Hide your songs, hide your masters… cause NBC/Universal is out here, trying to steal your music without paying you a dime.

Their new show Songland just finished accepting submissions for original music. What’s so bad about that, you ask? The release form for anyone who submitted music contains language that not only transfers your copyrights to them for free, but waives your right to collect any royalties from your work, whether they use it or not.

I came across this preposterous piece of legal trash from a blog posted by entertainment attorney Wallace E.J. Collins III:

The NBC/Universal submission agreement for the “Songland” TV show states that NBC will own all rights to use and exploit all of your songs involved in the show including the songs you submit in the initial application. You would also purportedly be giving up your song even if you do not get selected to be on the Songland TV show (so whatever songs you use to audition would arguably become theirs to use and exploit even if they do not choose you). It also states that you waive your rights to claim any royalties from the songs whatsoever. On top of that, it states that you waive your right to sue NBC Songland (e.g., in case you didn’t read the contract upon signing).

There is no way to know if NBC/Universal would actually pursue such a course of action and claim to be able to use and exploit all of the submitted songs without paying songwriters – the only thing I am addressing here is the language in the submission agreement. This is by far one of the most onerous such television contest submission agreements I have encountered.

I can’t say I’m all that surprised, since most entertainment agreements are writing in the favor of the party with the most clout/money/power. Still, it’s (a) not right, and (b) disgusting.

Here are a few of the pertinent paragraphs:

“Without in any way limiting the waivers and releases set forth herein, I waive any claims to royalties of any kind, whether accruing now or in the future, from Producer and NBCUniversal for the use of any such Music or any other music, including, without limitation, any applicable copyright, public performance, mechanical and synchronization royalties.”
WHAT THIS MEANS: They won’t owe you any royalties for using your music.

“I further agree that the Released Parties exclusively own all right, title, and interest (including, without limitation, all copyrights) in and to any and all recordings made by them and in and to any and all video that I have provided in connection with my application and any other materials that I have provided or may provide in connection with my application or the Program.”
WHAT THIS MEANS: They own any audio or video recordings you submit.

“I grant the rights hereunder whether or not I am selected to participate in the Program in any manner whatsoever.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Even if they don’t use them, they still own anything you submit.

How can they get away with this?

Easy. It’s a binding agreement once your John Hancock is written in ink and, whether it’s fair or not, can be upheld in a court of law. This is why it is VERY important that you read EVERY agreement you sign. Kudos to NBC/Universal for carrying on the tradition of Christopher Columbus: stealing what isn’t yours and calling it a “discovery”.

We are already in a time where artists are making less money than ever before. It’s an extra kick to the throat when businesses are using the law to con people out of their intellectual property.

MORAL OF THE STORY:

  1. Read your contracts.
  2. Don’t be so hungry for an “opportunity” that you sign away your creativity for free.