Recording Artist Project provides pro bono representation to musicians

[Posted Oct. 27th 2015, on the Office of Clinical and Pro-Bono Programs blog]


By Terron East, J.D. ’17 

Within the last decade, the music industry has shifted from an entity reliant upon physical goods, such as CDs and vinyl, to a business largely dependent upon internet streaming via companies such as Spotify and Apple Music. Although the traditions of the music industry have changed, the need for legal representation has remained constant, as artists must build their brands and protect their interests in their work while not infringing upon the rights of others. By advising clients on many aspects of entertainment law, the Harvard Law School’s Recording Artists Project (also known as RAP) has provided valuable pro bono representation to musicians in Boston and beyond since its inception in 1998.

While RAP cases focus upon the legal needs of musicians and others involved in the music industry, the specific legal work involved in each case varies widely. In recent semesters, students have had the opportunity to negotiate record contracts, draft work-for-hire and band partnership agreements, clear samples used in new works, register copyrights for compositions and sound recordings, and register trademarks for band names, among other legal tasks. The services of RAP have further been assisted by participation of students from the Berklee College of Music. These students, often musicians themselves, aid in client representation by providing advice based upon their classroom instruction and first-hand experiences with music business, recording, and performing.

In conjunction with providing direct legal services, RAP plans to expand its community outreach this year through a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston (BGCB). This collaboration will connect RAP students with members of various BGCB “Music Clubhouses” to educate the young musicians about music law, including copyright law, music publishing, and the role of record labels in an artist’s career. This collaboration will also give HLS students a chance to interact with teens from the Boys & Girls Club to provide mentorship and insight into the daily lives of law school students, with planned visits to a local Music Clubhouse as well as an event on the law school’s campus.

Although I was initially unaware of RAP upon entering HLS, the opportunity to join the program as a 1L seemed hard to resist. While I enjoyed the litigation, case-based approach to law that was employed in my core classes for the first year, I found that RAP provided much needed insight into the transactional spectrum of law. Moreover, RAP served as my first foray into entertainment law–a subject with which I was enamored since my time serving as music director for my undergrad college’s radio station years ago. After serving as team leader during my first two semesters with RAP, I sought to become director of the organization to not only participate further within the daily proceedings of the organization, but to also assist in making RAP more visible on both the HLS and Berklee campuses. Using the extensive alumni and faculty connections provided by RAP, I hope to allow interested students to use the program as a first step to establish themselves within the diverse and promising field of entertainment law.

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