Should Record Companies be Liable for their Artists?


Apparently a rapper in the US is being sued for assulting some chap. The interesting aspect of the case is that the plaintiff’s attorney is arguing that the record companies behind him are responsible for his actions (quoting the attorney from the report I saw in the SMH):

“There has to be a consistency between what you are and what you are selling. This lawsuit is saying the companies are the ones that put up the money to perpetuate this behaviour.”

The SMH apparently hypothesised on the attitude of the record company to the suit:

It is believed lawyers for the record companies will argue Rhymes is not an employee and not under their direct control.

This would seem, at least at first glance, a perfectly reasonable and rational argument. Except that I can’t see that any record company could possibly argue it. Their heart would simply not be in it. And if you’re heart’s not in it, it’s a hard time to sound convincing.

The fact that their heart wouldn’t be in it can be deduced from observing the general issue of principle taken on secondary infringement in copyright cases. Indeed, over the past 10 years or so we’ve seen a rash of cases and specific legislation supported by record companies (among others) which has the practical effect of extremely extending the understanding of “authorization” under the various Copyright Acts around the world. Some things for which people have been found secondarily liable include:

The list would go on. In any event, copyright law has plenty of precedents where someone with less connnection to an infringer than between a record company and an artist have nevertheless been found liable. Surely, as a point of principle, no record company could suggest they ought not similarly be liable?

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