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The Irish rock musician Van Morrison offers a piece of hard-learned counsel for today’s pop stars: “Music is spiritual. The business is not.” Should performers miss the message, a new breed of New York entertainment law attorneys certainly would not. Witness the examples of James E. McMillan and Oren J. Warshavsky. Both these 33-years-olds were youthful entertainers. And both are flush — in the complete sense — from putting industry rascals through the legal wringer. Around last Christmas time, McMillan trumped in a tangle of lawsuits involving his rap artist clients 8 Ball and MJG. According to hip-hop columnist Final Lee, writing for the Web site Urban Network, it was the attorney’s “hardcore evidence and perseverance” that won the day. Namely, a settlement that coughed up royalty payments on two million albums sold, along with 100 percent return of publishing rights and full ownership of master recordings. McMillan, a solo practitioner these days who trained as a litigator, explained the mishmash of claims and counter-claims, and how he cut to the chase: “There were some very egregious things going on. The [record label] owner co-mingled personal funds with my clients’ funds. So I got a restraining order that resulted in the owner having no money — I mean no money — for Christmas. I was the grinch. He was pissed. We got back to the table.” With a fair number of operatives in the rap world known for uncivil proclivities, McMillan said he was only confident in playing the grinch after a bit of due diligence research. “I didn’t have a lot of fear. I had some of my friends look up some of his friends,” said McMillan, a graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. “That made made me able to pursue the action a little more aggressively.” As icing on the cake, McMillan took off his lawyer hat, donned his manager hat and engineered a new seven-figure recording deal for 8 Ball and MJG on the “Bad Boy” label, owned by hip-hop impresario P Diddy, aka Sean “Puffy” Combs, aka “Puff Daddy.” “It’s a cutthroat business,” said McMillan, who charts his own musical roots to his boyhood church choir in Cleveland, and his piano-playing maternal grandparents, “Mr. & Mrs. 88 Keys” — Blanche and Sim London, who never saw a dime of royalties from their scores of records. “You get yours while you can get it.” JURY IN FAVOR Warshavsky’s triumph came last March on behalf of the Dixie Cups, a 1960s girl-group best known for the rock classic “Chapel of Love.” It all began when the girls — middle-agers Barbara Ann Hawkins, her sister Rosa Lee, and their cousin Joan Marie Johnson — went to the movies one day. The feature presentation was “Mission Impossible II.” “All of a sudden, they’re hearing their song — ‘Iko, Iko,’” said Warshavsky, an associate with the Manhattan office of the New Jersey’s Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione. “And we come to find out it’s been used in other movies, like ‘Little Vampire’ and ‘Little Mermaid II.’” Warshavsky, likewise a litigator, took his case to a jury. The jury found that a former manager for the Dixie Cups had improperly claimed writing credit for “Iko, Iko” — a call-and-respond chant the girls learned in the streets of their native New Orleans, later recorded in 1965 as a top-40 hit — and peddled the tune around the globe for his profit alone. Warshavsky managed to rescind the 1963 contract between his clients and the mendacious manager, collect royalties and regain ownership and licensing rights to the ’65 hit. He has done essentially the same for a number of other “oldies” — including Mary Wilson, one of the original members of the Supremes; Joan Jett of “Crimson and Clover” note; and Tuff ‘n’ Rumble Management for rights to “Impeach the President,” recorded by the Honey Drippers in 1973. (Warshavsky also represents “oldie” rappers such as Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five.) From ages 1 to 3, Warshavsky played the role of bouncing baby boy on the former CBS-Television soap opera “Love of Life.” Despite child stardom, he speaks of his successful legal strategy in confronting entertainment executives in an understated way: “Unfortunately, bookkeeping can get a little lax. When probed, [music executives] will realize there have been mistakes. When confronted, most people will want to do the right thing.” FINDING THE LAW Neither McMillan nor Warshavsky intended to become an entertainment lawyer. “Actually, I came to New York to start a recording company,” said McMillan. The venture — Vandoola Records — did not fly. Nor did an early law school attempt, which resulted in what is euphemistically known as an academic vacation. Neither did the young McMillan succeed as a clarinetist, oboist or cellist back in Cleveland. When Vandoola flopped, the sadder but wiser McMillan made a beeline back to law school. “I found myself. I am now a lawyer, first and foremost.” Because of his grandparents, who worked as side musicians with the late and legendary Nat King Cole in addition to recording their own works, McMillan is a lawyer with a personal mission. “They should have at least got some sort of retirement benefits,” said McMillan of his grandparents, who live today on Social Security, Blanche London’s part-time bartending job, and gifts from family. “Had they had proper [legal] guidance, things would be different for them today.” Warshavsky “backed in” to entertainment law while working as an IP litigator for the boutique firm Cobrin & Gittes, which recently merged with Gibbons Del Deo. “A record company asked me what they could do with a bunch of outtakes from old recordings — Ray Charles and some others. I said, ‘Oh, sure, no problem.’” Warshavsky recalled. Thus began an education far beyond the copyright classes he took at Fordham University School of Law. “It was tremendously difficult. “I think they wanted a yes or a no on most questions, but I did a lot of legal and factual research and prepared a comprehensive memo, going through each jurisdiction, state by state, and telling them what they could and couldn’t do,” said Warshavsky. “Then they asked if I did litigation. Well, that was the beginning.” ACCOUNTING GAMES There is such a thing as scrupulous management in the music business, suggested Ron Barron, who scrupulously managed a number of major pop stars in Los Angeles back in the 1970s and ’80s. No matter, he said; all entertainers past and present are well-advised to lawyer up. “Accounting procedures [in music] are a total mystery to me,” said Barron. “They charge all kinds of things to [royalty] accounts, everything from manufacturing costs to distribution to promotional advertising. “There’s always the basic problem: How many records were really sold?” he added. “This is a dicey thing because they have these promo copies, and you never know how many of those they really did put out.” Such questions are what Warshavsky calls “the usual games” that come with the territory of entertainment law. Barron, happily retired from “a very unsavory trade,” advises today’s young entertainers — and their lawyers — to heed the guiding principle of a late singer known as the “Velvet Fog.” “Mel Torme was right,” said Barron. “He used to say, ‘I don’t record a note until I get an advance up front because you never see anything on the back end.’” Robert S. Perlstein, a veteran entertainment lawyer who worked as counsel for CBS Records (now the Sony label) during the 1970s and ’80s, is Barron’s own attorney. Today, Perlstein has his own wide-ranging practice in New York. He suggests that young performers are more hip to legal traps than those of past generations — good news for the growing ranks of entertainment lawyers. “There are so many different methods of exploitation,” said Perlstein. “I can barely keep up with it. This much is for sure: everyone’s figured out that contracts are important. As a young artist, you’re better off doing things right from the beginning instead of waiting around to get rich and famous and then going back to the recording company and saying, ‘Hey, I know I signed this agreement, but it isn’t fair.’ “ As with Warshavsky, returning to the circumstances of an ill-advised youthful agreement on the part of a performer in need of negotiating some financial justice is something of a specialty for Perlstein, whose client roster includes a goodly number of classical musicians. Is lawyering on behalf of a classical musician a more delicate matter than operating in McMillan’s rap world? “Delicate?” asked the incredulous Perlstein. “Sometimes it’s a brawl.”

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