Class Info

275 sec. 1 – Music Law Seminar (Fall 2015)
Instructors: Christopher Harrison & Joseph Wetzel

Meeting Time: M 3:35-5:25
Meeting Location: 130

Course Start: August 26, 2015
Course Control Number (Non-1Ls): 49795

Instructor Christopher Harrison
Phone: 512-771-0520

Instructor Joseph Wetzel
Phone: 415-318-1263


This seminar will introduce students to the law as it applies to the music industry. Topics will include legal issues surrounding writing music, recording music, performing music, distributing music (physically and digitally), licensing music, and miscellaneous but related topics such as trademarks and rights of publicity.

On the one hand, music law is fairly straightforward—the Copyright Act enumerates a number of exclusive rights with a corresponding list of exceptions to those rights.  On the other hand, music law is famously complex—applying the (sometimes dense) language of the Copyright Act to particular facts can be daunting, particularly as technology creates ever new ways to reproduce, distribute, and perform music.

Music law may be thought of as having two separate legal foundations: copyright and contract.  The Copyright Act provides the legal entitlement to exclusive use of creative works and is, therefore, the more significant foundation.  The class will consider the foundational aspects of music law contained in the Copyright Act such as what may be copyrighted, who may own a copyright, what exclusive rights a copyright owner enjoys, what exceptions to those exclusive rights exist and who may qualify for those exceptions, and how a copyright owner may seek redress for a violation of her exclusive rights not covered by an exception.  We will review recent case law to analyze how courts have answered these and other questions.

Once we have a sufficiently nuanced understanding of the Copyright Act issues central to music law, the class will consider how contracts govern many of the relationships between the creators of copyrighted works and those who exploit such works; e.g., songwriters contractual relationships with music publishers, recording artists contractual relationships with record labels, and artists contractual relationships amongst themselves.  We will also consider various trademark related issues such as the likelihood of confusion between bands with similar names and who owns the right to the name of a band that dissolves or changes performers.  We will also consider related legal issues such as an artist’s right to exclusively exploit her “personality.”


There are two main goals of this seminar.  The first is to impart to students the analytical framework through which to analyze how the relevant provisions of the Copyright Act can be read over new or existing technology.  The second goal is for students to have a general understanding of the contractual terms under which music is actually created; e.g., we will read the recording contract between The Allman Brothers and CBS Records and the J. Geils Band shareholders agreement.


We will endeavor to provide readings on the Music Law Seminar blog on the Friday of the week before the class in which those readings will be discussed. Most are public documents that are readily available via internet search.


As a writing seminar, students will be required to prepare an analytical paper regarding some aspect of music law.  A list of potential paper topics will be posted on the Music Law Seminar blog, but students are encouraged to select their own topics, so long as the topics are related to music law.  Students should feel free to discuss paper topics with the professors.  Papers of thirty to fifty double-spaced typewritten pages, including footnotes, in the aggregate, will satisfy the length requirement.  The Law School’s policies regarding writing seminars may be found here.

Grade Determination

30% – class participation*
70% – final paper

* While this seminar will not be taught entirely using the Socratic method, students are expected to have read the assigned materials and come prepared to discuss.  Failure to read the materials or come prepared for class may result in a lower grade.  Students are expected to attend class.  Lectures will often feature questions and students are encouraged to comment on those questions on the Music Law Seminar blog.  Online comments will be considered class participation for grading purposes.

While it shouldn’t have to be stated, past experience necessitates the admonition that emailing and texting are prohibited during class.  Also, while use of laptops is encouraged, please keep such use class-related.  Failure to adhere to these rules may result in a grade reduction.

Nothing herein constitutes legal advice. The views expressed during class are those of the lecturers and do not necessarily represent the views of their employers or clients.

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