Music Law: Interview with Attorney Chrissie Scelsi

Posted by Japheth Campell | March 27th, 2011  
Chrissie ScelsiChrissie Scelsi

Used by Permission

This past month I connected with some excellent entertainment attorneys, one of those being Chrissie Scelsi. She is the principal of Scelsi Entertainment and New Media Law, P.L., with offices in Port Charlotte and Orlando, Florida. She practices entertainment and intellectual property law, including but not limited to matters for clients in music, film, video games, interactive and social media, as well as copyright, trademark and general business counseling. Ms. Scelsi is also assistant legal counsel at Bohemia Interactive Simulations in Orlando, Florida. She is a member of the American Bar Association Section of Intellectual Property Law, as well as the Forum on the Entertainment and Sports Industries. She is a Young Lawyer Fellow for the Section of Intellectual Property Law, and is a member of the Annual Review Editorial Board. Ms. Scelsi is co-editor of the recent book Computer Games and Virtual Worlds: A New Frontier in Intellectual Property Law, published in the spring of 2010. She has served as the co-chair of the Publications Subcommittee for the Committee on Computer Gaming and Virtual Worlds for the American Bar Association Section of Intellectual Property Law. Ms. Scelsi is also a member of the Florida Bar Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Section Legislative Subcommittee. She is also the author of the PunkLawyer blog, which focuses on entertainment law matters with the independent scene in mind. Ms. Scelsi graduated from Loyola University New Orleans in 2004, where she received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing and studied music business. She graduated from Saint Louis University School of Law in 2007.

She’s been very busy with conferences, but was kind enough to take a break in order to answer a few of questions for my readers:

Thank you for allowing us the time to discuss the legal side of the music industry. Tell us a bit about your background. How did you get started in law and decide on a focus in music law?

I became interested in entertainment law as a result of my passion for music. I learned as much as I could about the industry and followed that interest by studying music business and marketing in college, and then on to law school.

I’m sure you’ve had plenty of young musicians contact you, wanting to break into the industry. What are some of the biggest misconceptions that new artists have?

I think an important consideration for new artists today is having a clear idea of where they would like their career to go and understanding what may be involved in trying to reach that goal. If your goal is to be on a major label and be a superstar, the path can be very different than if you want to be an indie artist. Understanding your goals can help you focus on trying to achieve your goals and manage expectations. In addition, understanding who your target fans are and how to best engage them can be important in building a fan base.

Lady Justice revisitedCreative Commons License photo credit: Scott*

Ideally, a musician should seek the services of a music attorney before they sign any agreement, be it with a manager or a record label. An entertainment attorney can help an artist to protect their rights and determine if a particular relationship will be a good fit for that artist.

When an artist signs a contract with either a manager or a record label, what the contract does NOT contain is just as important as the items written into that contract. What are some of the major items in contracts you’ve seen that were either missing or included in a problematic way?

One issue I run into periodically is artists who have already signed an agreement with a label or manager and are unhappy with the relationship. While the prospect of getting signed is exciting, taking the time to fully understand and negotiate the contract with the services of an attorney can save a lot of headaches down the road. It’s also important to evaluate if the person or organization you are signing with to receive a portion of your income is bringing value or a good track record to the table.

It seems one of the big issues facing the industry is copyright infringement. There is a widespread misconception of the concept of “fair use.” Could you give some clarification on “fair use” and the steps an artist could take to avoid copyright infringement with the works they create?

I think an important aspect to keep in mind when discussing fair use is that it is a defense to an alleged copyright infringement. Ideally you would want to try and avoid copyright infringement claims as an artist, but it is also good to understand the concept. It is also a factors test, so facts like whether the use is for an educational purpose rather than a commercial purpose can be important in determining if a use is fair or not. The courts evaluate these factors on a case by case basis, so there are not always clear rules about how much of a work is used and whether that use would be considered fair or not.

I think it is fairly obvious to most artists and bands that they need to protect the copyright of their music. What are some other intellectual property issues that they should concern themselves with?

An important issue for artists, and bands in particular, is determining who gets what rights in the songs you create. It is a good idea when recording or writing songs with others to write down who contributed what to the song. It is also a good idea to have people who did not contribute sign off that they have no rights to the song at that time to avoid future potential problems. Bands would also be well advised to decide early on how songwriting credits will be split, as well as the publishing shares for the songs, and put it in writing. Ideally a band should consult an attorney to have an internal band agreement drafted to spell out how the band will operate and who will own things like band names should a member leave.

Speaking of intellectual property, the issue of IP seems at the heart of the disruption in the industry as digital music distribution becomes more dominant. What do you see for the future of the music industry and the legal challenges that the industry will face?

The biggest challenge I see right now is that technology is moving a lot faster than the law, and there are not clear answers to some pressing legal issues. I think the music industry is going to continue to try and find ways to make up for the decline in music sales through licensing, merchandising and other avenues.

I know you are passionate about the independent music scene. What are some pros and cons you’ve seen for being an independent artist?

I think one pro that can be a big advantage for independent artists is having greater control of your career by owning the rights in your work. However, a con to this can be that an independent artist may have less leverage in finding or negotiating deals for exploiting those rights. It really depends on the expectations of the artist, as well as how much control of their work that he or she is willing to give up in exchange for increased exposure or trying to reach the next step in his or her career.

If you could only give one piece of advice to an independent artist, what would it be?

Educate yourself about the rights that you have in your work, and how you can protect them as well as the potential ways that you can exploit them to help your career.

Thank you for taking the time to share with us on music and the law.


Ms. Scelsi can be contacted at, or (941) 204-7363.

We make available the information contained in this interview between Japheth Campbell and Chrissie Scelsi for educational purposes only, as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this information you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and Ms. Scelsi. Legal topics found on the 360° Digital Artist blog should never be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

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