“Seems like everybody’s got a price, I wonder how they sleep at night when the sale comes first and the truth comes second…” – Jessie J quite aptly describes the music industry in the 21st century in that opening line from her massive hit, “Price Tag”. Traditionally, artists assign the copyright of their work (recording of a song) to a record label and in return receive royalties from sales of their music. But today, artists find it difficult to monetize their music, particularly because with just a click of the mouse, music lovers all around the world are able to listen to or download songs for free! At the rate the internet is dominating the world, pretty soon CDs will be in the same category as cassettes – antiques.
However, to say that the music industry is dying is not entirely true. Last year, Dr. Dre earned USD620 million, followed by Beyonce with USD115 million while The Eagles, who ranked third in the Forbes list of highest-paid musicians, took home USD100 million. Doesn’t seem to add up? Actually, it does, with a simple explanation – the music industry now has different revenue sources to generate income and it all boils down to the exchange of finance for other intellectual property (IP) rights, on top of the “old fashioned” copyright.
On May 2014, Apple Inc. made what is said to be the company’s largest acquisition in its history, buying over Dr. Dre and Jimmy lovine’s audio company, Beats Electronics – producer of the Beats by Dr. Dre line of headphones and speaker products, and operator of the “Beats Music” streaming service – for USD3 billion. Technically, with the success of iTunes, Apple did not need Beats Music for streaming, and with billions in cash on hand, Apple could easily come up with high quality headphones and speakers themselves. So why spend so much on Beats, which are neither the best headphones (if critics are to be believed) nor the cheapest? Many reckon that it is because Beats has developed a portfolio of celebrity endorsements apart from Dr. Dre himself. In other words, this is a perfect example of successful branding; a sheer instance of exploitation of trademarks whereby the popular ‘b’ mark (and its varieties) has translated into economic value. Recognizing the value in brands and trademarks, Beats Electronics has filed approximately 81 trademark applications in the USA, 47 in the European Union and 58 applications in Malaysia, and that’s not counting the many others filed in other countries around the world.
Treading on a similar path as Dr. Dre is entrepreneurial-minded pop sensation, Taylor Swift, who has filed approximately 117 trademark applications in the USA, which include her own name, signature and initials in various forms. Whether it is foresight or the desire to make money off the things she has created, she recently applied to trademark several phrases from her songs, including “This Sick Beat”, “Nice to Meet You. Where You Been”, “Party Like It’s 1989” and “Cause We Never Go Out Of Style”, to name a few. It is just a matter of time before she decides to harvest the fruits of her own trademarks and even if she never sells merchandise with these trademarks, she is certainly preventing other companies from taking her ideas and turning them into gold.
On the other side of the spectrum, some artists prefer to utilize relevant IP rights to make a statement of exclusivity. During a chat with one of my friends, I mentioned that the late Michael Jackson patented the shoes used to perform his iconic “anti-gravity” dance move, allowing him to lean at a forty five degree angle without any strings attached. That revelation crushed my friend’s childhood belief that the late King of Pop did it just because he could. It was like telling kids that Santa isn’t real. Anyway, back to the patented shoes, a patent is essentially a right granted to the owner of an invention that prevents others from making, using or selling the invention without his permission. With such right in hand, Michael Jackson could have licensed his invention to others and profited from it, but he did not.
Although the value of a brand is becoming an increasingly lucrative IP commodity in the music industry, it should not undermine the gravity of copyright. In early March, a federal jury in Los Angeles decided that the song “Blurred Lines” was improperly copied from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song “Got To Give It Up”. It was thus held that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had committed copyright infringement and as a result of that, they now have to pay more than USD7.3 million to Gaye’s family. Ka-ching!
The prominence of music in our lives, and indeed in the lives of those behind the music, is undeniable. This year’s theme for World IP Day – “Get Up, Stand Up. For Music.” – is a strong indication of that, bringing into the spotlight the various aspects and players involved in the music industry. So it’s plain to see that whether you are planning to build a business empire like Dr. Dre and Taylor Swift, or create a one-of-a-kind masterpiece in the name of art or just be your own unique self and express music in your own unique voice, ensuring all your relevant IP rights are covered and managing them well will certainly keep you afloat in the waves of the new music economy.