In the spring of 2017, I taught for the first time a class I had recently designed: “Music, Money, and the Law.” Several factors contributed to my creating that class: 1) There was no class in the University of Oregon’s curriculum focused on the workings of the music industry; 2) in my popular music history classes, I had increasingly incorporated material about the functioning of the music industry and the effect on the sound and reception of popular music; and 3) my musicology colleague Lori Kruckenberg had been urging me to create such a class to fill the gap in the curriculum and take advantage of my unusual background as a lawyer.
My career path has certainly been unusual: I was a practicing lawyer for nearly ten years, after which I obtained a Ph.D. in musicology and began teaching college courses in popular music history. However, I had never made any connection in my legal career with my lifelong interest in music. My legal specialization was commercial real estate finance. When I left my career as a lawyer, I fully expected that I was leaving that part of my life behind forever. Over the following 20 years or so, however, I came to appreciate how my legal training and mindset gave me both an interest in and facility for understanding the highly complex legal aspects of the music industry. So, nearly 20 years after the end of my legal career, I became increasingly intrigued with the prospect of integrating my former legal training into my passion for teaching popular music history.
When I first taught Music, Money & the Law class in 2017, I searched in vain for an up-to-date textbook to help me present the material. I found several good texts that I could use parts of, but I ran into a recurring problem: the music industry has been changing so rapidly over the past two decades that texts written only ten years ago are now hopelessly outdated. The economics of music streaming and social media, in particular, have utterly transformed the music industry and the industry continues to react to these changes in technology at a remarkable pace.
After teaching my class for a few years with a combination of out-dated texts and more recent articles from music trade journals (such as Billboard), it became clear to me that the best solution was to write my own text. After teaching the class several times, I had developed the course to a point where I knew which material I wanted to cover and how the most recent trends in the music industry could be integrated into the more historical material. So, in the summer of 2019 I began laying the groundwork for this book. By 2021, I was using early drafts of some chapters in my course, and by the spring of 2022 I had a full draft manuscript that I successfully used in teaching the course.
The problem of constant and substantial change in the music industry remains an obstacle to putting the finishing touches on this book. You will see several chapters here that include references to new developments from the past year, and some from just a few weeks prior. Given this, I intend to frequently update this text as new developments occur, at least while I still teach my course.
I have organized this book in four parts, each of which is divided into multiple chapters. The first part concerns the history and structure of the music industry. I consider myself an historian above all other titles (musicologist, musician, music theorist, etc.). Understanding the music industry as it exists today requires an understanding of how it developed over time. Today’s music industry would most certainly not be the one anybody would design from scratch. It has many inefficiencies and quirks that reflect the economic pressures and musical concerns of bygone ages. Understanding today’s music industry requires an understanding of those historical developments.
The second part of the book provides an overview of copyright law and the ways it interacts with music. Some may feel that copyright law is merely one isolated aspect of the music industry, but that would be a misleading perspective. The more compelling view is that nearly every aspect of the music industry is thoroughly infused with the reward structure governed by copyright law. Nearly every dollar that flows from consumer to artist in the music industry is parsed out, divided, and contested in accordance with the system of rights and obligations the flow from copyright protections. One could even make a convincing argument that the very form of popular music (length of songs, cyclical structures, prevalence of cover songs, etc.) is highly influenced by the reward structure imposed by copyright law.
The third and fourth parts of the book deal with the issues surrounding infringement of copyrights. One of the fundamental and least understood aspects of music copyright is that there are two separate music copyrights: one involving the musical work (or “song”) and one that involving a recording of that musical work (often called the “master right”).
Each of these distinct copyrights needs to be dealt with separately because the laws and economics concerning them differ, even when both copyrights are held by the same person or corporation.
There are several aspects of the music industry that are not covered in depth in this book, and that is by design. The breadth and depth of this book is governed primarily by the purpose it is intended to serve — as a textbook for a 10-week undergraduate course. Additional breadth or depth would introduce material that I do not believe could be reasonably included in the course as I currently teach it. In my experience, there simply is not enough time to cover more material in that time than is in this text.
I would first like to acknowledge the encouragement shown to me by my musicology colleague at the University of Oregon, Lori Kruckenberg. It was Lori’s encouragement that got the ball rolling on the design of my Music, Money, and the Law class. And were it not for my design of that class, I would not have felt the need to write this text. I would also like to acknowledge the work and encouragement of Rayne Vieger of the University of Oregon Knight Library, who connected me with significant University of Oregon grant funding to support this open source text.