Cinema Law: I Shoot, He Scores

Q: After the original composer for my film submitted his score, I found it to be almost unlistenable and rejected it.

I hired a new composer to score the film, and this time the music worked much better. The original composer agreed that he’d be paid after the score was completed and I’d had a chance to listen to it, but since I thought he did a horrendous job, I refused to pay him and now he’s threatening to sue me. Do I still need to pay him the original amount, or since his work was less than adequate? Is there something else I can do alleviate the situation?

A: Since you will not be using the score of the original composer in your film (I’m assuming the new composer started from scratch and did not in any way use the original composer’s work), the answer to your question is governed by the terms of your agreement with the original composer (as opposed to copyright law). Specifically, the question is whether your agreement gave you the right to approve the score before being required to pay for it. The only information you provide about the agreement is that “[t]he original composer agreed that he’d be paid after the score was completed and I’d had a chance to listen to it…” This appears to imply that you had the right to approve the score before being required to pay for it. But I unfortunately cannot give you a definite answer to your question without knowing more about your agreement. Was your agreement in writing or was it oral? If it was in writing, does the agreement state that you had approval rights over the score? If your agreement was oral, what was agreed to regarding your obligation to pay for the score if you disapproved of it? These are the questions a court will ask to determine whether you have any obligation to pay the original composer for his score. MM

Jeremiah Reynolds is an associate at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, a high-profile, L.A.-based entertainment litigation firm, and specializes in complex business litigation, particularly upon entertainment related litigation and contractual disputes. Reynolds’ experience includes disputes relating to motion picture and television distribution rights, merchandising and licensing rights, profit participation and other accounting issues, contractual disputes and intellectual property disputes. In 2006 and 2007, Reynolds was named a “2006 and 2007 Southern California Rising Star” by the publishers of Los Angeles Magazine. He is a cum laude graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles (B.A., 1997) and received his J.D. from the University of Southern California in 2002.

The answers to legal questions provided by the lawyers of Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, LLP (“KWIKA”) are for general education and information purposes only, and are not legal advice or legal opinions. The information provided in the articles is not intended to create a lawyer-client relationship between KWIKA and you. The opinions expressed in the postings are the opinions of the authors and do not reflect the opinions of KWIKA, its employees or agents.

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