Sunday, May 5, 2013

Should Artist Royalties Be Private?

Lawsuit settlement image
There are so many things in life that are meant to be private yet turn up before the public. Executive salaries, artist contract riders, tax returns, rehab, criminal and medical histories are just some of what comes before our eager eyes on a daily basis. There's a school of thought that says that a celebrity's total life should be totally open to whatever scrutiny the public desires, since that's what the artist signed up for in the first place. Others believe that some things are sacred in their privacy, regardless of how popular you are.

One of these privacy battles is now being played out in the class action lawsuit against Universal Music Group over digital income. After the successful appeal by Eminem's production team against UMG in 2010 where the court agreed that a digital download was subject to a license fee rather than a royalty, other artists like Rob Zombie and the estate of Rick James were quick to sue UMG in order to gain the same advantage. After all, earning 50% of the license income from a download is far better than the 15 to 20% a royalty would generate.

The real problem comes from the fact that the attorneys in the matter want UMG to turn over the sales and royalty data from other artists not involved in the suit so they can have enough information to calculate the damages. UMG has balked, more from the standpoint of self-preservation rather than a defense of their artist's privacy rights. It's now up to a judge to decide.

The problem is that each artist has a slightly different contract, and of course, their sales are different, which makes you wonder just how useful the data would actually be even if turned over.

While various approximations of artist sales have always been around, the exact numbers have always been somewhat of a mystery, sometimes even to the artists themselves. While definitively determining that number might not be such a bad thing, having the terms of one's contract available to someone else's prying eyes can only open up a can of worms for all concerned. Sometimes things are better off left private.


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Anonymous said...

My neighbor is a plumber. Should I go ask what he makes a year?


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