Weavers of the Tangled Web

If all the work you do is for your own pleasure and involves no commerce of any sort (including use of others' work, such as sampling), you may have at

If all the work you do is for your own pleasure and involves no commerce of any sort (including use of others' work, such as sampling), you may have at least a chance of not having to concern yourself much with contracts, nondisclosure agreements, partnership papers, and other sundry and, in some cases, insidious legal documents. However, since you can't even release an album without at least having to deal with publishing and copyright issues, most of us will never get that chance.

There are obviously good reasons for many legal documents to exist. It is a depressing fact that contracts, on the whole, spend a bit of time specifying the exchange of goods or services that constitute the desired transaction and pages of ink citing every possible thing that could go wrong and how each of these dire contingencies would be resolved. Hopefully, the transaction can therefore occur with much less energy being expended on watching one's back every step of the way — assuming you believe the other party will honor the terms of the contract. This can be a real boon when the transaction is a creative act like producing an album, where a level of trust is necessary on both sides to get the desired outcome (a great album). Nevertheless, legal documents are a pain in the bum, even if they never need to be invoked.

Before attaching your signature to any legal document, it is smart to consult a competent attorney, especially if the document involves negotiation. Whoops! There goes a quick thousand dollars, and the longer the negotiation process continues, the faster the meter runs the tab up to astronomical proportions. Sometimes you can't afford to have legal advice and you can't afford not to.

The reason you really do want to have an attorney is that legal wording is typically indecipherable unless you are fluent in the arcane dialect of the law, while the consequences of that wording can drastically affect your livelihood and your life. Each and every word of a well-written legal document has meaning that could extend well beyond the ostensible and fundamental purpose of the document, and the end result for the unwary layperson of a creative (but not legal) bent can be a legal Trojan horse of heinous proportions. These are high stakes indeed, and it is best to let your shark do lunch with their shark rather than submerge yourself into their midst unprotected.

I've even been confronted with a nondisclosure agreement I had to sign before I could see the contents of another document I was supposed to sign that contained nondisclosure clauses. I wouldn't even be allowed to tell someone that I wasn't allowed to tell them things. Given the incredibly litigious nature of our society, perhaps this is understandable, but it is still absurd and unbearably odiferous.

Being the son of an attorney myself, I think Shakespeare expressed feelings rather stronger than mine when Dick the butcher says, in Henry VI, “First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.” But I do think the only good legal document is a fully dissected legal document. There are times when your objective can only be reached by dealing with a legal agreement, and there is no choice but to engage in a Duel of the Dorsal Fins. When that happens, you'll be glad to have your own attorney, but don't simply trust him or her with your future, either: make sure you understand things yourself. As Mark Twain wrote in Pudd'nHead Wilson, “Behold the fool saith, ‘Put not all thine eggs in the one basket’ — which is but a manner of saying, ‘Scatter your money and your attention;’ but the wise man saith, ‘Put all your eggs in the one basket and — watch that basket!’”