A law professor of mine famously (or, infamously if you know who I’m talking about J) use to say “Everyone is friends until they are not” or “It’s not a problem until it is.” I always thought these phrases were really silly and served only as his way of explaining concepts, until I realized there was actually a lot of truth in them.
Suing past band mates is as fashionable as sex, drugs, and well, rock ‘n roll. The moment a group starts to receive any type of recognition, someone is going to sue. Some famous lawsuits dealing with estranged band members include the current suit with Led Zeppelin’s original bassist over Stairway to Heaven, John Foggerty’s suit against him from former Credence Clearwater band mates, and the Styx lawsuit instigated by former member and co-founder Dennis DeYoung.
Again, this past week saw the manifestation of the ideas “everyone is friends until they are not.” A former band member of the group The Lumineers sued the band for minimizing his contributions the band. In the complaint, which can be found HERE, former band member Van Dyke states he was “co-owner” of several copyrights, was full partner in the group and entitled to the trademark “The Lumineers.” The complaint details how Van Dyke not only contributed money to the group, but also contributed creative elements to the songs and was part of the band when the band name “The Lumineers” was established. Van Dyke is now wanting the recognition and money that comes along with having hit songs and a well-known band. The current members of The Lumineers have awhile before they have to legally answer the complaint filed against them.
According to the complaint, things started to fall apart when “the band played a few shows during the summer, but when Van Dyke inquired about lack of progress in developing new material, Schultz revealed that he and Fraites had decided to move to Denver, Colorado, but had not asked Van Dyke to join them because “we didn’t think you’d go…” Now the former band member is suing the rest of the group.
So what do you do when passing the peace pipe is no longer an option? My thoughts have always been to put as much as is possible into writing from the beginning. This applies to filmmakers too and not just to musicians. It is your insurance policy and your only protection/recourse should the train that is your band barreling down the track to success runs off course.
Draw up a business plan. Do it early on in your relationship because at this point you’re still friends, and it’s easy to agree. Layout what contributions each member will make to the group. Decide what will happen if a member decides to leave. Will they be paid off or will they continue to have part of any success the group might have? Detail out who is putting up the money for the t-shirts, pressing of CDs and even gas to get to the gigs. Keep session notes. Who wrote the hook? Was it just the lyrics or was it the melody too? What percentage of the overall song did the person write?
Do this. Do it all. Do it for every song; do it for every page in the screenplay and every business meeting you have in between. Write it down, even if you can’t afford to hire an attorney and your notes are crude and your handwriting is terrible. Do it even when it might cause strife with your other band mates. Do it even when you’re afraid it might kill the creative session, but do it knowing that it just makes good business sense for you all. Do it even if you don’t think you have to because “we’re never going to break up.” Because, guess what? You probably will, and that’s okay. Even the Beatles had to contend with Yoko. Make like Nike® and Just Do It.
For my musician and film friends what have you done that has been particularly helpful to document your creative process? For my attorney readers, what type of documentation have you found to be persuasive in court? Share your insights in the Comment section below and Stay Tuned In!
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Great post. Such good advice. Many thanks.
Jim Rosenblatt Dean and The Henry Vaughan Watkins and Selby Watkins McRae Professor of Law Mississippi College School of Law (MC Law) “Let Justice Roll”
Thank you for reading and the kind comment, Dean!