The Legal Issue Hydra

Analysis. Bitchfest. Forum query. Call it what you will. Legal issues are among the greatest barriers to creativity of all time.

All of us started in this industry with passion. That isn't to say we don't still have it, but those of us with experience usually carry quite a few battle tales under their belt.

Crunch. Unrealistic expectations. Disagreements. Greed. Wasted work. They all take their toll and shove out those who wish for greener pastures or harden those who trudge on. One of these giant beasts is called Legal Issues, or LI for short. LI is tricky. It can strike when you least expect it and cause incalculable damage. More specifically, legal hassles can cause months of delay or even get an entire project cancelled, or sometimes even worse, not started in the first place.

It's not as though people become lawyers because they hate the law. I've read Grisham, I know there's a light side to the force there somewhere. But here are a few instances that still flabbergast me, all of which that took place in the legal arena of doom. All references are of course not included, but the tales should be told so students of these situations can intelligently battle them if and when they surface again. Behold a few heads of the LI hydra.

The Game Soundtrack 

A pretty popular game gets a call from its fans for a soundtrack to be sold separately so the fans can enjoy the music on its own. The soundtrack would be inexpensive to produce as the content already exists. A small record company is approached and provides a boiler plate contract offering a $2000 advance on royalties. Reasonable given that game soundtracks sell a maximum of around 50,000 units in the US (far more overseas).

The response from company executives is that such a soundtrack has the potential to damage their IP, and getting their legal team to even look at the boiler plate contract would cost more than the album would sell in the first place. The fans, distraught, end up ripping the soundtrack anyway and distributing it however they can.

Years later, a soundtrack is released for a future edition of this game that as it turns out becomes fairly successful and a worthy addition to the franchise, IP and all. Pity, the sales could have been even higher had soundtracks for the series been released previously and awareness was already in the marketplace.

The Negotiation 

You have a situation where two parties are interested in collaborating to produce a fun, small scale product. The development of the product takes around 3 to 4 months. The legal negotiations of the product take well over 5 months. Note that this process was not continual negotiation, but term deliveries and revisions with at least one to three weeks of time in between, just waiting for a response.

Just who wins here?

The International

A business development VP specifically requests a manager to come up with less expensive ways to outsource its audio. The manager finds several solutions, all of which are overseas, one of which is in Finland. The budget for this project is smaller than small, so it seems like a good idea to draw up a contract for the less expensive composer in Finland.

When the request gets through to legal, a response comes back over the phone: "Are you stupid?"

That is a direct quote.  

Disregarding the complete lack of professionalism, the manager inquires why the request is "stupid", with the response being that legal work to negotiate a contract in Finland might just outweigh any production savings. Translating, some sort of "moral" law, and a few other bits and pieces would cause quite a bit of headache for the legal team. Fortunately, the contract finally gets created, but again, as far as the process goes, who wins here? Nobody as far as I can see.

So, what  have I learned from this? Lawyers are great at protecting things. They're just terrible at communicating, sometimes downright lazy, sometimes rude, and terrible at marketing themselves so that people in positions of power can make intelligent decisions. Not one lawyer I've met has "enabled" anything, rather they've cause a great deal of hindrance. In fact, the most legally wise and effective people I've met are heads of companies, not their lawyers. Peculiar, isn't it?

Rather than more moaning, I'd be interested to hear from people who have not legal horror stories, but legal dream stories. "My lawyer rocks!" "She saved our bacon and was courteous and informative every step of the way!" Please, regail me and let me see the "Grisham light" that at this point I can only imagine exists.


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