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Music Industry Power Lawyer Visits USC

Friday, Nov 11, 2011

Story and photo by James Bradicich

The legal environment of the music industry is rapidly changing. 

Don Passman, an attorney at Gang Tyer Ramer & Brown who represents clients such as Kanye West, Green Day, Radiohead, Stevie Wonder and Pink, gave students an inside look at the legal implications of cloud computing, music streaming services and piracy. His visit was sponsored by the Entertainment Law Society (ELS).
Passman described how CD sales used to command astronomical revenues for record companies. However, with the onset of programs such as iTunes and Spotify, artists and record companies are not receiving the kinds of revenue streams they would otherwise deserve.
“We’re in the awkward position where the old business model from the 1940’s is no longer working, yet there’s no new model to take its place,” Passman said.
Passman said that iTunes was the first
Don Passman with ELS board

Don Passman (centered) with ELS board members
Jennifer Westhoff '13 and Michael Campbell '13

company to develop a business model that enabled them to profit from the artists’ music. With a deep passion for music since a young age, Passman was not keen on iTunes’ agenda.
“They don’t even care about the music and they are profiting off of it,” Passman said.
Even though iTunes is legal, 95 percent of downloaded music is pirated. Passman described how artists are oftentimes afraid of publicly denouncing piracy for fear of a backlash from fans.
Passman believes a viable alternative to piracy is the delivery of a cross-platform performance under one subscription fee that enables the consumer to listen to music in the car, on a mobile device, on a computer and across other platforms.
Passman believes applications such as Spotify are catalysts to a new era of instant music streaming.  
“Cloud services don’t work as well as Spotify where you have millions of songs available upon demand,” Passman said. “That’s where things are going in the future.”
However, even though Passman knows that programs such as Spotify are the future of the music industry, he stays true to his belief that they should not be trying to monetize artists’ songs.
“Spotify is as close to piracy as being a pirate,” Passman said. 
Passman authored the best-selling book, "All You Need To Know About The Music Business," which sold over 300,000 hardcover copies. Having specialized in the music business for over 30 years, Passman counts among his clients major entertainers, publishers, record companies, managers, producers, and others in the music industry.
Passman is a graduate of the University of Texas and Harvard Law School and listed in The Best Lawyers in America. He is responsible for the record-breaking “mega” deals for both Janet Jackson and R.E.M. He is also an adjunct professor at USC Law.

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