I’m a Music Lawyer. Here’s How Copyright Infringement Cases Work.


  • Robert Jacobs is a law firm in LA who performs with musicians and songwriters.
  • He says conditions like copyright infringement can be extended and arduous, but he enjoys his task.
  • Here is his story, as advised to writer Cari Shane.

This as-advised-to essay is dependent on a conversation with Robert Jacobs, an amusement litigation law firm dependent in LA. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I grew up in Los Angeles, the place the enjoyment marketplace was all close to me. I cherished motion pictures and Tv set and would often go to dwell live shows. There is a specified magic in what artistic persons are in a position to produce.

In legislation university, I took a class on copyright regulation and discovered about the intersection of art and law — and specially, how the legislation can safeguard artists and their craft. I was hooked correct away and decided to concentration my reports on entertainment litigation, which is what I have specialized in due to the fact 1998.

Around the earlier 20-additionally many years, I’ve worked with distinct kinds of media, from photography to film and Television

But for the past many many years, I have targeted mainly on the music field as a litigator working with a huge range of authorized challenges, together with copyright disputes. I also tackle royalty disputes and all kinds of contract and other legal rights-related disputes. Often, I stand for individuals suing for copyright infringement, other situations I am defending someone getting sued.

For all of it, I like to stay at the rear of the scenes and permit my consumers glow since it really is not about me. I have a deep regard for what they do and how they do it, whether or not they’re musicians, producers, singers/songwriters, or writers. I think pretty strongly in safeguarding what they generate. 

At the outset of each individual matter, the most important questions I request are, “What’s actually at stake listed here?” and “What tends to make perception?” specially from a money standpoint. 

I just completed up a circumstance for music producer and DJ Marshmello that I am incredibly pleased with

It was a copyright claim involving the track “Happier” that we effectively defeated. That circumstance went all the way to appeals on the Ninth Circuit, the appellate courtroom that has jurisdiction more than California, and we prevailed there, way too. In complete, the case took about a few many years from commence to finish.

I have also dealt with a pair of lawsuits for Kendrick Lamar: just one in 2016 that involved a assert by Bill Withers that we productively fixed, and a different involving the art utilized in the history of the video “All the Stars” from the “Black Panther” soundtrack. That lawsuit started in February 2018 and ended in March 2019.  

One particular of my clientele after gave me a plaque reminiscent of a gold report that an artist would get from the RIAA (Recording Business Affiliation of The united states) as a thank you. 

What is challenging about what I do is the absence of predictability

Judges and juries can be unpredictable. For example, whilst most men and women rightly comprehend that a acquiring of copyright infringement in the music planet requires evidence that a defendant has made use of a significant volume of compositional factors that are authentic to the plaintiff, far too normally courts have allowed circumstances to go forward — and juries have found liability — just primarily based on the is effective at concern sharing a common “feel” or making use of popular musical building blocks that belong to no one. 

Whilst we are starting off to see the pendulum swing back again in line with most people’s understanding of what the copyright legislation are meant to secure in extra new choices, which include those involving operates by Katy Perry and Led Zeppelin, the fact that people other precedents continue to be on the books underscores the need to have to take a considerate and strategic method to these forms of situations. 

New music copyright infringement promises can be a very long, laborious method

It can get many years likely by means of the courtroom program to solve a copyright assert. Although musical functions take pleasure in copyright safety from the instant they’re 1st prepared down or recorded, the owners of this kind of is effective can’t sue for copyright infringement without having first registering their works with the US Copyright Workplace in Washington, DC. It’s normally a great notion to finish the registration process as quickly as attainable right after a perform is 1st produced or at the exact same time as original publication. 

The report labels and songs publisher to which my recording artist and songwriter clients are signed usually — but not always — will choose care of registering the copyrights in the functions produced by my shoppers.

There demands to be evidence that the wrongdoer ‘had access’ to that person’s development, these kinds of as the audio or lyrics

Frequently, we look at how broadly the tune has been distributed to the public and in their geographical place.

Subsequent, they require to prove that there’s significant similarity concerning the allegedly infringing get the job done and their work. A sizeable similarity inquiry considers no matter whether the plaintiff has adduced adequate evidence that the tracks at difficulty share significant and objectively verifiable similarities — usually based on testimony from a musicologist or other skilled musicological pro — and a lay listener would regard the songs as remaining meaningfully very similar.

We also often have to have to engage in in depth analyses about the extent to which the plaintiff can clearly show the alleged infringement essentially brought about the damages the plaintiff seeks and the value of these kinds of damages. 

Musicologists breathe life into this course of action in a way that no person else can 

Commonly talking, a musicologist is another person who has considerable understanding about musical principle and background, usually as a result of getting pursued an sophisticated academic diploma and/or educating such matters.

The scholarship, thoughtfulness, and knowing that a very good musicologist can convey to bear is a must have. We generally keep musicologists on a situation-by-circumstance basis to assess promises.

It’s significant to understand that sometimes an artist just isn’t ripped off — often, it really is basically coincidental.

Even though the leisure business has its glitz and glamour, which is not the lane I like to be in

I’m grateful and privileged to have the possibility to act on behalf of some of the world’s greatest creators, but the highlight belongs to them and their perform, not me. Exterior my expert role, I’m all about my kids and property existence just like absolutely everyone else. 

My times involve a good deal of reading through, together with The New York Occasions, The Wall Street Journal, Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, Songs Organization All over the world, and Legislation360, and catching up on what is actually likely on in my marketplace, returning cell phone calls, and using conferences. I are likely to make myself out there any time my customers require me. 

Travel has been extremely much section of my operate existence. I’ve had instances all in excess of. In conditions of songs, I pay attention to every thing — rap, tricky rock, country, pop, classical, and John Coltrane.

To my young self, I would say, “Excellent work.” I’m extremely appreciative and grateful for the place I am and what I’ve accomplished.


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