Thursday, November 17, 2011

Professor Studies Hazards of Experiential Theater, Public Performance Rights of Recording Artists


William S. Boyd School of Law Professor Mary LaFrance, who currently holds the title of IGT Professor of Intellectual Property Law, is spending her time working on intellectual property and entertainment law projects, exploring a variety of entertainment and advertising issues.

Most recently, LaFrance published an article in the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law about the practical challenges of implementing a public performance right for sound recordings.

“This exists in almost every other country in the world except the United States,” LaFrance said.

Elsewhere, whenever a record is played publicly, record companies and performers receive compensation. In the United States, broadcasters and public venues pay royalties to composers and publishers in order to play a song, but the record companies and performers receive nothing. Currently, the only performances in the United States for which such compensation is paid are those which occur on satellite radio, Internet radio, or streaming music services, such as Spotify or Pandora.

“In Las Vegas, playing recorded music is a big deal,” she said.

Recently, Congress proposed legislation that would expand such compensation to radio broadcasts.  LaFrance’s article critiques the proposed legislation, then goes beyond, analyzing what steps need to be taken to apply the right more broadly.

LaFrance also presented the paper at a major music conference in Boston, after receiving a research grant from the University of Houston Law Center. A shorter version of the paper has been published in the Music Business Journal put out by the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Currently, LaFrance has a number of projects in her areas of study. She has just completed a comparative law article analyzing unfair competition laws in the United States and Europe.

“In the United States, our concept of ‘unfair competition’ applies when one party uses a brand name or a confusingly similar name, passing off a product or service as though it were coming from another party,” LaFrance explained. “In Europe, it’s much broader.”

LaFrance said that the European standards for unfair competition do not require consumer confusion. For instance, LaFrance said, one company could not market an imitation perfume by comparing it to the brand name perfume.

“In the European Union, if a company achieves success, the policy is to protect that brand and that success and not let others cheapen it,” she said.

LaFrance also recently completed an article about the hazards of experiential theater, particularly about the risks of personal injury. Her interest in the topic came when she attended a performance in which she witnessed injuries.

“I am a big fan, but I am concerned that the theatre companies don’t self-regulate or take precautions,” she said. “This is an attempt to encourage this industry to mitigate the risks while still engaging in artistic experimentation.”

Additionally, LaFrance is finishing up work on an entertainment law casebook that covers both domestic and international entertainment law.

“I’ve tested the international material on some students at UNLV and elsewhere. I will test the domestic materials on students next spring,” she said.

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