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Music Band that Split Up

Question:

Three people formed a music band, performed together, and put out discs together. After some time two of the band members told the third that they are no longer interested to perform with him. The third member was deeply offended, and did not react. After some time the other two members brought in a third band member in his place, and continued to perform under the same label.

Can the third band member force them to stop appearing under the original label? Can he make any monetary claims?

Answer:

The label of a band is an entity worth money, it has concrete earnings (shows, discs, and so on), and therefore the division of the band (the “name”) should be treated as the division of any other partnership.

In principle, the division of something that cannot be split up between the different parties (such as a band that can’t be divided up) should be done by means of גוד או אגוד, meaning that one of the two parties buys out the other (if neither wishes to, the property it sold and the money divided; see Choshen Mishpat 66:41; 171:6, 8).

In the case presented by the question, the partners did not act according to the halachah, but rather forced one of the members out of the partnership. According to the strict halachah, this will imply that the division of the property in question is void, and it is as though nothing was done (Choshen Mishpat 176:18; see Shut Perach Mateh Aharon 119).

The third partner will therefore have a claim to a share of the profits from the continued performance of the band: The other partners continue to glean financial benefit from the band label, and they must pass on one third of the financial benefit to their partner. Estimating how much this is worth is of course a very difficult matter, and cannot be done without expert evaluation and without going through Beis Din.

Because it is technically impossible for the third member of the band to rejoin his original partners, it appears that the most advisable course of action is to reach an agreement of financial compensation with the other band members.

It should be noted that the answer above assumes that there is full ownership on the “label” of a band. This question involves a dispute among authorities concerning copyright ownership (Intellectual Property), which is discussed by recent Poskim (see Shaul U-Meishiv 1:44; Shut Beis Yitzchak 2:75, among other). In practice, whether on account of concrete ownership, the Law of the Land, or the situmta mechanism, most authorities agree that we see Intellectual Property as true ownership, and therefore the partnership in the band label is seen as a regular partnership.

Thus in summary: The division of the partnership is void, so that the two remaining partners have to compensate the third partner for his share, and for earnings made from the label. The division of the band should be made based on the גוד או אגוד mechanism, and it stands to reason that the two active performers should buy out the third member.

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