In recent news, Chocolate City served Brymo with an injunction, restraining him from recording, releasing or promoting any new music other than on the Chocolate City label. Brymo is reported to be under contract to the label until 2016. There will be a further hearing where Brymo gets to tell the court why the injunction should be lifted while the lawsuit – most likely for breach of contract – is ongoing. Until the suit is finally decided, here are a few lessons that upcoming artistes can take away from the squabble.
1. PACTA SUNT SERVANDA (or Agirriment issi Agirrimenti o!!)
This latin maxim, that promises must be kept, is the lifeblood of commerce. The assurance that mutual promises will be kept is the reason for putting them down on paper in the first place. A contract is just a piece of paper with words, until things go wrong and one of the parties to the contract decides to ask the court to enforce what agreed. You are bound by what you have freely signed to.
If it is true, as Brymo reportedly alleges, that Chocolate City were remiss in their contractual obligations to him, his recourse would have been in the text of his contract. This leads us nicely into our second point.
2. LAWYERS ARE YOUR FRIEND
Lawyers and taxmen are loved by only a few. But it is absolutely important that a budding artiste seekslegal advice before signing that first deal. In fact, many of the contracts in circulation have a clause in which the artiste expressly states that he has sought legal advice before signing the contract. A lawyer – a good one, anyway – will ensure that a minimum set of obligations is required to be met by the label at various milestones, that a procedure for the artist to exit if the label defaults is outlined and, occasionally, that a buyout fee (as in football) is agreed so that if the chemistry between the label and artiste is truly bad and the artiste can afford it, he invoke the clause and leave.
But new artistes never have any money, you say. How will they pay for legal advice? If they truly have no learned friends, they could ask the label for an advance (recoupable by the label, obviously) to cover that cost.
3. WHEN A COURT ISN’T A COURT
Unless it’s part of some intricate PR strategy, there’s no point subjecting a matter to the court of public opinion that can only really be decided on by a court of law. No amount of public sympathy for you, however justified, can relieve you of your contractual obligations. Only the party you are bound to or a competent court of law can.
If you were failed, why did you not invoke the relevant clauses in your contract and seek proper termination. Since when did a unilateral public declaration terminate contracts? (Sidebar: I forget myself. I am a Nigerian after all. And our government has unilaterally cancelled innumerable contracts.)
So, before publicly announcing that you have left your label (which could be a breach of contract and entitle the label to damages in some cases), make sure that you either have a letter of release from the label or an order of the court to quash the contract. Otherwise, you’ll make your label angry – and you won’t like them when they’re angry.
4. HOTEL CALIFORNIA
One of my favourite songs of all time ends with the line “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” Even without the interim injunction in place, this limboville is where an un-released Brymo would have found himself. Recording contracts are usually an exclusive business. This means that while the contract is in force, the artiste cannot record or perform music except as arranged by the label. To do otherwise would be an infringement on the rights of the record label and the law has these cute devices called “damages”, “accounts” and “destruction”. Damages – the court “fines” you for your infringement; Accounts – the court orders you to hand over all the profit from the sales of the infringing music to the plaintiff; and “Destruction” or, more correctly, obliteration on oath, the court asks you to destroy all copies of the infringing music. Or all three!
So you’ve left the label, but have you, if they still get the money from your music?
5. THE THEORY OF RELATIVITY
Time passes faster in the arms of a beautiful woman than in a prison cell serving time, was how one movie character explained E=MC2. The next 3 years could seem like 30 (for Brymo) if the parties concerned are unable to resolve this issue quickly.
One way to sort this all out might be for Brymo to jejelly hand over the masters for the new album and claim back all recording and associated costs from Chocolate City. If they’re going to “own” the music, one could argue that they assume the burden for making it.
Conflicts will arise in the course of commerce and resolving them speedily is inextricably tied to the document creating the relationship.