UHLC Professor Olivas goes behind the music with "Law of Rock and Roll" lecture

Professor Michael Olivas, interim president of the University of Houston-downtown, shares his expertise in entertainment law during a lesson of “The Law of Rock and Roll” at the University of Houston Law Center.

Professor Michael Olivas, interim president of the University of Houston-downtown, shares his expertise in entertainment law during a lesson of "The Law of Rock and Roll" at the University of Houston Law Center.

Oct. 19, 2016 - University of Houston Law Center Professor Michael A. Olivas brought his one man-band to campus Monday, presenting new segments of his "Law of Rock and Roll" radio program, "sponsored" by the Sports & Entertainment Law Organization.

Olivas, a lifelong aficionado of popular music who is currently serving as interim president of UH Downtown, hosts the radio program where he takes on the role of the "Rock and Roll Law Professor" and reviews legal developments in music and entertainment law. He presented two segments of the show which is featured on the Albuquerque, N.M., National Public Radio station KANW.

Each five-minute segment opens with "Legal Matters" by The Who, with a lively description of case law dealing with specific artists or music-related issues and snippets of corresponding songs sandwiched in between.

Olivas, the Law Center's William B. Bates Distinguished Chair of Law, stressed the need for artists to prioritize placing legal protections on their work.

"Raw and wicked talent is not nearly enough in this business," he said. "Everybody's got that. When music is your life, artists need to have a discipline, a structure and legal protection for their activities, particularly in the area of copyright."

Olivas pointed to the April death of Prince Rogers Nelson and the ensuing legal matters caused by his passing.

"Prince died without a will," Olivas said. "What happened to him should be a lesson to other artists. I try to tell young musicians to fill out a basic will and start protecting their music. That's what they own and it's all they own, truth be told."

Olivas mentioned several recent high-profile copyright infringement cases involving pop songs, including the case involving Sam Smith's 2014 song, "Stay With Me" which caused controversy because of its resemblance to Tom Petty's 1989 song, "I Won't Back Down."

"His song stole Tom Petty's note for note, but Sam Smith said he didn't know who Tom Petty was," Olivas said. "He pleaded ignorance and they settled. Henceforth, the song is now written by Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty as well as Sam Smith and his co-authors. They will split royalties here and after."

The lawsuit involving the 2013 song "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams was also discussed.

"The song had a shout out and clapping style similar to that of Marvin Gaye," Olivas said. "Robin Thicke went on the stand and said the song was somewhat of a tribute to Marvin Gaye, even though it was a style, and not a given tune. Clapping and shout outs in songs are very common, but saying so in court is part of what made them end up losing the case. They not only had to pay Marvin Gaye's heirs almost $4 million, but henceforth all sales will be split with his estate."

Click here to learn more about "The Law of Rock and Roll."

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