Warning: Beware NBC/Universal’s Submission Form For “Songland”
Those planning to apply to NBC/Universal's new show "Songland" should read their contracts carefully, as they contain some alarming terminology regarding the amount of control which NBC/Universal would have over the entrants and their compositions.
Guest Post by Wallace E.J. Collins III Esq. on his Entertainment Law Blog
Several clients of mine have brought this to my attention, so I thought I would address it here.
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. There is no warning of what the contract entails until the final part of the submission application, and what they are offering is crippling for songwriters. Most songwriters make their life's savings off of just a few big hits, and to be required to give away your best work like this for free is quite extreme.
Below are some relevant portions of the Songland submission contract:
– "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"
– "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."
– "I grant the rights hereunder whether or not I am selected to participate in the Program in any manner whatsoever. "
– "The term “Released Parties” shall mean and refer to Producer, NBCUniversal Media, LLC (“Network”), all entities and platforms of Network, Comcast Corporation, any other licensees or assignees of the Program or the Materials, the other participants in the Program, all other persons and entities connected with the Program, all parent, subsidiary, related and affiliated entities, licensees, successors, assigns, sponsors and advertisers of each of the foregoing, all of the respective directors, officers, principals, executives, on-air talent, employees, agents, contractors, partners, shareholders, representatives and members of each of the foregoing, and the respective heirs, next of kin, spouses, guardians, representatives, executors, administrators, successors, licensees and assigns of each of the foregoing."
Now, to be impartial, maybe the NBC/Universal lawyers did not mean for it to be so onerous and were merely drafting broad language to cover all contingencies and protect their client. Normally, one side's lawyers might draft a contract like this and the other side's lawyer would review it and clean up the most egregious language in order to protect the client. Here, however, there is no negotiation – this is technically known as a "contract of adhesion" in legal terminology.
So be warned that you should always read all of the language in such agreements and decide if the risk is worth the reward. Although it might be deemed overreaching vis-a-vis an adhesion contract if NBC were to try to enforce this against all songwriters who submit, it is better not to go down that road. If you believe in yourself and your talents, always give yourself the benefit of the doubt and invest in good legal representation – all successful songwriters do. My advice: never sign anything, other than an autograph – without having your entertainment lawyer read it first
Wallace Collins is an entertainment lawyer and intellectual property attorney with more than 30 years of experience. He was a songwriter and recording artist for Epic Records before receiving his law degree from Fordham Law School. T: (212) 661-3656; www.wallacecollins.com