UC Law SF Communications and Entertainment Journal


The standard-form long-term exclusive songwriter-music publisher "agreement" may be as good an example of a classic adhesion contract as any in American business life.. Music publishers have tremendous bargaining power; songwriters, at least in their early professional years, have little or none. It is no surprise, then, that such contracts heavily favor the music publisher and almost always are offered to beginning professional songwriters on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. While English courts have begun to recognize the "unconscionability" issue in these contracts-especially in relation to music publishers having no contractual obligation to "exploit" the copyrights received from songwriters under such agreements-American courts have not been so inclined. From the songwriter's perspective, this Article analyzes, provision by provision, a "standard-form" songwriter-music publsiher agreement. It also discusses the relevant case law-from Hound Dog to Joy to the World. After the author analyzes what is "wrong" with the standard-form agreements generally in use today, he drafts what he considers one way such a contract could be equitably drawn, including a provisionby- provision analysis of why his contract is fair. The Article concludes by suggesting that songwriters may want to consider taking more control of this fundamentally important contracting situation.