A Tale of ‘Friday’ and 50 Cent and Outlaw Disputes

This blog is a tale of two recording artists who have been involved in recent disputes over their recordings. The first of these is about the aftermath of one of the most-watched videos ever on YouTube.

Back in April 2011, I wrote about the hubbub surrounding Rebecca Black’s YouTube sensation-of-a-song entitled “Friday.” Part of the hubbub concerned ownership of the master recordings of that song, for which—reportedly, I stress—Rebecca Black’s mother, Georgina Kelly, paid $4000 in production costs to Ark Music Factory—whose co-owners, Pat Wilson and Clarence Jey, wrote “Friday”—in exchange for that ownership.

In conjunction with that issue were charges of copyright infringement and unlawful exploitation against Ark by Black’s lawyers, who sent Ark a letter to that extent back in March. The lawyers specifically noted in their letter that Rebecca Black never got the master recordings and that Ark didn’t have any rights to promote her.

So it was that on a Thursday in mid-June 2011, after having been seen online more than 165 million times, “Friday” was pulled from YouTube “due to a copyright claim by Rebecca Black.” Despite Black’s mother supposedly owning a copyright on the master recordings, Ark contended that they owned rights to the video of “Friday,” and that the company was caught off guard by the removal despite what they called good-faith attempts to negotiate a settlement with Black’s family and lawyers regarding the ownership dispute.

Rebecca Black

And because Rebecca Black was, it can be presumed, not being marketed well enough to capitalize on all those YouTube views, save, perhaps, for her website, Facebook and Twitter accounts, you have to wonder why a grassroots marketing tour of shopping malls, like what Tiffany did back in the mid-1980’s, wasn’t considered. As sure as Rebecca has just turned 14 as of the time I am writing this, there are those who are thinking that the pulling of “Friday” from YouTube is a sign not only of how fame can be fleeting, but also one of how her 15 minutes of fame may have run out. Even so, the ownership dispute explains how important it is that an artist have full and complete ownership both of apropos publishing and master recordings.

At about the same time that “Friday” was being pulled from YouTube, another tale was unfolding. Veteran rapper 50 Cent was having trouble trying to get his label, Universal Music Group’s Interscope, to release his next album, “Black Magic.” When 50 Cent took to Tweeting about the delays, he complained about Interscope making slow progress on his nearly-finished album, then decided to release a single from that album, appropriately entitled “Outlaw,” on his own without waiting for the label’s approval.

50 Cent

Though 50 Cent did eventually have meetings with Interscope label head Jimmy Iovine as well as colleague Dr. Dre to resolve things, he told MTV that the delays have been more the fault of whom he calls “the guys that they pass the responsibilities onto. It takes longer for people, because they’ll be like, ‘OK, we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do that,’ and the building will start having those conversations, but they’re not actually moving at that point.”

The fact that 50 Cent had to deal with bureaucracy underscores one advantage of owning your master recordings: The artist or artists decide when to release them, without waiting for the guys at the label to say so. In this do-it-yourself Internet age, it should be easier for any artist to record and release their own material. And yet, as I can’t hesitate to remind you, the perception remains that being signed to a major label still matters.

It’s the mentality that results in newly-signed recording artists taking their advances up front, only to lose out on the back end thanks to recoupable expenses or “360 deals.” And it’s the mentality that can also lead to disputes like those I have just blogged about. Imagine how different things would have been if every recording act owned and independently released their product.

Do you think an artist’s ownership of product is more advantageous than being signed and having the label own the product?