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Intellectual Property (Or Not)? Who Really Owns Your Console Show File?

Is our show file, created after weeks (or months or years) of rehearsals and shows – and with all of our intellectual knowledge and experience – our property or the property of the band? Plus, an attorney weighs in on the question as well.

Our topic this time is a bit more nuanced and complex than usual. The idea centers around the intellectual property of console show files. Are they the property of the sound engineer who created them or the artist management they created them for?

Jim Yakabuski: I’ve been asked a few times in my career to provide the production or tour manager with a recent copy of my console show file. I used to just do it, but I got to thinking about when and how that show file could be used, and to whose benefit. I’m happy to email it to an audio provider for a one-off or small international tour so they can pre-load it into my console of choice and check my signal paths and inserts. This benefits me, the artist and the audio provider as it helps us all know we’ll show up to the show and everything will work as expected.

But what if the management team wants an engineer to hand over a show file so they can “keep a copy on file”? I can understand them wanting this in case someone goes AWOL or unceremoniously quits right after sound check, erasing the memory on the console and putting the show in a precarious place.

However, what if you’re all set to go out on another leg of a tour, or there’s a private show coming up, and in both cases you’re not invited back? And what if you find that you weren’t invited to the dance because there’s a more “budget friendly” engineer who could push faders using your hard-earned show file as a starting point? I say, “that’s not cool.”

What’s the big deal? Many production managers, especially those who are new, can get uppity about the nice salary you’re making because of your relationship and fine work in the past with said artist/band. They see that their budget is stretched and think they can save money by cutting you (and your salary) out of the picture in order to replace you with a buddy who “mixes great” – and for half the price.

This replacement can come in next week and start, and even though there’s no rehearsal time, the PM has a copy of your show file that he “hijacked” so the new person has a nice starting point. You get the point.

The question is one of intellectual property, I think. If an engineer employed by DuPont creates a life-changing new sealant, he/she probably doesn’t get to own the patent. (The engineer would be lucky to get a small bonus while the company makes millions of dollars off the invention.)

So is our show file, created after weeks (or months or years) of rehearsals and shows – and with all of our intellectual knowledge and experience of 30-plus years – our property or the property of the band?

Michael Lawrence: I can see the problem. I think there are a couple of angles here. First, there are the issues of courtesy and ethics. I would also say that a show file does not a good engineer make. If management believes that the show file is all that’s required to get a good mix, they’re sorely mistaken. This could certainly apply to system tuning /DSP settings as well for a system tech.

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