Record Deals: The Website Grab and other Label Shenanigans

There are some important digital-related property rights that should remain with the artist but which a record company may want thrown into the deal, perhaps hoping they will slip under the radar.

Some labels think that because they ultimately control the online marketing for the artist, other things pertaining to the Web besides his music should properly fall under their exclusive authority too. This might include not only his website, but his name and persona as well.

It’s one thing for them to take over (or build) and run the site, which in itself has to be a concern for any artist going into the relationship in terms of the level of competency, creativity and passion they will bring; it’s quite another to demand exclusive use in the digital arena of his name (including ownership of the associated Internet address), career-related images and quite possibly any logo he’s using. This is particularly problematic for the artist if he has things he wants to do independently of the record company, such as flog his own merchandise on his site or through apps, freely interact with fans, and be part of the blogosphere and general music community without risk of having to endure suffocating oversight from some anally retentive label type tasked with monitoring and editing every little thing he posts.

If you must give up control of your website and its address, try to get agreement that, upon termination of the contract for any reason, the label automatically relinquishes ownership to you of the domain name and provides you the email addresses and other information they’ve collected on everyone who signed up to the email list(s) associated with you and your music. You should also ask for the option to acquire the website itself when the relationship ends. It might be a tough go getting them to agree to hand that over without some form of compensation for whatever effort they put into building or enhancing the thing, and you certainly don’t want to put yourself in the position of having to take it off their hands should they indeed want to charge you for the privilege, but at least having the option gives you the choice of utilizing it as an alternative to starting over from scratch with a new site.

Whatever you may decide about the website, you do want that email list and you absolutely must get the domain name back because it’s your most important online marketing asset. Be aware, though, that domain name registrars are pretty strict about what they need before they will facilitate a switch in ownership. Ask yours what they require from each party. If they need an official letter in writing from the label authorizing the switch, get it written into the record contract that the label agrees to supply the document upon termination. Even so, you could still run into a snag if your split with the label isn’t amicable (or they are caught up in bankruptcy proceedings) and it isn’t forthcoming with that letter. Also keep in mind that by the time you have to deal with an ownership change the registrar might have tightened up their policy, causing you to have to go through more hoops and frustration than expected.

The best thing, of course, is to retain ownership of your domain name. As a component of your initial contract bargaining position, ask for that along with non-exclusive rights to anything persona-related, plus future rights to the email list data and website. If they resist, let them keep the website, but insist on everything else (let them keep a copy of the email data for their own use too if that’s what it takes). If they still don’t salute and you have to move to the fall-back position on the domain name to get their OK, you’ve still done pretty well.

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