ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Friday, February 3, 2023

Weekend Frivolity, Professor Harry Fletchner's CISG Song

Screenshot 2023-02-03 at 6.12.16 AMHarry Fletchner, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law is an expert on international contracting, including the U.N. Convention on the International Sale of Goods, known to its friends as the CISG.

Thanks to my student Corinna Bethke, I recently learned of Professor Fletchner's CISG Song, written for a November 2005 conference titled "The CISG and the Business Lawyer: The UNCITRAL Digest as a Contract Drafting Tool."  Among other things, this song has the most impressive footnote apparatus I have ever seen.  From what I know of academic conferences, I am pretty confident that Professor Fetchner's performance was the main take-away that participants retained after the conference.  

Frank Snyder, if you are reading this, is it too late to book Professor Snyder for KCON XVI?  In the alternative, can we find a way to re-create the legendary boat excursion from KCON VI?

The Lyrics are as follows:

When I was a little boy my daddy said to me,
"If you want great riches, son, it's a merchant you should be.
You can deal in goods from cars to cod, and earn more than enough.
But don't buy or sell 'cross borders, son, cause that's awfully risky stuff."

We didn't have no C-I-S-G. [1]
If we bought or sold in another State we didn't know what the law would be.
But now there's a Convention to make global trade more free.
'Cept them gol-danged U.S. courts just treat it like the U-C-C. [2]

As a young man I took up those words my daddy said.
I became a merchant -- traded goods to earn my bread.
But I would not buy or sell beyond the borders of my State
'Cause if the deal was not domestic, none could tell my legal fate.

We didn't have no C-I-S-G.
We were clueless how the law would go if we dealt internationally.
But now under this treaty global commerce is a breeze,
'Cept some jerks from Pittsburgh and Denmark say I can't recover no attorney fees. [3]

So now there is a treaty when I buy or sell afar.
I can deal with folks from everywhere, from Arles [4] to Zanzibar. [5]
The goods I buy are always fine, [6] and my buyers never sue.
I hardly need a lawyer — yes, my life's perfection true!

Because we have that C-I-S-G.
There's no risk in international sales far as the eye can see.
But I just received a shipment, so I must quickly say goodbye —
'Cause German courts give me just 5 minutes to inspect and notify. [7]

February 3, 2023 in Contract Profs, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Justin Bieber Is Selling His Soul. No, That's Not News. He's Selling His Music

As , in conversation with Eamonn Forde, reports in The Guardian, Justin Bieber (below -- honest, I'm not trying to be mean (yet) by posting his mugshot; it's the only public domain image I could find!) has entered into a $200 million deal giving Hipgnosis Songs Capital the rights to all of his music recorded before 2021.  Baby, baby, baby, oh, that's a lot of money!  But it covers 290 titles, even though I can only think of one.

BiebermugshotThe transaction is an indicator of a trend.  Music is back, according to The Guardian, with album sales climbing in the U.S. over the past two years.  I'm not sure what these guys mean by "album," but whatever. 

And it's not just about you-know-who who is committed to owning all of her own music and insists on bringing out a new (old) album every year in order to do so to the delight of her fans who apparently are unaware that the world is teeming with talented artists of whom they've never heard (like Sarah Dooley) because all they listen to is this poor girl who is the most downloaded artist in history but for some reason is still singing about somebody who broke up with her ten years ago when she is not setting records for use of her private jet in a year when she's not even touring. 

Haters gonna hate. 

Actually, I wouldn't hate this artist if she were just stupendously successful.  I hate that she takes up all the oxygen in the room so that no other artists can breathe (and my students disappear for 48 hours after she drops a new album so that they can commit every syllable to memory and then shoot each other knowing looks when I accidentally use some utterly humdrum phrase that also happens to have found its way into her lyrics, which are 98% utterly humdrum phrases. 

But I digress.

Anyhew, Hipgnosis is a big player in the market, and that company and its rivals are betting on the long-term value of the songs that they are buying up.  Hipgnosis principal proclaims himself to be a "disruptor" who wants to destroy the traditional model of music publishing.   It's not clear to me that there's anything left to destroy, but his company has literally spent billions of dollars on demolition, so I suppose there's still work to be done.  

Among the things that makes me wonder whether the parties know what they are doing is the round numbers involved in these transactions.  According to the Guardian, "Stevie Nicks sold her catalogue for $100m. Bob Dylan shed his for a cool $300m-400m. Bruce Springsteen tops the lot at $550m."  Okay, so a Bieber is twice a Nicks and half a Dylan?  But also, what are these numbers based on.  If there were a formula, it would produce a number with more significant digits.  I think these deals are very rough guesstimates to true value, which is why I have decided not to buy the rights to all of Britney Spears' music just yet.

February 1, 2023 in Celebrity Contracts, Commentary, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Heirs of Funny Girl Producer Get to Keep Royalties

FunnyGirl1Bob Merrill wrote and copywriting the lyrics to Funny Girl in November 1963.  Later that same year, he entered into a royalty agreement with the company behind the Broadway production of the musical.  In December, Merrill entered into a second agreement with Eliot Hyman, an executive at the production company, that reduced Merrill's entitlement to future royalties in exchange for an up-front payment of $82,500.  That second agreement reduced Merrill's royalties when the producers agreed to let another entity, Tams-Witmark Music Library, license the show to other companies.  As a result of the second deal, while Merrill's co-authors got just over 12% of the royalties on the licensing arrangement, Merrill got just over 4%, with the remaining 8% going to Hyman. 

With the original parties to the deal long dead, the US District Court for Connecticut presided over a showdown of the heirs in Merrill v. HymanMerrill's widow thinks that because copyrights have expired, she is now entitled to terminate the agreement with Hyman.  She sued, seeking a declaration that the contract was lawfully terminated.  The Hymans counterclaimed, seeking declaratory judgment and alleging breach of contract and tortious interference in their relationship with Tams-Witmark.  Tams-Witmark is holding royalties in escrow until the dust settles.  

Ms. Merrill was relying on 17 U.S.C. § 304(c) of the Federal Copyright Act, which gives an author the power to revoke any “transfer or license” of the copyright after 56 years.  Unfortunately, Mr. Merrill never transferred or licensed his copyright in Funny Girl to Mr. Hyman; he only agreed that should he decide to transfer or license use of his material in return for royalties, some of those royalties go to Mr. Hyman.  The Copyright Act has nothing to say about such arrangements.

Fanny Brice
Fanny Brice, the original funny girl

Ms. Merrill did not seem to resist this conclusion.  Instead, she argued that when her husband promised Mr. Hyman a share of his “royalties, percentage compensation, rights and other compensation,'” he understood "rights" to mean copyright rights.  The District Court found that interpretation to be incompatible with three separate provisions of the parties' agreement.  In addition, it would be very odd to have a copyright agreement that made no mention of the Copyright Act.  Other arguments relating to Mr. Hyman's agreement with Tams-Witmark indicated, at best, that Mr. Hyman might have believed that he owned the copyright, but if he did so believe, he was mistaken.  

The court awarded summary judgment to the Hymans on their declaratory judgment and breach of contract claims and permanently enjoined the Merrills from interfering with the Hymans' recovery of royalties.  Upon the Hymans' concession at oral argument that recovery of funds held in escrow would make them whole, the court dismissed as moot the tortious interference claim.

December 1, 2022 in Music, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Signature of the Artist in the Age of Its Mechanical Reproducibility

Dylan 1966
Mr. Dylan, in 1966

Mark Savage reports on that Bob Dylan has apologized.  You need not read any further.  That is news in and of itself.  I'm wracking my brain.  Has Bob Dylan ever apologized before?  For anything?  Isn't that more of a John Denver vibe?

What has finally made the American Bard issue an apology?  Breach of contract, of course.  Mr. Dylan's publisher, Simon & Schuster sold for $600 each 900 "hand-signed" copies of Mr. Dylan's new book, The Philosophy of Modern Song.  Some Dylan aficionados, it turns out, were also signature aficionados, and they discovered that the "hand-signed" books were signed using an autopen.  The publisher went through the five stages of settlement: anger, denial, reference to "letters of authenticity," consultations with PR, the offer of refunds. 

For his part, Mr. Dylan regretted an "error of judgment," but he also offered explanations.  He has vertigo, so it takes a team of five to accompany him during signing sessions.  I recently saw Bob Dylan in concert, and I can confirm that he is unsteady on his feet.  During the pandemic, such sessions became a health risk and so, "with contractual deadlines looming" (that's an actual Dylan quote!!) when some unnamed person recommended the use of the autopen, accompanied by assurances that people do it all the time, Mr. Dylan agreed to auto-sign copies of his book.  The BBC report suggests that other artists have indeed used the same device.  Sinead O'Connor was unapologetic, but signed copies of her book sold for £30, so no big deal.

Walter_BenjaminWhat is the difference in value between a book hand-signed by Bob Dylan and a book auto-signed by Bob Dylan?  Apparently, quite a bit, and the reason for that turns, contrary to what Walter Benjamin (left) would have you believe, on the ability of works of art to retain their auras, even when they have been stripped of their unique existence in an (often sacred) time and space.  Remy Tumin reports in The New York Times on what motivated one fan, who already owned the book in both in hardcover (unsigned), audio, and Kindle versions, to buy the signed version. “If he touches this book — he wrote it, signed it — it feels like the soul of Bob Dylan is with me.”  That, my friends, articulates the power of the aura of an authentic work of art, or at least, a thing touched by the artist.  

There is a great deal to unpack in all of this, and I wish Benjamin were around to reflect on it.  Works of art once had a specific cultural role.  They elevated and celebrated; they connected us to the divine.  In the modern, disenchanted world, when they became reproducible, the cult value of the work of art is supplemented and eventually replaced with its exhibition value.  The role of the work of art changes as the sources of its value changes.  Benjamin celebrated the transformation of the social function of art.  Art, freed from cultic aura, is democratized.  Pictures, movies, electronic files, etc. can be endlessly reproduced and enjoyed by the masses.  The museum, the gallery, the cafe, the salon, the cinema become the new settings in which the work of art does its work.

At this point, one wants Adorno to step in and to warn about the susceptibility of art to commodification.  People still long for the cultic aura -- the verisimilitude of proximity to artistic creation.  We cannot look over Bob Dylan's shoulder as he writes "Mother of Muses" (below), my favorite song on Rough and Rowdy Ways.  He will not premiere his new songs for us.  The best we can do is buy memorabilia, and we value that memorabilia to the extent that we think it connects us to art or the artist, but the connection is attenuated, shrouded in mists or mysticism.  And then we degrade the artwork's aura (or that of its creator) by reducing its value to the cash nexus.  Appalling!  As thought paying for something would reduce our alienation from our species-being rather than embodying it!  It's in the 1844 manuscripts people!!!

Console yourself that with each breath, you likely inhale some of the same molecules that Mr. Dylan inhaled just before he sang "Blowin' in the Wind" for the first time.  By paying for his signature, you might as well be breathing in molecules Mr. Dylan exhaled during the recording of "Idiot Wind."  Better than either option, you can get a whiff of Dylan's aura at the Dylan Archives in Tulsa.  I plan a pilgrimage soon, even though I reside firmly on the post-Weberian side of disenchantment.

That said, I was thinking about art and aura when I saw Bob Dylan live.  The stage was crowded.  I heard him before I could pick him out, in the (I assume intentionally) one dark patch of an otherwise carefully illuminated mis-en-scene.  The voice was unmistakable.  Bob Dylan was there, singing an unrecognizable version of a recognizable song.  And so it would continue for ninety minutes or so.  Eventually I found him, hunched over a keyboard, looking down at his lyrics, harmonica at the ready, and I was enchanted.


November 30, 2022 in Books, Celebrity Contracts, Commentary, Current Affairs, In the News, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 18, 2022

Weekend Frivolity Revisited: Are You a Swiftie . . .or Just a Bot?

As Ben Sisario and  report in The New York Times here, Ticketmaster has had to cancel its plans for public sales of tickets to the upcoming Taylor Swift tour.  Confusion reigns.  Are there tickets left?  When will they go on sale?  Can I get three seat together that are not partially obstructed for under $1000?  Will my students have to spend hours waiting in virtual queues rather than mastering the Statute of Frauds and the parol evidence rule in time for exams?

According to the Times, Ticketmaster's Verified Fan program was supposed to make Taylor Swift tickets available only to 1.5 million committed fans.  The site was overrun by 14 million "people," including bots, which suggests that the vast majority of accounts trying to get access to Taylor Swift tickets were actually bots.  I've always suspected as much.  

So, for the benefit of my students who are diehard Swifties, I once again offer the following simple test so that you can determine whether you are a bot:


November 18, 2022 in Current Affairs, In the News, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Adidas Terminates Agreement with Kanye West (Ye) over Anti-Semitic Comments

Kanye_West_at_the_2009_Tribeca_Film_Festival_(cropped)Adidas has a line of shoes branded "Yeezy," a brand associated with Kanye West, who now goes by Ye (right).  According to and  of the Washington Post the brand generated $2 billion in revenue last year and accounts for nearly ten percent of Adidas' annual revenue.  The end of the contract will be costly to Ye, but Adidas estimates that it will also cost the company about $250 million.  Adidas is the last domino to fall.  Numerous other companies had already severed ties with Ye. 

None of the articles that I have looked at discuss the basis for terminating the deals.  One expects that the contracts have morals clauses, but one would like to have a look at them to see whether Ye's partners have discretion to invoke them selectively.  As discussed below, his anti-Semitic outbursts are not the first occasion that might have given corporate partners concerns about how Ye's conduct reflected on the product.  To date, I haven't seen anything suggesting that Ye was challenging the companies' rights to termination his deals.  

Earlier, Ye's social media accounts were restricted in connection with statements viewed to be anti-Semitic.  Ye responded, according to media accounts, by entering into a preliminary agreement to buy Parler, a social media platform that promotes itself as more amenable to unbridled freedom of expression than its mainstream rivals.  

The Washington Post provides many reasons why Adidas might have been willing to bid auf wiedersehen to Ye.  He was not easy to work with, to say the least, and his recent barrage of provocative speech is not his only brush with controversy.  The Post speculates that, shunned by the fashion industry, Ye might fall back on music to keep his empire afloat.  But there is also the danger that the major music platforms will also refuse to distribute his products.  

That seems unlikely to me.  It's not as if Ye supporters are in it for the anti-Semitism, but as of CNN reports, many have noticed that corporate partners did not sever ties with Ye when he made statements that could be construed as anti-Black, such as when he donned a "White Lives Matter" t-shirt, called slavery a "choice," and decried racism as "a dated concept."  Those who were willing to stick with Ye despite his anti-Black expression and expressive conduct would likely continue to do so notwithstanding his anti-Semitism.

David_Bowie_Chile Blind FaithDoing so, in my view, would not make them complicit in Ye's anti-Semitism.  Most of his fans dislike his anti-Semitism, but many would overlook it because of his unique attributes as an artist.  I'll admit it, when I recently learned that Eric Clapton (far right, with Blind faith) had expressed support for Enoch Powell's British fascism, and that David Bowie (left) had expressed unseemly enthusiasm for Hitler and the Third Reich, it had no effect on my enjoyment of Layla or Changes.  I forgive them their trespasses or their not-so-youthful indiscretions or whatever made these wonderful musicians say such stupid things.  Our broken world is full of broken people, including broken artists.  Sometimes, it is more appropriate to respond with compassion than with judgment.

November 1, 2022 in Celebrity Contracts, Current Affairs, In the News, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 14, 2022

Weekend Frivolity: The Four Seasons Performed as an Ode to Joy


October 14, 2022 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 30, 2022

Contracts at the NRA Convention

Don_McLean_1976As reported here in The New York Times, a number of musicians who were slated to perform at the National Rifle Association (NRA) convention this weekend in Houston have pulled out.  The musicians include Don McLean (pictured. in 1976), best known for the iconic songs, "American Pie" and "Vincent," both from the early 1970s; Larry Gatlin, known, according to his Wikipedia entry, for country songs written in the 1970s and 80s; and Larry Stewart, who (also according to Wikipedia) had 18 top 40 hits with Restless Heart in the 80s and 90s.   Lee Greenwood (the singer-songwriter of “God Bless the U.S.A.”, also known as “Proud to Be an American”) and T. Graham Brown also cancelled appearances.

According to the CMT website, Mr. McLean issued the following statement:

[I]n light of the recent events in Texas, I have decided it would be disrespectful and hurtful for me to perform for the NRA at their convention in Houston this week.

Mr. Gatlin explained his decision to pull out as follows: 

I cannot, in good conscience, perform at the NRA convention in Houston this weekend.  While I agree with most of the positions held by the NRA, I have come to believe that, while background checks would not stop every madman with a gun, it is at the very least a step in the right direction toward trying to prevent the kind of tragedy we saw this week in Uvalde — in my beloved, weeping TEXAS.

Mr. Stewart posted the following on Facebook:

Due to the tragedy in Uvalde with the horrific school shooting and children who died, I want to honor the victims, families, the town and our friends in the great state of Texas the best I know how. So I have made the decision to pull out as a performer for the NRA convention this weekend, especially given the event is just down the road. I just believe this is best for me at this time. God Bless everyone involved!

Here on the ContractsProf Blog, our question is, what are the contractual consequences of doing so?  We have not seen the contracts, but it seems unlikely that the musicians had clauses allowing them to pull out in case of mass shootings on the eve of the convention.  Given that there have already been 27 school shootings and over 200 mass shootings in the U.S. this year, the event was hardly unforeseeable.  Nor did the Uvalde massacre render the musicians' performance commercially impracticable. 

However, it seems unlikely that the NRA would want to risk negative publicity and harm relationships that likely will soon return to normal by going after musicians for breach of contract.  Presumably the musicians will not be paid, and so, absent some argument that people flocked to Houston to hear performances by people they remember from their childhood rather than for the main attraction of an NRA convention, the damages from the breaches would likely be limited to inconsequential costs and unrecoverable deposits and the like.  Can the NRA book alternative acts on short notice?  Are other contracts affected (promoters, sound technicians, roadies, etc.)?  All interesting matters.  All likely to resolved through quiet negotiation and private settlement.

Of course, there is another option available to the NRA.  They could take a page out of David Kopel's book, as set out in this post over at the Volokh Conspiracy.  According to Kopel, those who link the NRA to mass shootings are hate groups carrying out a blood libel.  He denounced the "cowardly politicians" who canceled their appearances at the NRA convention held in Denver shortly after the Colombine shootings.  He concludes:

We say to each and every hate group, we reject your sick and twisted lies against us, for exactly the same reason we reject the blood libels against every race, every religion, and every other group: We reject Satan and all his works.

That sounds like a great conclusion to the NRA's opening brief in its case against the Satanic musicians.  And why not throw in suits against the cowardly politicians who once again pulled out from the convention this year?  Likely there are no damages when politicians fail to show up, but you can certainly hit them in the solar plexus of endorsements and campaign fund by alleging in court documents that they have abandoned the NRA in favor of Satan.

Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Kristi Noem need not worry.  They will not be sued.  They showed up.  As described here (with video), Mr. Trump enacted a scene from The Hunger Games, reading out the names of the dead as a bell tolled for each murdered child.  One hopes that the allusion was inadvertent, but given Mr. Trump's adoration of Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban, and his love affair with Kim Jong Un, who knows? 

Hat tip: Peter Gulia.

May 30, 2022 in Current Affairs, In the News, Music, True Contracts, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 27, 2022

Weekend Frivolity: I Love the Kidzes!

I don't know what this is, but I think it is my students' generation celebrating their talents, their obsessions, and their linguistic inventiveness.  Also laughing at themselves.


May 27, 2022 in Music, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 25, 2022

Paul Horwitz on the Dwindling Prospects for Compromise

Horwitz-PaulOver on Prawfsblawg, Paul Horwitz (right) has a long and insightful rumination on some more contractual fall-out from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a topic we have already touched on here and here.  His post was inspired by the decision of the Vancouver Recital Society (VRS) to cancel a concert by Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev (below left).  VRS pursued Mr. Malofeev for six years, but then said that it could not support Russian artists unless they denounced the war.  

Perhaps in response, or sua sponte, Mr.  Malofeev wrote on Facebook,

The truth is that every Russian will feel guilty for decades because of the terrible and bloody decision that none of us could influence and predict.

Not good enough.  In a response that it described as "complex and nuanced," VRS explained why it was nonetheless cancelling Mr. Malofeev's performance.  

Professor Horwitz makes great points about how decisions like VRS's are exceptional.  In most situations, we swallow our moral scruples in order to get on with life.  It is obviously silly to demand that Mr. Malofeev denounce the war and then cancel the concert anyway.  It is obviously hypocritical to pretend that nobody knew that Putin was a war-mongering tyrant before February 2022.  But for our purposes, his most interesting point is that decisions like VRS's are business decisions, and institutions caught in the battles over "cancel culture" make such decisions all the time.  First Amendment principles might come into play, but how one wields the rhetorical force of constitutional rights might be overdetermined by basic math: will our bottom line look better or worse if we go forward with this event?

Image by Liumir, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

And so it has ever been.  The world is tainted.  Unless, as Professor Horwitz put it, you are a saint or a recluse, we all weigh plusses and minuses and make compromises or simply choose not to inform ourselves of the full impact of our interactions with international markets.  While "cancel culture" makes surface waves, we swim in a sea of compromise culture.  Most of us have to work somewhere; we have to buy our goods somewhere, and everything is ultimately inter-connected.  

Okay, so Professor Horwitz covered the hard stuff, the deep stuff.  I want to know the surface stuff: Did VRS have a contractual right to cancel Mr. Malofeev's performance unilaterally.  If not, wouldn't VRS have to pay Mr. Malofeev his fee, and doesn't that figure into the  economic calculations relevant to the decision to cancel the concert?  Could there not also be downstream consequences beyond the decision to cancel this one concert?  After all, Russia has produced a great many talented musicians.  So has China.  So has Israel.  The list goes on.  No state is free from moral taint.  Must every artist now pin a Tweet or a post on Facebook denouncing their home state's latest atrocities?  If doing so might be deemed inadequate by the concernt promoter, aren't artists in high demand like Mr. Malofeev going to demand assurances of payment in case of cancellation by the concert promoter?

March 25, 2022 in Commentary, Current Affairs, In the News, Music, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Comedians' Suit Against Pandora Is No Joke!

According to Rolling Stone Magazine, the estates of some comedians, as well as some comedians who are still alive, are suing Pandora for breach of copyright.  Robin Williams' estate is seeking over $4 million; George Carlins' estate is seeking $8.4 million.  All together, five comedians have filed suit seeking over $40 million collectively.  

Robin Williams
Rolling Stone 
quotes from the complaint:

While it is commonplace in the music industry for companies like Pandora to enter into public performance licensing agreements with performance rights organizations like BMI and ASCAP for musical compositions, these entities do not license literary works. Therefore, it was the responsibility of Pandora to seek out the copyright owners and obtain valid public performance licenses.

The comedians' record labels have shared their recordings on Pandora.  However, the comedians claim, the recordings are separate from the jokes, which remain the intellectual property of their creators.  As Variety explains here, the comedians claim "that they should be treated like singer-songwriters, earning a separate royalty for the underlying 'literary work' in addition to the performance of it."  

Just a quick anecdote about Robin Williams.  I saw him perform live stand-up in San Francisco.  I think it must have been in the late 1980s.  I went with a friend to a comedy club.  At the end of the scheduled performances, the M.C. got up and said, "Hey, Robin Williams is here, and he wants to do a set.  Do you all want to stick around and give him a listen?"  It was late, but it was Robin Williams.  We indicated our enthusiastic assent.  

He was clearly excited to try out some material.  He had more energy than the small space could contain.  The material was raw.  Most of the jokes didn't fly.  He was sweating and agitated.  After about ten minutes, the M.C. came back and, apologizing to Robin Williams, said that by city ordinance, he had to stop.  I guess they were already past the time when comedy clubs were supposed to shut down.  Robin Williams pleaded, could he do one more bit?  The M.C. allowed it.  It was Robin Williams.  The last bit wasn't much better than the others, but he was trying so hard.  He attempted to engage in "safe comedy" by placing a condom over the microphone.  Edgy?  In desperation, the club cut the lights and the mike.  It seemed there was no other way to get him to stop.

It was not the best stand-up I've ever seen, but it was certainly the most memorable.  I loved that he was still so eager for an audience, that he was still so hungry to create new comedy, and ultimately that he, by that time, rich beyond imagining, possessing iconic fame, was still so naked and vulnerable and pathetically desirous of our approval.   

Watching Robin Williams cover himself in inglorious flop-sweat reminded me of Robert Musil's essay, Flypaper.  Musil observes the moment when the flies stop struggling to escape the flypaper's grasp and relax a bit into their fate, freezing in ridiculous poses.  "They no longer hold themselves up with all their might, but sink a little, and at that moment appear totally human."  Never did I see anyone look more human than Robin Williams did as he utterly bombed in a San Francisco comedy club.  

February 16, 2022 in Celebrity Contracts, Music, Recent Cases, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

George Harrison's Residuals and Apple

Now that I have finished grading exams, I can return to loftier thoughts.  I have watched the first episode of "Get Back," Peter Jackson's edition of the recordings that preceded the Beatles' last live concert.  Here's a teaser with a typically overlong introduction from the director: 

I'm enjoying it.  We paused our viewing not because we lost interest but because we want to watch with family who will be with us over this holidays.  Still, I write to raise a contractual question to which the Internet has been unable to provide an answer.

I don't think it's really possible to provide spoilers to a documentary about a fifty-year-old recording session, but of course George's abrupt (and fortunately fleeting) departure from the band is one of the more dramatic moments in the documentary.  After George leaves, the Beatles' road manager says something about paying George his residuals, but then someone (I'm not sure who, maybe John) says, “He shouldn’t be bothered with that. You know, that’s why we’ve got Apple, so we attend to it ourselves.” 

It's rather shocking how quickly the focus moves from making music and creating immortal songs on the fly to contractual concerns.  But also, what are they talking about?  George's residuals from what?  From everything the band had done up until the moment he pissed off?  From the planned live concert performance of a proposed fourteen new songs?  And did these musical geniuses also have the legal acumen to create a corporation that would seamlessly address all contingencies, including George walking out in the middle of a session?  Beatles lives and Beatles lore has been picked over with fetishistic obsessions.  Has anybody unpacked their corporate structure?

December 22, 2021 in Film, Music, True Contracts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Richard Craswell's Allegheny College Suite

We are indebted to Richard Craswell for a great deal of contracts scholarship as well as quite a few musical compositions on the subject of contracts law.  We posted many of them back in 2012.  This one came later:

It is worth reading Professor Craswell's notes after the case.  They explain, among other things, why Judge Cardozo raises promissory estoppel but never rules on whether the College could enforce the charitable pledge on that basis. 

Judge Cardozo could not really rule on that basis, because the College never claimed any reliance.  Or could he?  He's Cardozo!  He could persuade me of just about anything.  Because he did not write it (but concurred in the decision), I will never understand the reasoning in Mitchill v. Lath.

H/T my student, Tom Taylor.

November 11, 2021 in Contract Profs, Famous Cases, Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 4, 2021

That Danish Museum and Joni Mitchell

Joni 1974On her concert album, Miles of Aisles, Joni Mitchell (right and below, petting Buddy in the Oval office) is tuning up, and people are shouting requests at her.  Joni (we've been on a first-name basis since the 70s) is also an accomplished painter and she muses: 

That's one thing that's always, like, been a difference between, like, the performing arts, and being a painter, you know. A painter does a painting, and he paints it, and that's it, you know. He has the joy of creating it, it hangs on a wall, and somebody buys it, and maybe somebody buys it again, or maybe nobody buys it and it sits up in a loft somewhere until he dies. [Joni tends to go to dark places.]  But he never, you know, nobody ever, nobody ever said to Van Gogh, "Paint a Starry Night again, man!" You know? He painted it and that was it. 

And then she proceeds to perform The Circle Game, which I hope she was planning to play regardless of fans' requests.

And yet, for some reason, the Danish Kunsten Museum at issue in Sid's post from earlier today essentially said to the artist, Jens Haaning, "Hey, paint A Starry Night again, man."  Except it wasn't an immortal painting that is etched in the consciousness of every sentient being who has ever had the pleasure of marveling at it, it was a piece of concept art that will be as ephemeral in our consciousness as the last one about which we commented on this blog.

Starry NightAccording to the BBC, Haaning was asked to reproduce previous works of art in which he had framed currency representing the annual salary in Denmark and Austria (you can view his previous works here).  That seems like a risky request to make of a conceptual artist interested in the plight of the working man.  Joni Mitchell understood the difference between making fixed works of art and performance art.  She didn't necessarily appreciate people shouting requests at her as though she were some street corner musician playing For Free, but she recognized that it is socially acceptable to ask a musician to play a request but inappropriate to ask a painter or a sculptor to reproduce a work of art (unless the artist is Bob Ross, who re-created each painting thrice!).

Sid DeLong has already covered the legal issues in the Haaning case well.  I think the contract case and the restitution claim are easily separated.  The museum contracted for a conceptual work of art, and it got more than it bargained for.  Mr. Haaning's original work might have caused some sort of stir in the art world, but it was nowhere near as successful as Take the Money and Run, the art of breach of contract as performance.  The success of the work has garnered the museum and Mr. Haaning far more notoriety than they would have gotten from a reproduction of Mr. Haaning's work.  

However, it appears that he never contracted for the right to keep the 530,000 Danish kroner he was supposed to use to make the art.  The title of his blank canvases could be construed as an admission of liability.  Not having seen the documents relating to the deal between artist and museum one cannot be certain, but it is hard to imagine a legal argument for why Mr. Haaning should get to keep the money.

Friend of the blog Mitu Gulati has also published a discussion of The Cheekiest Artist of Modern Times over at Credit Slips.


October 4, 2021 in Commentary, In the News, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Bob Dylan Wins Suit Against Co-Creator of "Hurricane" & Remains the Champion of the World

Guthrie Center
By Peter Greenberg - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Writing as I do from Oklahoma, home state to the Bob Dylan ArchiveLevy v. Zimmerman caught my eye.  What's that you say?  How can there be a Bob Dylan archive in Tulsa, Oklahoma?  Why, it makes perfect sense if you think about it.  It's right next to the Woody Guthrie Center (right).  You should come and visit!  And if you're hungry after that, you can come to my home city, OKC, and dine at Nonesuch, America's best new restaurant, according to Bon Appetite!  Just sayin'.

Anyway, back in the early 70s, Bob Dylan collaborated with Jacques Levy to write ten songs, seven of which, including "Hurricane," were included in Dylan's 1975 album Desire (my second favorite Dylan album after Blood on the Tracks).  I'm confused as to why Bob Dylan, America's great minstrel, needs help writing songs, but such are the uncontested facts.  Levy was entitled to royalties on the songs, and he received $1 million.  Levy died in 2004, but his estate and his publishing company seek an additional $1.75 million.   Dylan sold his catalog of 600 songs to Universal Music Group (Universal) for $300 million, and plaintiffs allege that $1.75 million is their fair share of that sale.

Dylan 1966
Dylan 1966

As in the case that was the subject of yesterday's post, we are dealing here with a creator who contracts away his intellectual property rights in exchange for royalties.  The court found that Dylan was the copyright holder and that Levy had no claim for breach of contract arising under the catalog sale to Universal.

This ruling was largely based on the contracts designation of Levy as an "employee" hired to help with composition and entitled only to limited royalties.  Plaintiffs attempted to counterpunch, arguing that limiting the contract to that characterization elevated form over substance.  They produced detailed expert testimony from Bob Kohn, who characterized the relationship between Dylan and Levy as giving rise to "joint works" and a shared "undivided interest" in the songs.  

Mr. Kohn was fighting above his weight class.  Justice Barry Ostrager of New York's Supreme Court, New York County  cut him to ribbons:

In sum, the "expert" affidavit offered by Bob Kohn purporting to interpret the 1975 Agreement is inadmissible to offer an opinion as to the legal rights and obligations of the parties under the unambiguous contract . . . . Kohn's opinion is, in any event, unpersuasive as it distorts the plain language in the Agreement. Defendants' limited citation in their moving papers to Kohn's treatise does not change that result, as the Court is not relying on any extrinsic evidence to interpret the Agreement.

As Mr. Levy might have put it, Justice Ostrager

could take a man out with just one punch
But he never did like to talk about it all that much
"It’s my work", he’d say, "and I do it for pay
And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way"

He ruled based on the unambiguous meaning of the agreement:

[T]he Agreement unambiguously limits plaintiffs' compensation rights to 35% of monies received by Dylan for licensing rights granted to third-parties for the performance and use of the Compositions but not for any portion of the proceeds from Dylan's sale of his complete copyrights related to the Compositions that were explicitly vested in him alone pursuant to the express terms of the 1975 Agreement.

Justice Ostrager also dismissed Plaintiffs' claims against Universal as third-party beneficiaries of the catalog sale.  Plaintiffs could make no claim to the status of third-party beneficiaries to that sale.  He likewise dismissed their tortious interference claim.  Absent a breach of contract, there can be no such claim. 

In a case such as this, it seems inevitable that one of the parties would lament: 

How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed
To live in a land
Where justice is a game 

H/T @NY_Contracts

September 8, 2021 in Celebrity Contracts, Music, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 20, 2021

Weekend Frivolity: Uzbekistan Cat Song

After a week of teaching in a crowded classroom as COVID spikes in the region, this video brings me an unreasonable amount of joy.


August 20, 2021 in Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 3, 2021

What the World Has Lost Because the Movie "Bloomer Girls" Was Never Produced

Thanks to Richard Carlson of the South Texas College of Law Houston, we can share this recording of the original Broadway production of "Bloomer Girls," the musical.  

Nearly 80 years later, this song still slaps.

For another musical take on Parker v. 20th Century Fox, this one from Professor Richard Craswell, you can check out this earlier post.

June 3, 2021 in Famous Cases, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 26, 2021

Weekend Frivolity: My Bad Bunny Mask and a Student-Composed Limerick

I am increasingly aware of how dated my attempts at pop-cultural references are.  When I started teaching law in 2004, I could assume that Simpsons references and Seinfeld references would be met with some smiles of recognition.  That seems to be less the case now.  I don't even know who the famous pop stars or movie stars are these days.  My students seem to watch a lot of reality television shows, and I am not familiar with any of them.  They, for some reason, do not share my enthusiasm for Star Trek or Breaking Bad.  We had a moment of shared ground this week having to do with shrimp tails in breakfast cereal, but how long will that last?

Desperate, I asked my students the other day what musicians they liked.  Alexis Benitez recommended Bad Bunny.  He shared a video, and thus I was not completely ignorant of the young artist when he won a Grammy soon thereafter.  Now that I am an unofficial member of the Bad Bunny fan club, Alexis and another 1L Haidee Macedo gifted me a Bad Bunny mask, along with a Limerick commemorating my introduction to Bad Bunnydom.  Here they are:

Bad Bunny

The gift is especially sweet because Alexis and Haidee are in different sections, and in our COVID world, our seven (count 'em!) sections of 1Ls rarely get to interact with one another, and almost never get to meet each other in the flesh.  How charming then that a mask of all things should bring together these two 1Ls during this pandemic.  

It feels like we are nearing the end of this experience.  But until we get there, you can expect to see me in my brand new Bad Bunny mask!

Bad Bunny, can you take us out?


March 26, 2021 in Music, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Of Ming Dynasty Bowls and Chelsea Doors

Ever since we broke the news of a man who bought a man who bought a valuable 15th-century bowl for $35 (by linking to stories about the incident), the Internet has picked up on the story and its happy conclusion, with a sale of the bowl for over $700,000 at auction.  We posed the non-musical question of whether the doctrine of mistake would apply.  Probably not.

Chelsea Hotel By Velvet
Photo Credit: Velvet 
CC BY-SA 3.0

Friend of the blog John Wladis reminds us of the similar and yet strikingly different case of the Chelsea doors.  According to this account, Jim Georgiou, a former resident of the Chelsea Hotel, went into the hotel as it was being renovated to use the restroom.  He noticed that the workers were discarding the old doors, which frankly appear unspectacular.  But Georgiou knew that famous artists and celebrities had stayed in the rooms concealed behind those doors, so he rescued them, connected the doors to the celebrities, and then arranged to have them sold at auction, where they fetched over $400,000.  Georgiou, who was homeless at the time that he salvaged the doors, shared half the proceeds with City Harvest, which helps feed the indigent in the city.  

The New York Times had a fine piece on the unique status of the hotel and the significance of the doors as souvenirs from various cultural moments now swept away by the currents of history.  Perhaps the lucky yard-sale enthusiast will be inspired by Georgiou's example and donate some of the proceeds from his find to a worthy cause . . . .

March 23, 2021 in Current Affairs, In the News, Music | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 8, 2021

Promises, Promises on Cardozo, Barry Manilow, and Van Halen

CardozoI am teaching Jacob & Youngs v. Kent this week, which makes me happy.  I am always happy when I get to teach a Cardozo opinion just like I would be happy if I were teaching in the humanities, and this was the week we get to discuss James Joyce's "The Dead."  Always happy to have new insights on the case, and the Promises, Promises episode on the case is full of them.  

For one thing, the hosts point out, in passing, that Kent might have had a special yearning for Reading pipe, because it had a special status.  He longed to shower every morning in water coming through his Reading pipes, the Manolo Blahnik of pipes.  Knowing that the water he was using was flowing through the high-status Reading pipes delighted him, and he so he would sing Barry Manilow's "Looks Like We Made It" every morning as he exfoliated.  Yes, I know, that's totally not what that song is about.  It doesn't help.  The hosts' brief, anachronistic mention of the Manilow song planted an earworm, leaving me no choice but to exorcise it by sharing it with you.

In the alternative, Professors Wilkinson-Ryan and Hoffman entertain the possibility that the Reading pipes were Kent's brown M&Ms, a topic on which we have previously posted.  If that were the case, however, the time to object to the Reading pipes was before completion.  If the building is otherwise sound, the lack of Reading pipe does not serve the purpose that the brown M&Ms allegedly served.

March 8, 2021 in Commentary, Contract Profs, Famous Cases, Music, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (2)