvette’s second love lesson is, “Love is like a fragile package. You must handle it with care. Your goal is not to break it or hurt it and that is how you should strive to treat the person you love at all times.”
The J. Paye & Associates team wishes you a Happy Valentine’s Day!
Disclaimer: This blog post does not constitute legal advice. Please consult an entertainment or intellectual property lawyer to discuss your legal needs.
Happy New Year! In 2013, I was a little lax about updating the J. Paye in Brief blog due to the deamnds of being a lawyer. My goal for this year is to be more consistent in bringing you interesting entertainment and celebrity stories with a legal spin. Let’s get started with the first post of 2014.
It’s a new year and a time when many of us make resolutions. Maybe, your resolution is to become a successful blogger and entreprenuer. Celebrity Blogger, Necole Bitchie went from being unemployed and sleeping on the couches of friends/family to creating a thriving blog and brand. It took a lot of hardwork and sacrifice on her part to start realizing her business goals. As Necole says, “It takes time to get that breakthrough.”
Necole Bitchie was recently interviewed on Power 105.1’s “The Breakfast Club.” She talked about some of the legal challenges she had to overcome. In the interview, she candidly talks about receiving cease and desist letters for using an unlicensed photo of Jay-Z and Beyonce on her blog.
In this digital age, there are several misconceptions about downloading and using pictures and video from the Internet. One common misconception is if an image is on the Internent, it is in the public domain and no permission is required to use the image. Or if an image can be downloaded from the Internet, it can be used without permission.
The reality is, once a photo or other image is created it is automatically copyrighted. Once an image is copyrighted permission is requried to use it. Copyright law prohibits both accidental and willful copyright infringement. If you use a picture from the Internet on your blog without permission, you can be liable for damages even if you did not know the picture was copyrighted.
How can you use photos on your blog, website, or online magazine without infringing on someone’s copyright? One option is to hire a professional photographer. Although, you hire a photographer to take headshoots of you or produce imagery for your website, that does not necessarily mean you own the rights to the final images. Ask the photographer to sign a work-for-hire agreement that stipulates copyright ownership of the final images belong to you. Or if the photographer already has photos you like ask if they will license them to you on a exclusive or non-exclusive basis. A entertainment or intellectual property lawyer can help you with these agreements.
There are sites like istockphoto, getty images, and others that offer stock photos that can be licensed or purchased for a fee. As Necole mentioned, in her interview licensing multiple photos can become expensive…especially if your business is in the startup phase and has limited capital. A cost effective alternative, is to use your camera phone to capture your own photos and videos to use on your blog/website.
Here’s to putting in the time and work necessary to get your breakthrough in 2014!
DISCLAIMER: The contents of this post does not constitute legal advice. Please consult an attorney to discuss your legal needs.
On September 24, the VH1 Reality show Chrissy and Mr. Jones premiered. The show chronicles the lives of hip hop artist Jim Jones, his fiancé Chrissy Lampkin, and his mother Nancy “Mama” Jones. All three originally appeared in the VH1 show, Love and Hip Hop.
In the season premier, as recapped on the VH1 site, “Mama Jones has some drama in her life over the Psychotic Bitch song. [Music producer Freddie Robinson, Jr.,] who produced the song, wants a cut of [Mama Jones] money, but she’s not having it. As far as she’s concerned, she came up with the concept, therefore no one deserves a cut. Freddie begs to differ claiming ownership rights.”
As an intellectual property attorney, I had to laugh during this scene. Mama Jones is not alone in her thinking….I often have to explain to clients that an idea or concept is not entitled to copyright protection. Copyright law only protects, original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.
In Mama Jones situation, Freddie has ownership rights to the track he produced for the song. He would also have ownership rights in the lyrics if he wrote them. Mama Jones should have had Freddie sign a work-for-hire agreement prior to producing the song if she wanted sole ownership rights to the Psychotic Bitch song. Additionally, Freddie would not be entitled to revenue generated from the song under a work-for-hire agreement.
A work for hire agreement is a written contract, which essentially says, that the person or company who commissions a work from an author retains actual ownership and is, in fact, considered the legal author of the work. The actual creator of the work has no rights to payment beyond what was promised in the initial work-for-hire agreement.
It appears that Mama Jones may find herself in the same position as Real Housewife of Atlanta star, Kim Zolciak. In 2009, music producer, Don Vito initiated a lawsuit against Kim Zolciak for copyright infringement when she failed to compensate him for producing the song Don’t be Tardy for the Party.
Mama Jones can rid herself of all this drama by having Freddie sign a written agreement transferring all ownership rights to the Psychotic Bitch song over to her. Guess will just have to watch the rest of the season of Chrissy & Mr. Jones to see how this situation pans out for Mama Jones. Today, Yvette, my administrative assistant informed me that in a subsequent episode Jim Jones and Freddie had “an encounter” about the song. Yvette felt sorry for Freddie that he was being disrespected like he was nothing by another man. She wants to know how come both of them can have a close relationship with Mama Jones for all these years and not know each other. I’ll leave that topic for Necole Bitchie and other bloggers to discuss.
Prior to posting this post, I had a conversation with my administrative assistant Yvette.
Contact J. Paye & Associates today to discuss your copyright needs.