October/November 2015

by David McLaughlin

The Lawful Truth: Top 10 Legal Tips – Part 2

by David McLaughlin

The Lawful Truth: Top 10 Legal Tips – Part 2

In last issue’’s Lawful Truth column we looked at the first five of the top 10 legal tips to help keep you safe in the NZ music industry. Although some of those first five tips were pretty straight forward, (like, ‘’Don’’t sign anything unless you understand it’’), some of the others dealt with the specific nature of the NZ music industry, such as the importance of becoming a member of APRA/AMCOS and Recorded Music NZ. It would pay to take the time to go back and check out those first tips again before you dive into our final five below! 

6. Make sure your band or artist name is original.

Over time the name you perform under could easily end up being one of your most valuable assets. All the hard work you do in playing shows and releasing music means people become familiar not necessarily with ‘you’ but more likely with the name that you have chosen to perform under as an artist or group. You might change your name and still be the same artist, but it is very hard to let everyone else know this.

When you choose your name make sure you do enough research to be certain no one else is using the same name. The worst case scenario is that no matter how well known you become, if another artist or group had the name first they may be able to legally stop you from using it. This would mean that a lot of hard work in building up your profile will be wasted. There may also be other costs too, such as the money spent on any merchandise with your name on that can’’t be used anymore

7. Consider getting trademark protection.

Trademarks can help protect the rights you have in your name and any logos that you may also use. Although you will still have rights in your group or artist name and associated logos without actually registering a trademark, having a registered trademark gives you much more defined and far reaching rights and makes it much easier to legally enforce these rights too.

8. Structure your business properly.

Right from the beginning you need to be thinking about the legal set up of your ‘business’ as an artist or group. In some cases this may be as simple as making sure you are GST registered, in other cases it may involve incorporating a limited liability company, or even companies to look after different aspects of your music business activities.

The legal structure we’re talking about here is all about how your music business activities are established and categorised in the eyes of the law. Taking the time to work out the most sensible way to structure the business of what you do as an artist or group can not only ensure that the music and other ‘assets’ you create receive the best protection possible, but also that you are operating in the most tax efficient manner, meaning more money in your pocket and fewer issues with the IRD.

9. Get organised and get professional.

As simple as it may sound you can save yourself a whole lot of time and problems by getting organised and treating work you do as an artist or group in a professional way. If you want your music to be more than just a hobby then treat it that way. Keep good financial records of all of your music specific income and expenses. Keep copies of any contracts you sign. Keep backups of any emails and other computer files – including music files!

As well as keeping good records you also need to act in a professional way. Returning phone calls and emails and turning up on time are important. Save the rock’’n’’roll attitude and behaviour for when you are on stage.

Not only can being unprofessional and disorganised sometimes lead to you inadvertently breaching contractual obligations you may have, but because our music industry is so small if you get a reputation for being unreliable and difficult to deal with you will shut a lot of doors even before they’’ve been opened.

10. The more information you can give your lawyer the better.

If you ever have to go to a lawyer to get advice on a contract or an issue that has arisen, make sure you let your lawyer know everything– even if it’s something you think you may have done wrong. A fact that to you doesn’’t seem that important could have massive legal significance. The more you tell your lawyer the better understanding they will have of your position and the better they’’ll be able to advise you. Lawyers also have very strict obligations at law whereby whatever you tell them they have to keep in absolute confidence.

If you can keep these five tips in mind, as well as the points we covered in the last issue of NZ Musician, you will be well on your way to avoiding some of the most common issues and pitfalls artists suffer in the music industry.

David McLaughlin is a specialist music lawyer with Auckland law firm McLaughlin Law (