Lawrence Lessig: Is It Impossible To Imagine Lawyers On The Side Of Innovation?

Not impossible to imagine, Lawrence, just very difficult. To most recording artists I know, the lawyer is the person who hides the truth in the legalese contained in the contract. The truth that you can sell a million records, and still owe the label money.

I had some friends asked to sign a recording contract, they went and hired their own lawyer to look it over, who told them “it looks good to me.” A relative of the band, not a lawyer but with some experience in contractual law, looked at it and tore it up on sight. It signed over the rights for all of the bands original songs to the label, along with screwing them on several other fronts. When they went back to the lawyer, he told them, “hey, this is a standard recording deal.” Of course, he was used to representing the labels in such dealings, so of course it looked good to him.

The recording industry needs two things: an enema and a “good faith estimate,” like banks do. A good faith estimate tells you how much a bank is going to lend you, and how much you will have paid them in interest upon completion of the loan period, among other things. (note: Keola is not a lawyer, but I’ve seen a bunch of these and this is how it has been explained to me.)

Labels should be required to include good faith estimates in their contract. “If you sell X albums and tour X cities over X months, you will receive approximately X dollars.” The problem right now is if you do the math as Courtney love did, you’d likely see a negative sign in front of the $, and know, in plain English, that you were about to BOGU for the labels. If you signed at that point, you probably deserve getting screwed.

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