Author: E Verona Douglas Sands, Douglas Sands and Associates Law Firm

E. Verona Douglas Sands is an Attorney and Barrister at Law and Senior Partner at Douglas Sands and Associates Law Firm established in 1992. Based in the Bahamas we specialize in Civil Litigation, Corporate and Commercial Law including International Company Formation, Criminal Law, E-Commerce and New Media, Employment Law, Entertainment Law, Family Law, Immigration Law. Intellectual Property Law, Medical Negligence, Personal Injury, Real Estate Law, Wills, Probates and Estates.

How do Music Business Attorney Fees Work?

By Donald Passman

Most lawyers in the music business don’t charge just on an hourly basis. For the ones that do, the rates are usually from $125 per hour for new lawyers, up to $450 or more for biggies. Some of us charge a percentage (usually 5-10%), while others do something known as “value billing,” often with an hourly rate or retainer against it.

A retainer is a set monthly fee that is either credited against the ultimate fee, or it’s a flat fee covering all services. “Value Billing” means that, when the deal is finished, the lawyer asks for a fee based on the size of the deal and his or her contribution to it. If the lawyer had very little to do with shaping the deal, but rather just did the contract, I think the fee should be close to an hourly rate (though I’ll get heat for telling you this because it’s usually more).

On the other hand, if the lawyer came up with a clever concept or strategy that made you substantial sums of money, or the lawyer shaped or created the deal from scratch, he or she will ask for a much larger fee or larger percentage. If your lawyer “value bills,” you should get some idea up front what it’s going to be, so that there aren’t any rude surprises. At minimum, get a ballpark range.


Here are some questions to ask your potential entertainment lawyer:

1. Do you have expertise in the music business?

2. What do you charge? In addition to fees, do you charge for costs? (Everyone charges for long-distance phone calls, messengers, etc., but some charge for every page of photocopying, faxing, etc, while others are much looser.)

3. Ask if the lawyer has a written fee arrangement. In California for example, lawyers are required to have their fee arrangement in writing in order to enforce them (a major incentive to get them in writing). Ask for a copy of the fee arrangement so you can review it. Also, the lawyer can’t insist on your signing it in his or her office–the California Bar considers that too intimidating. So take it home.

It’s unethical in some jurisdictions like California for lawyers to have an agreement with you that can’t be terminated at any time. If it’s a percentage arrangement, be careful about what happens to the percentage after the term.

You should ask if they object to your having the fee arrangement reviewed by an independent advisor, preferably a lawyer, but at least a personal manager or business manager. No legitimate lawyer will object to this, and in fact, they should encourage it. If it’s at all possible, you should have your fee arrangement with your lawyer reviewed independently–especially if it involves a percentage. And, if it isn’t possible to do this, make sure the lawyer explains it to you in detail and that you understand it.

4. Ask for references of artists at your level, and check them out. Does this lawyer return phone calls and emails? Do they get deals done in a reasonable period of time? “Reasonable” in the music business is not going to be anywhere near the speed you would like. It’s not uncommon for a record deal to take four or five months to negotiate, especially if you’re a new artist and can’t force the record company to turn out a draft quickly. Four to five months is a realistic time frame, but if it goes beyond that, someone isn’t doing their job. I’ve always been amused by a story I heard from a new client when I was a young lawyer. He had been represented by another lawyer, and he said, “I know my record deal is good. It took over a year to negotiate.”

5. Do you have or foresee any conflicts of interest?

Conflicts of Interest

A lawyer has a conflict of interest when his or her clients get into a situation where their interests are adverse. This is easy to see, for example, when two clients of the same lawyer want to sue each other. However, it’s also a conflict of interest when two clients of the same lawyer make a deal with each other.

Lawyers are ethically required to disclose their conflicts of interest to you. Your choice is either to hire another lawyer, or you may “waive” (meaning you choose to ignore) the conflict, and continue to use the same lawyer.

Because the entertainment industry is a relatively small business, those of us who practice in this field are continually bumping into ourselves when our clients make deals with each other. Most of the time these situations are harmless and can be handled simply, in one of several ways:

1. Each of the clients gets another lawyer (rare unless it’s a pretty serious conflict).

2. One of the clients gets another lawyer (much more common).

3. The clients work out the agreement amongst themselves (or else the manager, agent, or business manager negotiates for them), and the lawyer merely draws up the paperwork, not representing anyone’s interest.

When you are interviewing attorneys, you should ask if they have or foresee any conflicts of interest. Most ethical lawyers will bring it up before you do, but you should ask anyway.

About the author
Donald Passman is the author of “All You Need To Know About The Music Business” available on and iTunes. Often we excerpt from his book. Passman is a Los Angeles-based music attorney with the firm of Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown. Specializing in music business law for over 20 years, his clients include major publishers, record companies, film companies, managers, producers, songwriters, and artists such as REM, Janet Jackson, Quincy Jones, Tina Turner and Green Day.


Success amidst Hurricane Sandy: Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Visit the Bahamas

Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association (BESLA) holds their conference in the Bahamas

Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association (BESLA) holds their conference in the Bahamas

A marked success in the midst of Hurricane Sandy, the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association (BESLA) brought nearly 300 attendees to the Bahamas for its 32nd annual conference at the Atlantis Resort October 24-28, 2012.

Deputy Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas Phillip “Brave” Davis welcomed the BESLA group at the opening reception complete with a Junkanoo rush.

Local organiser, Andy Ingraham, said “the event provided an opportunity for the Bahamian private sector to establish connections with the 300 music, television and sports” industry tastemakers.

Although Hurricane Sandy kept attendees indoor for the duration of the conference, local and international attendees were educated, enlightened and informed with each panel. A host of attorneys, agents and industry professionals shared their knowledge in sports, new media, entertainment, ethics, brand building and television.

A handful of Bahamian students, attorneys and business owners took advantage of the incredible networking opportunity including First Lady of the Bahamas Mrs. Bernadette Christie, who is also an attorney. According to local attendee PJ Douglas Sands “as an event planner and branding strategist BESLA was a great experience. Networking and being inspired by colleagues in the Entertainment field is a motivation not only for what I am doing with The DS3 Group but with my attorneys at Douglas Sands and Associates. This is my first of many BESLA events.”

Judy Smith recently appeared on Oprah's Next Chapter with Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes to discuss ABC's hit show

Judy Smith recently appeared on Oprah’s Next Chapter with Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes to discuss ABC’s hit show “Scandal” based on her illustrious career in crisis management.

BESLA presented its Lifetime Achievement award to Judy Smith, the crisis management expert whose A-list clientele and trailblazing counsel inspired the new ABC hit series, ‘Scandal’.

Known in her business as a “fixer”, for the past 20 years Ms Smith has been the go-to person called upon by politicians, celebrities and Fortune 500 companies caught in media firestorms.

The founder of Smith and Company, Ms Smith is an attorney who was the first black female special assistant to the President, and deputy White House press secretary for President George H, W. Bush. She will also participate in a ‘Representing clients in a time of Crisis’ seminar.

Godmother of BESLA Entertainment Attorney Louise West, First Lady of the Bahamas & Attorney Mrs. Bernadette Christie, Andy Ingraham & PJ Douglas Sands

Entertainment Attorney Louise West, First Lady of the Bahamas & Attorney Mrs. Bernadette Christie, Andy Ingraham & PJ Douglas Sands

Representatives from NBC Entertainment Television, BET, Universal Music Group, Turner Broadcasting, Island Def Jam, Warner/Chappell Music, Oprah Winfrey Network, Sony, Max Siegel, chief executive of US Track & Field, and Eva Wright, vice-president and associate general counsel of the Miami Heat, also led discussions.

This year’s theme was Symmetry & Global Branding: Balancing Strategic Partnerships For Breakthrough Success.

Legendary music executive and entrepreneur, Clarence Avant has also been honoured.This year, his daughter, retired US Ambassador to the Bahamas, Nicole Avant, received BESLA’s Humanitarian Award. She is an accomplished business woman, political activist and philanthropist and is married to Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.


The Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association (BESLA) was founded in 1980 as  a network for the professional development and advancement for attorneys of colour in entertainment and sports. Their mission:


  • Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association (BESLA)to open pathways to economic and decision-making parity in the sports and entertainment industries for legal and creative talent representatives.
  • Provide an effective network of high-impact professional and business relationships and information-sharing.
  • Facilitate legal and business affairs employment and business opportunities for people of color.

Here are photos from the 2012 BESLA conference held at Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island, The Bahamas courtesy of New Media Network.

DS3 Legal Watch: 10 Big Copyright Myths

By Brad Templeton

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DS3 Legal Watch

Note that this is an essay about copyright myths. It assumes you know at least what copyright is — basically the legal exclusive right of the author of a creative work to control the copying of that work. If you didn’t know that, check out my own brief introduction to copyright for more information. Feel free to link to this document, no need to ask me. Really, NO need to ask.

1) “If it doesn’t have a copyright notice, it’s not copyrighted.”

This was true in the past, but today almost all major nations follow the Berne copyright convention. For example, in the USA, almost everything created privately and originally after April 1, 1989 is copyrighted and protected whether it has a notice or not. The default you should assume for other people’s works is that they are copyrighted and may not be copied unless you know otherwise. There are some old works that lost protection without notice, but frankly you should not risk it unless you know for sure.

It is true that a notice strengthens the protection, by warning people, and by allowing one to get more and different damages, but it is not necessary. If it looks copyrighted, you should assume it is. This applies to pictures, too. You may not scan pictures from magazines and post them to the net, and if you come upon something unknown, you shouldn’t post that either.

The correct form for a notice is:

	"Copyright [dates] by [author/owner]"

You can use C in a circle © instead of “Copyright” but “(C)” has never been given legal force. The phrase “All Rights Reserved” used to be required in some nations but is now not legally needed most places. In some countries it may help preserve some of the “moral rights.”

2) “If I don’t charge for it, it’s not a violation.”

False. Whether you charge can affect the damages awarded in court, but that’s main difference under the law. It’s still a violation if you give it away — and there can still be serious damages if you hurt the commercial value of the property. There is a USA exception for personal copying of music, which is not a violation, though courts seem to have said that doesn’t include widescale anonymous personal copying as Napster. If the work has no commercial value, the violation is mostly technical and is unlikely to result in legal action. Fair use determinations (see below) do sometimes depend on the involvement of money.

3) “If it’s posted to Usenet it’s in the public domain.

False. Nothing modern and creative is in the public domain anymore unless the owner explicitly puts it in the public domain(*). Explicitly, as in you have a note from the author/owner saying, “I grant this to the public domain.” Those exact words or words very much like them.

Some argue that posting to Usenet implicitly grants permission to everybody to copy the posting within fairly wide bounds, and others feel that Usenet is an automatic store and forward network where all the thousands of copies made are done at the command (rather than the consent) of the poster. This is a matter of some debate, but even if the former is true (and in this writer’s opinion we should all pray it isn’t true) it simply would suggest posters are implicitly granting permissions “for the sort of copying one might expect when one posts to Usenet” and in no case is this a placement of material into the public domain. It is important to remember that when it comes to the law, computers never make copies, only human beings make copies. Computers are given commands, not permission. Only people can be given permission. Furthermore it is very difficult for an implicit licence to supersede an explicitly stated licence that the copier was aware of.

Note that all this assumes the poster had the right to post the item in the first place. If the poster didn’t, then all the copies are pirated, and no implied licence or theoretical reduction of the copyright can take place

(*) Copyrights can expire after a long time, putting something into the public domain, and there are some fine points on this issue regarding older copyright law versions. However, none of this applies to material from the modern era, such as net postings.

Note that granting something to the public domain is a complete abandonment of all rights. You can’t make something “PD for non-commercial use.” If your work is PD, other people can even modify one byte and put their name on it. You might want to look into Creative Commons style licences if you want to grant wide rights.

4) “My posting was just fair use!”

See EFF notes on fair use and links from it for a detailed answer, but bear the following in mind:

The “fair use” exemption to (U.S.) copyright law was created to allow things such as commentary, parody, news reporting, research and education about copyrighted works without the permission of the author. That’s vital so that copyright law doesn’t block your freedom to express your own works — only the ability to appropriate other people’s. Intent, and damage to the commercial value of the work are important considerations. Are you reproducing an article from the New York Times because you needed to in order to criticise the quality of the New York Times, or because you couldn’t find time to write your own story, or didn’t want your readers to have to register at the New York Times web site? The first is probably fair use, the others probably aren’t.

Fair use is generally a short excerpt and almost always attributed. (One should not use much more of the work than is needed to make the commentary.) It should not harm the commercial value of the work — in the sense of people no longer needing to buy it (which is another reason why reproduction of the entire work is a problem.) Famously, copying just 300 words from Gerald Ford’s 200,000 word memoir for a magazine article was ruled as not fair use, in spite of it being very newsworthy, because it was the most important 300 words — why he pardoned Nixon.

Note that most inclusion of text in followups and replies is for commentary, and it doesn’t damage the commercial value of the original posting (if it has any) and as such it is almost surely fair use. Fair use isn’t an exact doctrine, though. The court decides if the right to comment overrides the copyright on an individual basis in each case. There have been cases that go beyond the bounds of what I say above, but in general they don’t apply to the typical net misclaim of fair use

The “fair use” concept varies from country to country, and has different names (such as “fair dealing” in Canada) and other limitations outside the USA.

Facts and ideas can’t be copyrighted, but their expression and structure can. You can always write the facts in your own words. See the DMCA alert for recent changes in the law.

5)  “If you don’t defend your copyright you lose it.” — “Somebody has that name copyrighted!”

False. Copyright is effectively never lost these days, unless explicitly given away. You also can’t “copyright a name” or anything short like that, such as almost all titles. You may be thinking of trade marks, which apply to names, and can be weakened or lost if not defended.

You generally trademark terms by using them to refer to your brand of a generic type of product or service. Like a “Delta” airline. Delta Airlines “owns” that word applied to air travel, even though it is also an ordinary word. Delta Hotels owns it when applied to hotels. (This case is fairly unusual as both are travel companies. Usually the industries are more distinct.) Neither owns the word on its own, only in context, and owning a mark doesn’t mean complete control — see a more detailed treatise on this law for details.

You can’t use somebody else’s trademark in a way that would steal the value of the mark, or in a way that might make people confuse you with the real owner of the mark, or which might allow you to profit from the mark’s good name. For example, if I were giving advice on music videos, I would be very wary of trying to label my works with a name like “mtv.” 🙂 You can use marks to critcise or parody the holder, as long as it’s clear you aren’t the holder.


****To see myths #6-10 read the rest on Brad’s blog. We wouldn’t want to violate his copyright notice.

For more information on copyrights, reach out toThe DS3 Group for legal advice or keep an eye out for “DS3 Legal Watch” articles on