Artist Rights Villians: Pandora’s Christopher Harrison

It’s common for lawyers to try to defend their poor moral choices in clients by saying, “I was just the lawyer,” kind of like “I was just following orders.”  If you were talking about a criminal defense lawyer or someone who chose to defend a controversial bad guy because everyone is entitled to a defense, that would be one thing.  Particularly if the lawyer was a poorly compensated public defender.  But when you’re talking about someone who takes a job complete with stock options that makes them rich, that “I was just the lawyer” thing is harder to rationalize.

Pandora’s Assistant General Counsel Christopher Harrison not only brings with him the Pandora baggage, but as Billboard reports, he’s seen this movie and he knows how it ends.  In Billboard’s post about the payola issues in Merlin’s direct deal with Pandora we discover some details about Harrison’s past that every artist and songwriter should know:

Merlin’s critics [who might they be, we wonder?] say the deal could backfire on artists and labels in another way. They point out that if incremental play produces an overall average per-stream royalty rate that is lower than the statutory rate, the Copyright Royalty Board could take the lower number as the market rate and lower the overall statutory figure in its revisions.

Why? Back in 2007-2010, when ASCAP and BMI rate court judges were involved in litigation between DMX and performance rights societies, the judges examined the direct licensing deals DMX cut with publishers. During that process, judges did not review the advances or any of the other aspects of the deal, and only looked at the reduced per-store royalty rate Consequently, in the case of BMI, this resulted in the per-store negotiated rate falling from $36.36 to a per-location fee of $18.91, much to the chagrin of the publishers, who stayed a part of the PROs’ blanket licenses. The ASCAP rate court returned a similar finding.

(Did we mention that Pandora vp of business affairs and assistant general counsel Chris Harrison was DMX’s vp of business affairs at the time of the rate court ruling in a lower per-location blanket fee?)

Harrison seems to have a thing about screwing artists and especially songwriters.  As Billboard reports, he has a particular modus operandi of twisting up a combination of direct deals with the government rate court’s boot on songwriters necks to profit his company and ultimately himself.  As former Googler Tim Quirk might say, Harrison  seems to have a royalty fetish.

You might even think that Pandora hired Harrison because he already made his bones screwing songwriters while he was at DMX.  Being “just the lawyer” when a certain group of people gets screwed once might be coincidence–but doing it twice at both DMX and Pandora is a little too coincidental.  What will he do for an encore?  You might get the idea that the guy actually likes it.

Meet the new boss, worse than the old boss–and we won’t get fooled again.