Legal Advice for Musicians
The following band resources information is based upon input from numerous bands and musicians, the Bandmonster staff, and our contacts and resources in the music industry.
- Get it in writing
- Choose a unique band name.
- Copyright your songs at some point
- Pay your taxes
Seems obvious, but make sure anything important is written down and that everyone signs on the dotted line. If you're not sure if it needs to be 'official,' just play out this scenario: "What's the worst that can happen?" If you can deal with the possible repercussions, then you're fine with taking someone's word on it. But if it's not something you can live with, then take the appropriate steps and get it spelled out on paper.
You can obtain common law trademark once you use the name of your band for the purposes of business (or you publicly announce your intention to use the name for business). However, if someone else is already doing business under that name, you do not have any trademark rights (even if you go through the process of registering it. If they can prove they were legitimately using it first, you lose). Make life easier by choosing an original name, and search it out online to verify that no one else is using that name. Then go about the business of publicizing your band's name so as to avoid another band unknowingly choosing the same name.
Current US copyright law states that a work is automatically protected by copyright when it is first created. Registration in the US Copyright Office is not required to obtain copyright protection. However, by actually registering your work with the US Copyright Office you will have established a public record of your copyright claim, making life much easier for you should any issues of infringement come up. (Our unqualified, not legally binding advice: when you start breaking out of the local scene, either through touring or via online sales of your music, you should probably get the ball rolling on protecting your work.)
If you receive any money from your music (gigs, CD sales, merch sales, etc.), you’re required to report the income to the IRS. Talk to your tax preparer for additional information, including which expenses (such as equipment or recording costs) you can use to lower the amount of tax you’ll have to pay.
Recommended Reading for Music Legal Advice
These are recommendations from our clients and staff (most of whom are in bands). If you have a suggestion, please contact us. If it's good, we'll list it.
The Plain & Simple Guide to Music Publishing: Foreword by Tom Petty
Randal Wixen (April 2008)
Music Law: How to Run Your Band's Business
Richard Stim (October 2006)
This Business of Music
M. William Krasilovsky (June 2007)
Musician's Business & Legal Guide
Mark Halloran (February 2007)
Additional Resources for Music Legal Advice
These are sites our clients and staff (most of whom are in bands) recommend. If you have a suggestion, please let us know. If it's good, we'll add it to the list.
Music Copyrights & Law
American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. ASCAP protects the rights of its members through licensing and royalty distribution.
Blog by Richard Stim, author of Music Law: How to Run Your Band's Business.
Free legal advice related to music law.
Attorney listings for a variety of practice areas, including copyright and IP (intellectual property). Search by state / zip code.
ASCAP Expo (http://www.ascap.com/eventsawards/events/expo/)
Annual music creator conference. Connects attendees with successful songwriters, composers, and other music business professionals.
If you would like to contribute or make a suggestion for Legal Advice for Musicians, please contact us.
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