29 September 2001

Today at the Vicarage The

Today at the Vicarage : The Vicarage

Donbledore informs me that a 'high powered LA entertainment lawyer' is interested in Punk’s 'Vicar Chronicles' – and in helping him present these to HBO for conversion to a TV series. Hurray and Hurrah, I should be saying. 'Art + Truth = Shit loads of money', as Punk said recently.

And yet….

Donbledore also informed me that this lawyer’s fee would be a percentage on 'all things Vicar'. Not quite so 'Hurray and Hurrah' – more 'boo, hiss, phhtt, phhtt' – not even major record labels, those bastions of ethical integrity, ask for a share of all income coming from a band for ever from all sources.

Let me analyse this proposal a little closer. Does this mean that this lawyer proposes to a earn a share of my production fee for producing a record in twenty years time, or a share of a 'I hate the Vicar' T shirt, that DGM may never produce, or a share of my appearance fee for giving a lecture, or a share of Punk’s publishing on a book he has not yet even conceived, or perhaps a share of Punk’s derisory income for endorsing a piece of audio equipment (or, more likely, a new line in skimpy women’s lingerie).

'Why yes' say the devil’s advocates. 'The lawyer’s work in 'facilitating' a TV show will increase all the other income streams, so he deserves a share in all of them'.

When presented with such arguments, I ask myself 'Does this fit with my own life experiences?'

When producing a record, do I feel I deserve a share in all income that the band will ever receive from all sources for ever, because my work might raise their profile?
When I recently lobbied hard to get a friend a job at an electronics firm, of which he is now managing director, did I feel I deserved a proportion of his income?
Or, more ridiculously, does a teacher, who helps you to pass an exam, feel that they deserve a proportion of your vast fortune, which you could not have amassed without the necessary qualifications, which they helped you to obtain?

Clearly not. We accept that we are paid to do our own piece of work to the best of our abilities, and that in so doing there will inevitably be ripples that will produce wider benefits from which we do not benefit directly. We also realise, and this I feel is the crux of the matter, that we will ourselves be the beneficiary of ripples emanating elsewhere.

To return to the example of my production fee – It is indeed possible that my work will increase the band’s ability to earn money in other areas. It is, however, also possible that the band’s hard work in other areas, or even the work of a producer on a subsequent album, will increase the sales of my own pathetic production work.

And so what do I make of this lawyer, who feels that he deserves to a share of all my possible income.

My early morning, cornflake encrusted brain offers two possibilities : The first is that he feels he is the centre of the universe. All good things ripple out from him, but nothing ever comes back. I have no desire to work with a man whose view of the world is so profoundly distorted.

The second is that his desire to earn a percentage of 'all things Vicar' was merely a bargaining tactic. If so, it must be fair to assume, however, that he hopes I will agree to these terms. I have no desire to work with someone who would be happy to accept such a profoundly unfair deal.

I have always felt that percentage based legal fees can lead to a serious conflict of interest - between the best deal, and the one that leads to the the largest fee. Hence, perhaps, the reason why record company advances (and therefore large legal fees) remain high, while the terms of the deals (which do not lead to large legal fees) remain restrictive. I would, however, agree in principle to a commission based on the direct proceeds of actual negotiations performed by a lawyer. If he is a good lawyer, there may indeed be peripheral benefits. But these form part of the complicated world of ripples, on which commissions are impossible to calculate accurately and are entirely inappropriate. Let us hope that Donbledore has misunderstood his proposition.

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