international music industry cases

International Music Industry Cases: A Legal Symphony

Written by Laura Sandoiu and Sander Petit


The world of music is a captivating and ever-evolving landscape, filled with creativity, passion, and the pursuit of success. Behind the scenes, however, lie intricate legal frameworks that govern the industry and shape its dynamics. In the age of global connectivity, international transactions, and digital distribution, the complexity of legal aspects in international music industry cases has reached new heights.

This article explores the intricacies that can arise in such cases. It delves into the web of international transactions, jurisdictional challenges, and applicable legislation that can untangle all the knots. Using a fictitious scenario, we’ll explore the complexities of overlooking the legal side in international transactions. So, fasten your seatbelts as we embark on a journey through the legal symphony of the music industry.

Factual Scenario

In a complex transnational dispute concerning a Spanish Music Catalogue, Mr. X, music creator, producer, and owner of a vast Music Catalogue, finds himself facing a series of legal challenges.

The events began in 2007 when the Catalogue was initially sold to Turkey and subsequently transferred to Slovakia in 2008. Later, Mr. X, who resided in Indonesia between 2009 and 2019, regained ownership of his Catalogue through a verbal agreement.

Complications arose when the Spanish District Court annulled the sale to Turkey in 2010, questioning its legitimacy. However, Slovakia and Turkey (where Turkish law prevailed did not recognize this annulment.

In 2011, Mr. X’s Counterparty, the owner of a Publishing Company, acquired a portion of the Catalogue consisting of 350 songs. Disputes over ownership rights surfaced in 2015 when the Counterparty sought remuneration for the entire Catalogue. The Catalonia District Court dismissed the Counterparty’s claim, citing a lack of proof of ownership.

In 2016, Mr. X presented distributor contracts to the Counterparty, substantiating his ownership of the 350 songs. The Counterparty’s distributor acknowledged the validity of these contracts and removed the songs from their collection. In response, Mr. X uploaded the songs to his own company, triggering threats of legal action from the Counterparty.

Matters escalated in 2019 when the Counterparty removed recordings from the Catalogue and threatened legal action against Mr. X’s distributor in Manchester. In Turkey, Mr. X is the rightful owner of the Catalogue. However, ongoing legal threats from the Counterparty, who currently resides in the Netherlands, hinder his progress. This case raises critical questions about applicable legislation and the Netherlands’ suitability as a jurisdiction for Mr. X’s legal pursuit.

Harmonizing the Law – The Applicable Legal Framework

In the fast-paced and interconnected music industry, legal complexities often test the boundaries of contracts, copyright law, and cross-border transactions. Understanding the applicable legal framework is key to navigating these intricacies and ensuring the protection of artists’ rights. In this section, we explore the harmonization of the law within the international music industry. We will emphasize on the importance of contracts, written communication, and the challenges of international transactions.

Contracts in the Music Industry

Contracts in the music industry are the foundation for transactions between artists, publishers, and distributors. However, without proper documentation, determining the validity and enforceability of agreements can be a daunting task. Verbal agreements, while recognized in some jurisdictions, often face scepticism, and require substantial evidence.

To establish a valid contract, parties must carefully consider jurisdictional requirements. Written communication, like emails or signed documents, provides crucial evidence of intentions and property transfers. Witness testimony may also play a vital role in substantiating the validity of verbal agreements.

Our fictitious scenario highlights risks associated with relying solely on verbal agreements. The producer enters into a verbal agreement to regain ownership of his Catalogue from a Slovakian Company. While the transaction appears straightforward, a deeper examination reveals the risks associated with relying solely on verbal agreements.

According to Article 11(2) of Rome I Regulation, validity of cross-border contracts hinges on parties’ chosen governing law. If the parties did not establish their contract’s governing law, the law of either party’s habitual residence at the time of its conclusion determines its validity. In the absence of a choice-of-law clause, the law of either party’s habitual residence at the time of conclusion determines the contract’s validity.

Noteworthy is that, depending on the jurisdiction, certain contracts cannot be exclusively verbal. For instance, transfers of IP Rights must be concluded in writing. In our scenario, the verbal agreement between Mr. X and the Slovakian Company did not express the parties’ choice of law. Consequently, establishing the validity of the verbal agreement is reliant either on Slovakian law or that of Mr. X’s country of residence.

Verbal Agreement

Thus, unless national laws explicitly allow verbal transfers of IP rights, the verbal agreement cannot sufficiently prove the transfer of the Catalogue. Nor can it prove the transfer of copyright to Mr. X. Therefore, it remains unclear whether the Slovakian Company legally transferred the Catalogue (and IP rights) back to Mr. X.

The Importance of Written Contracts

Transactions may appear easy at first glance, but overlooking intricacies, especially in cross-border cases, can be problematic. Relying only on a verbal agreement to sell or buy a song or catalogue can lead to unexpected outcomes.

For this reason, acknowledging the possibility of future complications is a must for ensuring a contingency plan is in place. This is accomplished by consulting the contractual rules in the relevant jurisdiction, establishing clear and fair terms, and documenting the agreement in writing. Seeking legal advice to facilitate the drafting and conclusion of an agreement is often recommended. This way, the parties can ensure the clarity of terms, transparency, and incorporation of relevant legal concepts from the start.

Written contracts help avoid ‘he said, she said’ conundrums and assist courts in analysing disputes. Furthermore, most copyright laws prescribe using written contracts to ensure agreements’ clarity and compliance. For example, the Dutch Copyright Act (2021) emphasizes the importance of written agreements for transactions involving IP transfers.

Written agreements eliminate the struggle of determining applicable laws and courts after disputes arise. The parties must agree upon these and all other details prior to signing the contract. This way, they can become the safety net to fall back on when things go south.

Copyright in International Music Industry Cases

Copyright law protects artistic creations, ensuring recognition and compensation for creators. In an international landscape, understanding copyright complexities can be challenging.

When dealing with cross-border transactions, copyright laws can vary significantly between jurisdictions. Navigating these intricacies is crucial to enforce rights and prevent unauthorized use. This process can easily become overwhelming without legal guidance, as the answer can hide within the finest details.

The intriguing case of Mr. X exemplifies complexities in copyright matters within the music industry.

One crucial aspect of the dispute revolves around the sale of 350 songs from the Catalogue to the Counterparty in 2011. At the time the transaction took place, Mr. X was residing in Indonesia, whereas the Counterparty’s jurisdiction is yet to be definitively determined. It also remains uncertain whether the Counterparty purchased the songs privately or on behalf of his Canadian Publishing Company.

The scenario underscores the importance of navigating the intricate web of copyright laws, which can vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another. In this case, the ownership and transfer of copyright must align with the laws of the countries potentially involved, such as the Indonesia and Canada. As we’ve noticed from Mr. X’s experience, IP transactions often present with requirements going far beyond a simple handshake.

To maintain clarity in international transactions, consult copyright rules and procedures specific to each jurisdiction. This due diligence helps avoid potential disputes and legal complications down the line.

Understanding the legal framework for ownership and licensing empowers creators to enforce their rights and ensure fair compensation. Legal guidance from professionals well-versed in international copyright law is essential to ensure compliance and protection in this intricate landscape.

Choosing the Right Key – The Significance of Choice-of-Law Provisions

In an increasingly interconnected music industry, international transactions have become common, presenting unique challenges from distribution deals to licensing agreements.

Determining the governing law and jurisdiction for international transactions can be a complex task. The absence of a choice-of-law clause may result in the application of different legal systems. This can potentially complicate the enforcement of contractual rights. Parties involved in cross-border transactions must carefully consider the principles of international instruments such as the Rome I Regulation. The Regulation outlines rules for determining the applicable law in the absence of an explicit choice.

When analyzing the ownership of rights over Mr. X’s Catalogue, the question arises as to which set of laws is applicable to this dispute. Generally, further information may be needed to definitively establish the applicable legislation to such disputes. In our scenario however, the Rome I provisions offer valuable guidance. The Regulation provides a set of factors through which we can identify the appropriate law for resolving this dispute.

Article 4(2) states that contracts lacking a choice-of-law provision, will be governed by the law of the habitual residence of the party performing the key obligations. In our scenario, the dispute surrounds the sale of the 350 songs by Mr. X to his Counterparty. As such, the key obligation is the transferring the songs in question by Mr. X to the Counterparty. Mr. X’s country of residence at the time the transfer took place was Indonesia. Thus, Indonesian law could be applicable to the dispute.

Furthermore, Article 4(3) allows for consideration of other factors that may connect the contract to a different country’s laws. This is only applicable if the Article 4(2) provision is not met.

Applying the Law

In our scenario, a thorough analysis of the circumstances may reveal additional elements connecting the contract to a particular jurisdiction. Those could be the Counterparty’s residence, the disputed songs’ location, or the country where most contractual negotiations took place.

The application of the Rome I Regulation offers indeed a framework for determining the applicable law. However, it is important to note that each case is unique and requires careful consideration of the specific circumstances. In Mr. X’s case, further examination of the contractual agreements, the nature of the dispute, and other relevant factors will be necessary to ascertain the most appropriate legislation for resolving the dispute.

Through this Regulation, we gain valuable insight into which factors to consider when determining the applicable law in cross-border disputes. Together with a thorough case analysis, these provisions can guide parties in unlocking the resolution of complex legal issues.

Chapter Conclusion: The applicable legal framework in the music industry is a complex symphony. It requires a deep understanding of contract law, copyright principles, and the challenges posed by international transactions. It is important to appreciate the nuances of contracts, and the intricacies of copyright across borders, artists, and industry professionals. They have the power to harmonize legal strategies and protect creative endeavors. In the next section, we will explore the jurisdictional hurdles that further complicate the legal landscape of the music industry. This will bring us closer to resolving our hypothetical case and shed light on the global stage where these legal battles unfold.

Jurisdictional Crescendos – Navigating the Global Stage

The music industry knows no boundaries, with artists, labels, and distributors crossing borders to reach audiences worldwide. However, with the global stage comes a myriad of jurisdictional complexities, legal hurdles, and dispute resolution challenges. In this section, we delve into the intricacies of jurisdiction within the music industry. As such, we’ll explore the impact of residency, choice-of-law provisions, and the rules governing cross-border legal battles.

Unraveling the Knot: Ownership and Annulled Sales

The annulment of the Catalogue sale to Turkey by the Catalonia District Court adds a complex layer to the case. Particularly, it raises crucial questions regarding subsequent sales and transfers of the catalogue. So does the fact that Slovakia and Turkey did not recognize the annulment.

Arguably, the annulment effectively reverted ownership back to Mr. X, rendering the subsequent transactions void. Conversely, under Article 33 of the Lugano Convention, countries bound by the Convention must recognize judgments from other member countries without additional procedures.

This means that, although Slovakia is bound (at least in theory) to recognize the Spanish judgement, Turkey is not. The reason is that Turkey is not party to the Convention and can refuse to recognize the sale annulment. In either case however, Mr. X should be recognized as the owner of the Catalogue. In Turkey, following the transfer via verbal agreement (provided Turkey allows verbal IP rights transfers). And, in Slovakia, following the Spanish judgement which technically reverted the Catalogue’s ownership back to Mr. X.

At this stage, there are still several questions that remain unanswered. Thus, we must further explore the legal implications of annulled sales, reverting ownership, and the international recognition of judgements. By untangling this intricate knot, we gain insights into the potential strengths of Mr. X’s position.

The Crucial Transaction: Sale of Songs and Its Implications

The 2011 sale of 350 songs to the Counterparty is pivotal in determining the dispute resolution forum and applicable law. Based on our assessment, this transaction is the primary foundation for the case.

The reason is the assumption that Mr. X was the rightful Catalogue owner when the Counterparty purchased the 350 songs. A Spanish judgment reverting ownership implies that Mr. X owned the Catalogue and the copyright over the songs in 2011.

The concern is the absence of a written agreement backing the transfer of rights from Mr. X to his Counterparty. This is problematic for two reasons: 1. First, the majority of jurisdictions do not recognize transfers of IP rights via verbal agreements. This would mean that ownership of the songs was not in fact transferred to the Counterparty; 2. Second, the lack of a written contract implies the lack of choice of law and choice of forum clauses. Alas, this creates ambiguity as to where the ownership dispute can be adjudicated and on what legislative basis.

Our next step here would be delving into the nature of this transaction, whether it is international or domestic. Then, we’d establish which set of laws and which forum would me most appropriate for the resolution of this dispute.

In this regard, we must emphasize on the significance of written contracts in establishing ownership and transfer of rights. On the one hand, written contracts are a prerequisite for the transfer of ownership over (intellectual) property. On the other hand, even if written agreements would not be a requirement for this type of transaction, the existence thereof would significantly uncomplicate any dispute between the parties.

Bridging the Legal Divide – Cross-Border Dispute Resolution

When disputes arise across borders, finding a suitable forum for resolution becomes paramount. The harmonization of jurisdictional rules within the European Union provides some guidance through regulations such as the Brussels Regulation. Ultimately, these regulations aim to streamline the determination of jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments.

In our hypothetical case, the Counterparty did not purchase the 350 songs from Mr. X on the basis of a written contract. Nor did the parties express their choice of forum to adjudicate any potential dispute. Additionally, the transaction’s international nature creates ambiguity regarding which court would be most appropriate for the resolution of this matter.

However, the residence of the Counterparty in the Netherlands raises the following question: Can Mr. X bring legal action in Dutch courts as a response to the Counterparty’s legal threats? An important question to ask ininternational music industry cases!

Applying the Law to International Music Industry Cases

To address this question, we must delve into the provisions outlined in the Brussels I bis Regulation. Particularly relevant are Articles 4(1) and (2). These provisions govern the determination of jurisdiction based on the domicile of the parties involved.

Article 4(1) states that persons domiciled in a Member State shall, regardless of their nationality, be sued in the courts of that Member State. This means that, provided the Counterparty is domiciled in the Netherlands, Mr. X may initiate legal proceedings in Dutch courts.

Under Article 4(2), persons who are not nationals of, but reside in a Member State, become subject to the jurisdiction rules of said State. In the present case, the Counterparty, as a non-national residing in the Netherlands, would also be subject to Dutch jurisdiction.

The role of these provisions is to contour a general framework. Notably, the specific circumstances of each case may necessitate closer examination to determine the appropriate resolution forum. In Mr. X’s situation, a more in-depth analysis of the factors involved is necessary to determine the most suitable jurisdiction for resolving these complex legal issues.

Ultimately, given the information of the hypothetical scenario, Mr. X’s chances of resolving his dispute in the Netherlands are favorable.

Chapter Conclusion: Overall, navigating international music industry cases requires a deep understanding of jurisdictional complexities, choice-of-forum provisions, and cross-border dispute resolution mechanisms. First, residency influences the jurisdiction where legal actions can be pursued. Also, choice-of-law provisions serve as a compass to determine the applicable law. And finally, the harmonization of jurisdictional rules within the European Union provides further guidance for cross-border disputes. As you can see, international music industry cases need a deep dive into the facts and the relevant directives and laws.


As the final notes of our symphony fade away, we ponder the intricacies of legal cases in the music industry. We have journeyed through contract complexities, explored jurisdictional challenges, and unveiled potential applicable law shaping legal outcomes.

In this world where creativity meets the law, navigating the ever-changing landscape requires a deep understanding of legal nuances. With newfound knowledge, we approach international music industry cases with a harmonious balance between artistry and legal protection.

Questions about International Music Industry Cases and the Applicable Law?

Remember, in the symphony of international music industry cases, legal complexities may be dissonant at times. But, with careful navigation, and guidance from our legal experts.


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