By Luis Bravo
Luis Bravo is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
A product of market economies, contracts are rudimentary legal documents that bind two parties to a mutual promise.  In the music industry, these contracts are valuable and highly sought after by voracious artists who dream of one day obtaining worldwide recognition. Distracted by the promise of fame and riches, however, many musicians hastily overlook the restrictive nature of recording contracts, and like, in the case of pop star Ke$ha, these restrictions can have detrimental consequences.
Once a rising star in the music business, Ke$ha now finds herself locked in an exclusive contract with Sony and forced to work with her alleged sexual abuser, Dr. Luke.  In an attempt to salvage her career, she has embarked upon a tenacious legal battle pleading the New York Supreme Court to permit her an injunction, which would effectively liberate her from her abusive contract and allow her to continue developing her musical career without risk of being held liable for breaching her contract.  A case that seems to have an apparent resolution is sure to be a subject to prolonged contestation. Legal battles between musicians and their recording companies shed light on the necessity of the legal system to adopt stringent provisions protecting artists from the damaging consequences of unfair contracts.
Like Ke$ha, other artists have been involved in legal disputes centered around unfair recording contracts. In 2010, Jive Records blocked the rapper known as Big Boi because his album featured Andre 3000 on multiple tracks.  Prior to the launch of their solo careers, both artists performed as the musical duo “Outkast,” which, at that time, was part of Jive Records. For a brief period, Big Boi attempted to release his album through Jive Records. However, unwilling to take that risk, the recording company refused to release the album and subsequently liberated the artist from his contract. However, after Big Boi attempted to release the album through a rival label, Def Jam Recordings, Jive Records promptly took action and blocked the release due to the collaboration between both artists. After a “mysterious” leak of one of the albums single’s and a two-year hiatus, Big Boi was eventually allowed to quietly release his album. Now, years after the controversy, the notorious rapper has announced a new record deal and is developing new music. 
Still, even if artists are successful in their disputes, the lapsed time often causes considerable harm to their career. In 2014, Joanna Levesque, better known as Jojo, was named victorious after a nearly decade-long fight centered on her restrictive contract with Blackground Records.  Though she prepared extensively to release her new album, producing multiple recordings of many songs and participating in countless promotional photo shoots, Jojo was ultimately unable to release new music to the general public. After Blackground Records lost its distribution at Interscope, the record company was unable to distribute any of her music; however, her contract’s exclusivity clause held her hostage. After years of litigation, the courts ruled in her favor allowing her to be released from her contract. Still, in spite of her victory, she faces considerable damages to her career as her name has slowly waned from the popular music scene. As she describes, it is as if she is “getting [her] feet wet again in the pool that is the music world.” 
Though each of these artists exemplifies different legal complications centered around their contracts, their stories call for a common necessity: more comprehensive legal protections at multiple levels are required to protect musicians and their work from the exploitative practices of record labels. Primarily, legal regimes regarding the terms (length of time an individual is bound to a contract) of record contracts should be reevaluated. Policies should be passed that limit the permissible terms of contracts and allow artists to legally dissolve their agreements after periods of inactivity, especially when it is no fault of their own. Additionally, discrepancies in legal terminology regarding contractual law in the music industry should be clearly defined. Removing legal loopholes would remove ambiguous clauses that can be utilized against musicians. Above all, the courts should adopt a more common sense approach when deciding on cases that involve extenuating circumstances that may result in mental or physical harm to the musicians. Moreover, legal provisions can be introduced that allow for the dissolution of contracts when the wellbeing of an artist is at considerable risk. Had these legal protections been instituted earlier, it is possible that none of these disputes would have transpired.
With three major record companies controlling a majority of the global music industry, making it to the limelight of the music scene seems impossible for many aspiring musicians without hastily traversing through suffocating contracts. The drawback of being bound to a contract is small in preponderance with the chance to become famous. Though the Internet has introduced platforms such as Soundcloud and YouTube through which artists can release music independently, they fail to reach audiences in the magnitude of performing rights organizations. Inevitably, individuals seeking to become popular in the music industry will have to be signed by one of these three major companies. By implementing legal protections for artists, we can assure that individuals are able to pursue their creative talents without fear of repercussions.
 von Mehren, Arthur Taylor. 2015. “Contract | Law.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed November 11. http://www.britannica.com/topic/contract-law
 Wilens, Max. 2015. “Kesha Sony Lawsuit: Amid Dr. Luke Abuse Allegations, Pop Star Appeals To Judge’s Conscience.” International Business Times. November 2. http://www.ibtimes.com/kesha-sony-lawsuit-amid-dr-luke-abuse-allegations-pop-star-appeals-judges-conscience-2165282
 Kesha Rose Sebert p/k/a Kesha v. Lukasz Gottwalld p/k/a Dr. Luke, Kasz Money, Inc., Prescriptions Songs, LLC, Kemosabe Entertainment, LLC, Kemosabe Records, LLC, and Sony Music Entertainment. 2015. Supreme Court of the State of New York. Accessed November 10. http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/2501245/kesha.pdf
 Michaels, Sean. 2010. “Outkast’s Record Label Blocks Big Boi and Andre 3000 Collaboration.” The Guardian, June 9, sec. Music. http://www.theguardian.com/music/2010/jun/09/outkast-big-boi-andre-3000
 Cantor, Paul. 2014. “Big Boi Announces New Record Deal.” The Huffington Post. May 10. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-cantor/big-boi-record-deal_b_5302249.html
 Joanna Levesque p/k/a “Jojo” vs. Da Family Records, LLC.; and Blackground Records, LLC. 2015. Supreme Court of the State of New York. Accessed November 10. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/sites/default/files/custom/Embeds/JoJo.pdf
 Lockett, Dee. 2015. “JoJo Spent Nearly a Decade Fighting Her Label and Won. Here’s What She Learned, in Her Own Words.” Vulture. November 2. https://s3.amazonaws.com/magnifythumbs/RP7G3426YSS0HWCJ-l.jpg
Photo Credit: Flickr User Ben Houdijk
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