When Christopher S. Harrison first joined DMX Inc. in 2005 as vice president of business affairs, he says the new-employee paperwork required by the company was a good omen. He says he signed a waiver that he would not complain about offensive lyrics in the music playing in the office.
“I knew I had made the right decision,” says Harrison, now general counsel of DMX, an Austin-based music provider to retailers, restaurants, hotels and other businesses. “We have music, different kinds of music, playing in pretty much everybody’s office all the time,” says Harrison, a fan of hip-hop and classic rock.
Harrison was a fourth-year associate handling trademark infringement cases in the Austin office of Fulbright & Jaworski when then-DMX GC Benjamin M. Hanson hired him in 2005. Hanson says he needed a lawyer with Harrison’s litigation skills to complement his own background in corporate and securities. Hanson is now senior vice president and general counsel with Austin-based Harden Healthcare Services. [See "The Music Man: GC Leads Company Whose Sounds Affect Sales," Texas Lawyer, August 6, 2007.]
“His role and responsibilities [at DMX] grew over the next five years,” Hanson says.
Harrison has been GC of DMX since August 2008, when Hanson moved to Harden Healthcare.
“I didn’t hold any illusions that I would work any less hard,” Harrison says about his decision to go in-house. “It’s a new challenge, something different, and you learn the business side of things, which you don’t often get in private practice.”
Harrison says DMX generates about $100 million in annual revenue and has 330 employees. Harrison and one other lawyer make up the company’s in-house legal department.
Harrison has spent the bulk of his time since becoming GC preparing for two rate-court trials related to the rates DMX pays two companies that collect license fees for songwriters, composers and music publishers.
The first of the two cases, Broadcast Music Inc. v. DMX Inc., was decided in an order filed July 26 by U.S. District Judge Louis L. Stanton of the Southern District of New York. Stanton’s decision creates an adjustable fee mechanism that allows DMX to collect a credit from BMI for BMI-licensed music that DMX provides its customers but licenses directly from publishing companies, Harrison says. So if DMX uses 100 songs licensed by BMI but has direct licenses with 20 of the publishers, DMX pays the publishers of those 20 songs and pays BMI for the remaining 80, he says. Also, DMX had negotiated licenses with 550 publishing companies prior to the trial and successfully argued that those license agreements should represent the market value for license agreements when determining the rates DMX pays BMI, Harrison says. [See the court's opinion and order.]
BMI appealed the decision in August. Robbin Ahrold, a BMI spokesman, says, “We are appealing the basis on which Judge Stanton rendered his decision, which was largely his looking at this relatively small number of direct licenses which were negotiated by DMX.”
BMI’s appeal brief is due on Dec. 20, after which DMX will have 120 days to respond, Harrison says. After DMX responds, arguments will be scheduled, he says.
Harrison turned to R. Bruce Rich, a senior partner in the New York office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, for help with the BMI case. Rich says Harrison is able to make hard calls and stand firm but is never rigid in his decision-making.
“Deep down he is a warrior,” Rich says. “But, always at the end of the day, he is pragmatic.”
During the 18 months preparing for the BMI trial, Rich says he and Harrison regularly talked on the telephone to review DMX’s strategy.
“In the BMI trial, Chris sat through every day of the [nine-day] trial, worked with us preparing every witness for direct and cross-examinations,” Rich says. “He reviewed our court submissions in draft form and was with us every step of the way.”
Rich also is assisting Harrison with a second rate-court proceeding, In Re: Application of THP Capstar Acquisition Corp. (Now Known as DMX Inc.) , scheduled to begin Nov. 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Rich and Harrison say the second trial involves a rate disagreement with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
It is exactly the same issue as the BMI case, Harrison says.
Two ASCAP representatives each did not respond to a telephone request seeking comment.
Harrison did not always want to be a lawyer. He was working on a doctorate in political science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, with plans to become a university professor, when he began doing research in the school’s law library for his dissertation on the international pharmaceutical industry.
“I came to decide that I liked law more than I liked political science,” he says. In 2001, he obtained the Ph.D. in addition to a J.D. from the UNC School of Law, Chapel Hill. Harrison says the work required for the Ph.D. has been helpful to his law career.
“I feel I am a better writer and much better at research and organization having had that experience,” says Harrison, who also is an adjunct professor in music law at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin.
“It forces me to go into the subject matter and study things I normally would not have time to focus on in day-to-day practice,” he says. “I really do like teaching.”
Harrison lives in Austin with his wife and daughter and says he usually arrives at the office at about 9 a.m. and leaves at about 7 p.m. The classic rock music played in his office tends to be by artists who are guitar-driven, such as The Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead, he says. In the hip-hop genre he favors artists such as Def Jef, Dr. Dre, Queen Latifah, Snoop Dogg and Houston’s Scarface/Geto Boys.
Notes Harrison, “I like artists that combine really creative hooks with compelling lyrics over a beat to which you can’t help but bob your head.”
Jeanne Graham is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JeanneGraham.