Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Breif Thoughts on Tax Consequences for Musicians

This is not legal advice. Leave audio feedback at (512) 686-6329.

Last week in Brian's and my tax class (we don't have all of our classes together, but we happen to have tax together), it was suggested that musicians get a break on tax day. Considering both of my parents are full-time musicians, this struck me as odd. I'd never heard anything about the tax advantages of being a musician. NPR, or at least Patrick Jarenwattananon (what a last name!), seems to be on my side of the the debate on this one. I don't know if this is going to begin another point-counterpoint series for Brian and I. Since finals start next week, I certainly suspect Brian will be taking a break from content for the next two weeks.

I think any sort of tax break musicians might get has to do with the type of musician one is. Taxes changing the development of music has historical precedent. For example, individuals that can support themselves full-time through touring and gigging and do not teach are likely to get the benefits of being a sole proprietorship. If your band, ensemble, orchestra, etc. is incorporated, and you are an employee of that organization, then you aren't going to get the business benefits (though incorporation does have benefits, so don't discount it just due to taxes).

The other thing is that people that own copyrights can get some tax breaks. However, studio musicians generally do not own copyright in their performances.

So, what does this all have to do with Creative Commons?
Potentially, a lot. The tax breaks that musicians theoretically get primarily have to do with being able to prove that music is your business and not your hobby. Unless you are Amanda Palmer or NIN (both of which have released under CC), this is likely going to be tough. If people are interested, I can do another post specifically on hobby losses, but for now, while it pains me to say this, you might be better off (from a tax perspective) releasing under CC, but behind a pay-wall such as you can set up with Bandcamp or Magnatune (and possibly others, we aren't sponsored).

Since the tax code is so mammoth, I'd like to tell people some of the things Brian and I have covered in our tax class to give you some ideas on things we might be able to discuss in the future:

  1. Gross Income
  2. Gains and Losses from Dealings in Property
  3. Gifts and Inheritances
  4. Discharge of Indebtedness
  5. Fringe Benefits
  6. Business and Investment Expense Deductions
  7. Capital Expenditures
  8. Depreciation and Amortization
  9. Deductible Personal Expenses: Casualty and Theft Losses
  10. Other Deductible Personal Expenses: Taxes, Interest, Charitable Gifts, Moving Expenses, and Medical Expenses
  11. The Deduction Hierarchy: Adjusted Gross Income, Taxable Income, the Standard Deduction, and the Personal Exemptions
  12. Timing Rules and Related Principles
  13. Ordinary Tax Rates and Taxplayer Classification
  14. Tax Credits
  15. Capital Gains and Losses
  16. Quasi-Capital Assets
  17. Recapture of Depreciation
  18. Residential Real Estate
  19. Like Kind Exchanges
  20. Involuntary Conversions
  21. Alimony and Support
  22. Personal Injury Recoveries and Punitive Damages
We didn't actually directly cover in dept the The Charitable Contribution Deduction or Hobby Losses, but I think both of those are important for musicians to know about and I'd be prepared to do a post if people are interested.

If you are a musician in the US and need tax advice, I encourage you to speak with your local VLA chapter. I'd also be interested in hearing feedback from people in other jurisdictions about the tax consequences of being a musician. I'm hoping, specifically, that friend of the blog Marc, will chime in on whether he knows anything about the tax consequences of gigging in The Netherlands.

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Music Manumit Last.fm group
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Monday, April 22, 2013

The Ins and Outs of Copyright Registration

This is not legal advice. Leave audio feedback at (512) 686-6329.

Expected Audience: Anyone who wants to know the basics of Copyright Registration

Copyright registration is a fairly straight forward and simple process. There are three basic requirements an application, a filing fee, and a deposit. The application is a simple set of forms that can and should be filled out online. (Filling out paper forms requires a higher filing fee, so why would you bother with paper?)

The deposit is a copy of the work to be sent to the copyright office. If the work that is being registered has already been published two copies need to be sent. (One is for the Library of Congress, but the Library of Congress doesn't necessarily keep every copy it is sent.) The copyright office destroys the deposits that are sent in. One interesting rule is that the deposit is supposed to be the best edition of the applicant work. For example an author that publishes a novel in paper and hardback, should send the copyright office a hardback copy of the work. Also, the deposit is not supposed to be electronic, unless the work is published exclusives in an electronic form. A musician that distributes music via MP3 but does not make a CD the musician can send an MP3 version of the musician's work. In class there was some debate about whether a musician who published in both vinyl and CD could meet the best edition requirement with either version or a particular one. The best edition rule is not very well enforced so it was a purely academic argument.

The filing fee is fairly straightforward. It can be paid online via credit card. The copyright office doesn't host the payment services and uses a third party site.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Roadmap for Future Trademarks Coverage (instead of Current Issues Week 3)

This is not legal advice. Leave audio feedback at (512) 686-6329.

Long ago (not actually that long ago in the scheme of things), I skipped Week 3 in the "Current Issues" series before deciding to take that series monthly. Over the summer, I plan to finish up brief summaries of what we covered in the course. There is a lack of doctrinal Trademark podcasts on the web, so I hope at some point to fill that gap. Sure, they speak about trademarks on This Week in Law occasionally, but there's no Life of a Law Student-style podcast on trademarks, and I think there should be. It certainly would have been helpful for me.

Anyway, in week three of International IP we discussed the "Blue Revolution." It is quite fascinating (of course, I say this having a Biology degree and Chemistry minor) but not really appropriate for the Lawcast. Thus, I am going to talk about Trademarks!

What a Herculean task with which I have presented myself (and that's why I skipped it during the actual Week 3). Just to give you some idea of the task, our course book has 1002 pages plus the index and has a 549 update supplement. Upon a couple months of reflection, this is not something that can be done in one post, which is why I am leaving a roadmap for you today. Please let me know if there are specific topics I list that you would prefer I get to sooner rather than later. 
I first want to discuss a few of the details of posts that have already happened here and those that are in the works.  Brian already did a post on trademarks as they relate to band name. I think Brian is going to be bringing you some thoughts about registration this semester (although, considering where we are in the semester, I don't know if that is happening). Additionally, I'm going to come back to geographic indicators in a separate "Current Issues" post.

Between Brian and I, we've basically knocked out a chapter of the book Professor Susan Richey has assigned for us. The chapters, as a guide, are:

  1. Concepts of Trademarks and Unfair Competition
  2. What is a Trademark?
  3. Ownership and Use
  4. Registration of Trademarks
  5. Loss of Trademark Rights
  6. Infringement
  7. False Designation of Origin
  8. Advertising
  9. Dilution
  10. Authors' and Performers' Rights
  11. Internet Domain Names
  12. Trademarks as Speech
  13. Remedies
During week 4 of the current issues series, I wrote an article about domain names, so we can skip that too. The First Amendment is a course I may be taking next semester, so let's skip chapter 12 too. That leaves us, essentially, with:

  1. Concepts of Trademarks and Unfair Competition
  2. What is a Trademark?
  3. Ownership and Use
  4. Loss of Trademark Rights
  5. Infringement
  6. False Designation of Origin
  7. Advertising
  8. Dilution
  9. Remedies
Those will be the 9 topics in the trademarks series. Expect it to look a lot like the copyright series did last semester, only in audio. It may or may not have Brian's involvement. If you can't wait for me to get done with the audio editing, below I've left you places you can find further information on trademarks. Again, please let me know what you think of the roadmap. We'll try to stay flexible!

Additional Resources

Wikipedia Article on Trademarks
USPTO guide for Musicians and Artists

USPTO FAQ about Trademarks
Canadian Copyright and Trademarks
Intellectual Property Office: European & International Trade mark's
CC Licenses and Trademarks: A Guide for Organizational OER Creators and Distributors
Podcasting Legal Guide: Trademark Issues
CC0 and Trademarks (and patents)
What's in a Name: Can Trademarks be Helpful to Free Software Projects?
Karen and Bradly discuss "Some of What You Need to Know About Trademarks"
Other Trademark-related podcasts
ARC Law Group: Trademark Basics

Get in Touch

Music Manumit Last.fm group
My Last.fm username: DouglasAWh.
Libre.fm username: douglasawh.
280.status.net: douglasawh
I'm on too many social networks to list them all!


Help Doug get through law school! Buy him a book or food!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Public Draft: Trans-Pacific Partnership and Murica's Right to Know

This is not legal advice. Leave audio feedback at (512) 686-6329.

UPDATE: You can hear me reading a slightly updated draft of the paper over on my SoundCloud page.

I'm going to do something I haven't done before. I'm going to post a draft of a paper I am working on. I've posted on status.net links to the Google Docs version of the paper, but I've never posted here. Part of the reason is because we need content!

I missed the March posting of my first paper because I haven't had time to go back and format. You'll see here what I mean. There are no footnotes. For the footnotes you'll need to click on the GDocs version.

I would love feedback. You'll get credited for your help if you give feedback, just like a couple people did at the end of the last paper. The paper is due May 3rd, 2013. If you find this after that date, look for the final version on the site...the Google Doc should be current either way though.