As discussed in the first part of this series, when first faced with a dispute, band members should carefully review the group’s governing agreement (usually a band partnership agreement, operating agreement, or set of bylaws, depending upon the group’s structure), assuming one exists. Among other things, this document should include a procedure for resolving disputes, and specify the members’ rights and obligations to the group and each other if a dispute arises.
Unfortunately, many groups never get around to discussing — let alone preparing — a written agreement. In those instances, state law will dictate the parties’ rights and duties. Laws and their application can vary greatly among the states and, even in a single state, the specific legal rights and obligations of individual members might differ greatly from one entity type to another (e.g., partnership, limited liability company, or corporation).
Further complicating matters, all disputes are fact-based. Although two groups might have similar types of disputes, generally (e.g., the lead guitarist decides he doesn’t like the drummer any more — trust me, it happens), rarely do two isolated disputes stem from exactly the same facts or circumstances (e.g., the guitarist has evidence that the drummer is embezzling from the band vs. the guitarist’s girlfriend is “pretty sure” the drummer winked at her when the guitarist wasn’t looking). Thus, determining and applying the relevant law to a particular dispute can be complex and is a concept beyond the scope of this article.
Group members who find themselves in a dispute without the benefit of a band member agreement owe it to themselves and their families to consult with independent legal counsel before taking actions that might impact their rights (including potential future income) or obligations (including potential expense and/or liability to the group, other members, third parties with whom the band has existing agreements, etc.).
In the next installment, I’ll discuss possible options for moving forward toward resolution.
L. Kevin Levine is the founder of L. Kevin Levine, PLLC (go figure), a boutique entertainment, copyright, trademark, and business law firm in Nashville, Tennessee. A lifelong musician who grew up in his family's music store, it was inevitable that Kevin would build his legal career in entertainment and business.