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.
J. Paye Talks All Things Love & Hip Hop Atlanta
By now, you can probably tell that I am a reality TV junkie. When you have a job that requires intense use of your brain cells, mindless television is a welcomed distraction.
It’s been awhile since I talked about Love & Hip. A lot of the blogs and media outlets have commented on how Love & Hip Hop Atlanta is ratchet TV and portrays negative stereotypes of the black community.
I am not going to comment on all that, but the show does depict many different legal issues. Like, when Erica and Scrappy called off their engagement. Did Erica have a legal obligation to give back the ring? Or can Rashida use footage of Kurt cheating, their arguments over finances and Kurt suggesting she have an abortion as proof of irreconcilable differences in a divorce proceeding. And also, what recourse does DJ’s Baby Dre and Traci Steel have against their shoe store business partner, who ran away with their money. These are all interesting questions and may be discussed in another blog post.
What I really want to talk about is the whole Stevie J and Josline fiasco. First off, Josline should have read the talent management and producer agreement before signing it. What really baffles me is why she would let Stevie J hold on to the signed contract without making a copy for herself. I guess these things happen when business and pleasure are mixed.
Josline is not happy with the way Stevie J has been managing her career. She wants out of the contract she signed with him. According to Stevie J, Josline is signed to him for life. (Although he did say once this season that, maybe Josline is signed to him for 6 years).
This is a common issue I see in my law practice. The first step is to see if the manager, producer, record label, etc. will voluntarily release you from the contract. It’s good to get a written release. If this fails, see if one of the contract defenses duress, impossibility, or the contract is unconscionable applies.
In Josline’s situation there are facts to argue that the management contract is unconscionable. Josline had very limited experience in the music industry. Stevie J is a seasoned industry executive. He created hit singles for Mariah Carey, P. Diddy and Eve. He is also older. Josline could argue that Stevie J took advantage of her inexperience. It’s very likely a court would find a contract indenturing Josline to Stevie for life unconscionable. Unless, the lifelong commitment was a marriage. It looks like Josline is really pushing to get married to Stevie.
The last option is to wait out the contract term. Many artists often find themselves in this position, when there has been a breakdown in the relationship with the label or management.
Yvette in Brief
We strive to give two viewpoints in this blog. My administrative assistant, Yvette always has dead on insight and she commented on the last Love & Hip Hop blog post. She feels Kurt is tired of being married and just wants to be a free man. He has been with Rashida since they were 18. Yvette believes, Kurt has been hostile to Rashida in order to get a free pass to cheat, which is something he’s had on his mind for awhile. You noticed he went in the room with not one but two girls. Yvette’s advice is for Rashida to leave Kurt, but realizes its easy for her to say because Kurt is not her husband.
As for Stevie J and Mimi…Yvette said, Stevie was quick to accept the car keys back from Mimi. He did not even offer them back to her probably because it was time for him to return his “rental.” I can’t believe Yvette thinks Stevie gave Mimi a rental car as a gift.
That’s it for all things Love & Hip Hop Atlanta Season 2.
“Sometimes Love Comes Around and It Knocks You Down…”
“You should leave your boyfriend now, I’m a ask him,” would be interesting if Kanye West wrote that line in reference to Kris Humphries.
The whole Kanye, Kim Kardashian, and Kris Humphries love triangle has been getting a lot of attention in the media lately. Did you know that underCalifornialaw biology does not necessarily determine the paternity of a child? InCalifornia, there is a rebutable presumption that the woman’s husband is the father of any children born into their marriage.
Assuming Kim Kardashian is still legally married to Kris Humphries when she gives birth in June, under Californialaw Kris would be the “presumed father.” Kim K. can overcome this presumption by presenting “clear and convincing evidence, such a as a DNA test, that Kanye is the biological father of the baby. For Kim, Kanye, and Kris sake lets hope the terms of the divorce or annulment gets finalized before June. Otherwise, we may hear Kanye rapping these lines from the Keri Hilson song Knocks You Down, “Woe is me. Baby this is tragic.”
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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.
Since July 27th, people around the world have been glued to their television screens watching the London Olympics. J.Paye has had the pleasure of chatting with past Olympian, Edward W. Neufville, III, who ran track for Liberia in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Neufville describes himself as a passionate, persistent, and competent immigration and international law attorney and entrepreneur.
Let’s rewind 16 years and 4 Olympic competitions to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Then, 19-year-old Neufville was a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) where he ran track. On his collegiate track team were several American and international students who also competed in the Olympics. In the months leading up to the 1996 Olympic Games, the Liberian Olympic track team assembled in Jefferson, Georgia and began training as a team. Each day, they would train from nine in the morning to noon then again during the evening hours perfecting their technique, weight training and sprinting. According to Neufville, “I felt very blessed, honored and fortunate to have competed at the Olympic Games for my country, especially at such a young age. It was a feeling of accomplishment and also a feeling of giving back to Liberia. Liberia was in the midst of a civil crisis in 1996. The opportunity to represent Liberia and provide a positive picture of Liberia was very satisfying. It was out of this world!”
In April of 1996, three months prior to the start of the Olympic Games, a civil conflict reignited in Liberia. The team lost complete contact with their Olympic committee and officials. Together, as a unit, they persevered by serving as their own negotiators. Although they did not make the Olympic finals, the team placed 24th out of 38 teams.
Other than making the Liberian Olympic team, Neufville accomplished much more during his athletic career. From 1991-1995, Neufville won four individual state championships in South Carolina and set the South Carolina high state record in the 400 meters hurdles. His most defining moments as an athlete were when the Liberian national team set records in the 4×100 sprint relays in 1996 Olympics and the 1997 World Championships in Athens, Greece. These were memorable because of the ties and camaraderie that existed between him and his teammates. Another defining moment was running the relay in 1997. Neufville stated that he had a hairline stress fracture in his lower back days leading up to the race and could not walk. However, he persevered because he did not want to disappoint his teammates. The team set a national record that helped to restore the image of Liberia. Another moment he speaks of fondly, was when he placed 3rd in the 55 meters sprint at the Atlantic Coast Conference Indoor Championships because he was not expected to make the finals.
In October of 2008, Neufville was inducted into his high school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in Sumter, South Carolina and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Track and Field & Cross-Country Hall of Fame in January of 2007. Within every profession come highs and lows, Neufville most disappointing moment or moments is how frequently he got injured. As he says, “I ran most of my collegiate years either injured or recovering from an injury.”
Now, let’s fast-forward to today. Neufville expresses that the most memorable moment of the 2012 Olympic games is the opening ceremony or the “Parade of Nations”. He warmheartedly recalls 16 years ago, as a 19 year old, walking into the Atlanta Olympic Stadium as a member of the Liberian Olympic Team. “The feeling you get when your nation is introduced is one of a kind.” Other favorite moments of the 2012 Olympic games thus far is the flawless performance of Gabby Douglas in the all round gymnastics competition and the Men’s’ 10,000 meters race with Great Britain’s Mo Farah and training mate, American Galen Rupp, which was team work at its best.
J.Paye in Brief on Endorsement Contracts for Athletes
Negotiating favorable terms into an endorsement or sponsorship contract is about “The Art of the Deal” The more name recognition or fan base an athlete has gives the greater negotiating power.
Many of the Olympic athletes who will be offered endorsement deals are young adults or in their teens. As such, the morals clause is going to be a big negotiating point for these athletes. A morals clause allows the company to terminate the athlete for an act that significantly devalues the endorsement or embarrasses the company. Here, the athlete will want to make sure the contract stipulates what behavior/conduct is prohibited by the endorser. The last thing an athlete would want is to obtain a multi year endorsement deal that is cancelled because he or she engaged in behavior not specifically defined in the contract. All I can say to this is think Michael Phelps and the infamous bong photos. An athlete will want to make sure the morals clause allows them to terminate the contract when the company engages in immoral behavior. An athlete does not want their brand to be associated with a company that has engaged in consumer fraud or some other unethical activity.
The athlete wants to make sure the contract specifically defines the compensation terms. With good legal representation the athlete can negotiate creative compensation structures. For example, maybe the athlete forgoes a large upfront payment and instead opts for stock or ownership rights in the company. Think Rapper 50 Cent and the Vitamin Water deal. This type of compensation structure works well with start-up companies vs. mature establish companies. Another important provision of endorsement contracts it the exclusivity clause. An athlete does not want this clause to be so narrow preventing them from obtaining other endorsements.
Lastly, Athletes want to remember that they are the brand and should take steps to protect their intellectual property. Athletes may want to trademark unique nicknames they are recognized by in their respective sports.
The American Bar Association (ABA) Journal Magazine recently did a profile on J. Paye & Associates Africa Practice. Check out the article entitled Betting on a New Frontier: Solo Sets Sights on Africa. Contact J. Paye & Associates to discuss how we can help you with your Africa related ventures.
Now I think ya going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. Your gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows when it comes down to it your gonna do the same for him. That’s a team gentlemen, and either, we heal as a team, or we will die as individuals. That’s football guys, that’s all it is. – Al Pacino, Any Given Sunday
Troy Pelshak In Brief
When Troy Pelshak started his rookie year with the St. Louis Rams in 1999, the team had the worst record in the league. The year before his rookie season the Rams won four out of sixteen games. At the start of the 1999 – 2000 season, the Rams had the longest shot at winning Superbowl XXXIV. According to Pelshak, the Rams could not get its team combination correct. Throughout his football career he had never played linebacker or on the defensive line. The Rams coach, Dick Vermeil decided to position Pelshak as an outside linebacker and defensive end.
Vermeil’s coaching decisions proved effective because the Rams started beating teams left and right and putting up amazing numbers. Pelshak said, “the crowning victory [of that season] were they were able to win [the Superbowl] for a great coach.” He described the feeling of winning the Superbowl as “becoming the president” there is no higher achievement that can be met.
The game of football is adversarial at every level. There is the contract negotiation with the player and the team that is seeking to sign the player. The main element of an NFL contract is the money is not guaranteed. The only money that is guaranteed is the money up front. The NFL is the only sport where this is the case. A team can void the player’s contract at any time.
Pelshak’s time in the league taught him many valuable lessons. He recommends that players structure themselves as a business, by forming corporations. He suggests that players conduct all business transactions through their company, including having the NFL sign the corporation rather than the player. Pelshak says this will limit the player’s personal liability on contracts. He also advises players to partner with a good attorney that has the legal acumen to protect the player’s corporation and brand.
The images we see of the NFL portray its glamorous side, but at its core it is a game embedded in risk and uncertainty. Last week, over 2,000 NFL players filed a consolidated master complaint against the NFL. The complaint alleges, “The NFL, like the sport of boxing, was aware of the health risks associated with repetitive blows producing sub-concussive and concussive results and the fact that some members of the NFL player population were at significant risk of developing long-term brain damage and cognitive decline as a result.”
During our phone interview, Pelshak said he does not know who is liable in the NFL head injury lawsuit. He stated the “NFL approves the best equipment out there.” In response to the lawsuit, the NFL stated that, “The league in partnership with the NFL Players Association has spent more than a billion dollars on pensions, medical and disability benefits for retired players.” Pelshak pointed out that retired NFL players have to make monthly payments to maintain certain benefits…it’s similar to COBRA. The issue is that many former players cannot afford to make the payments to continue the long-term disability coverage offered by the League. This is because scores of formers players earned less than $100,000 or have lost most of the money they earned during their time in the league.
J. Paye In Brief
Troy Pelshak offered several ways players can protect themselves during his interview. Forming a corporation does provide certain benefits. A player should talk to a knowledgeable business law attorney to evaluate whether forming a business entity is in his best interest. A player can protect himself by having a lawyer review and negotiate terms into his business contracts that limit his personal liability.
The NFL head injury lawsuit is complicated on many levels. The players will have to show the multiple head blows and concussions they sustained during their NFL career caused their head injuries. This is going to be difficult because, the players in the suit could have experienced head trauma during their high school or college football careers that could have caused the symptoms and illnesses described in the complaint. Additionally, the players could have engaged in activities after their NFL careers, which could be the source of their injuries.
Each team self reports the number of concussions suffered by each player on the team to the League. The problem is not every concussion gets reported to the League. The players in the suit will have to show the law imposes a duty on the League to protect players from unknown concussions and sub-concussions.
In 2010, the NFL earned about $9 billion in revenues. The NFL is facing the possibility of paying billions of dollars in damages to the over 2,000 named plaintiffs, who are growing in number everyday. With this level of liability, the NFL will seek to end this case in the early stages. Both the NFL and Riddell have until August 9, 2012, to file a responsive pleading, which will most likely be a Motion to Dismiss.
Many of the players in the suit sacrificed themselves physically, for their team, the League and fans. The outcome of this lawsuit will determine if the NFL will be able to heal as a team or if players will continue to die as individuals as they struggle with cognitive complications like depression, paranoia, panic attacks and early-onset dementia.
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