CNN and Robin Meade Scam Songwriters Out of Thousands in Latest “Contest”

Want to help a billion dollar organization find an opening theme for one of their news shows and get paid nothing in exchange? Who wouldn’t!? CNN, the “first in news” brings Song-Sharking to a new low by calling a land-grab for copyrights a “contest.”

Moses Avalon

Want to make your new song the opening theme on a cable news show? Youbetcha! Imagine how much a song played every day on a major news network would earn each year. Think it’s thousands? How about for years on end? Tens-of-thousands? Well, how about $0, if you’re a lucky winner on CNN?

If you haven’t heard already… “HLN’s “Morning Express with Robin Meade” is looking for a new theme song, and it could be yours! We want you to be our next rising star. Send us an original song, no more than 2 minutes long (video or audio file) for the show by August 2.”

Robin Meade and HLN (owned by CNN) may say they want you to be a rising star, but they don’t seem like they want you to rise very far.  Unwilling to pay a composer even a few thousands bucks to write a theme for their show, Morning Express, Meade and crew have instead gone to the streets to let some lucky up-and-coming songwriter have a chance a big network dreams. (Cable network, that is.)

I’ve checked out the 4400 word, benignly labeled,  “Official rules of the contest. While there is nothing illegal about the deal, it is pretty darn, well… you be the judge. This clause, buried on page 6 of an 8 page single-spaced, micro-font agreement (that contestants are asked to “click-to-agree” to without the benefit of legal counsel) is what caught my attention:

“OWNERSHIP/USE OF SUBMISSIONS: If selected as the Grand Prize winner, each Applicant (including all band/group members, if applicable) agrees Sponsor [read: the show] shall own the Submission (including, without limitation, the music, lyrics and recording) submitted (including the copyright thereto and all rights embodied therein)”

So, what they are labeling as “rules” are, in effect, a transfer of title to the copyright in the submitted song. And what do you get in exchange for giving up all your rights to collect any form of cash on a composition good enough to be broadcast everyday on a CNN affiliate, if you win? Get ready…

“A trip for Grand Prize winner (up to four (4) band/group members in total) to Atlanta, GA (on dates to be determined by Sponsor) to professionally record the winning Song… Song may also be featured as the opening track for the show Morning Express with Robin Meade at the discretion of the Sponsor. (Approximate Retail Value (ARV): up to $3,950).”

I may have left my reading glasses on my night table. Did I just read that you transfer ALL RIGHTS to a network broadcast worthy song, in exchange for a trip to Atlanta and a recording session to record a song which you don’t even own anymore? Are you F%&#ing kidding me?!

Aren’t you supposed to win something tangible in a contest?  Here, the only winner is CNN.   Oh, sure, I know what you’re saying, what about the exposure for the songwriter?

Let’s put aside for a second the reality that in most states exposure is not considered compensation (and CNN’s lawyers must know that this probably would not hold up as a “tendered transfer” of copyright) I don’t recall ever seeing the name of the theme composer listed prominently on the credits of a CNN news show.  But  hey, there’s a first time for everything.  Right?

So, at best you win placement of a song that only your mother will know you composed and at worst you win a trip to court with a very expensive copyright lawyer. (Don’t worry, I know a few.)


Okay… want to know how much potential cash you’re giving up (and giving to CNN) in exchange for this privilege?

CNN/Meade leaves this part out of their pitch, but once all rights to your song are handed over via their “rules,” the contest Sponsor collects the performance income for the song and the recording of the song. This means all the money that would be due for the writer, the publisher and the artist.

According to one of my executive sources inside ASCAP, a song used as an opening theme on a show that airs five days a week, on several cable networks worldwide would yield about $5 a play in the ASCAP pooling system. In other words, if, like most CNN programs, it runs about three times a day, figure about $20,000 a year from ASCAP alone. (BMI would pay the same presumably.)


But, wait, let’s be fair, maybe Robin Meade, doesn’t know this. She’s just a face, right?  She doesn’t have time to learn the ins and outs of arcane, esoteric things like broadcast standards. I mean, if she did, wouldn’t she, the daughter of a preacher, refuse to be a party to the deliberate and systematic ripping off of emerging songwriters? Yes.  Of course.

But according to Meade’s Wikipedia page she has a a BA in broadcasting from an accredited university.

“[Meade] attended Malone College and Ashland University, where she majored in radio/television production, programming and performance and minored in political science. She graduated in 1991 with a major in programming and performance. In 1992 she became Miss Ohio, and was a top ten finalist in the Miss America pageant.”

How do you go from “I’d wish for world peace”  to wishing for every piece of a poor songwriter’s work? Maybe she skipped the day they taught copyright and all that dumb IP crap at Ashland U’s broadcast program.  I mean, it’s not like she’s makes money as a recording artist herself– Oh wait…that ‘s not an issue either, because she is a recording artist as well! You can check out her album here. Hummm, why doesn’t she hand over one of her songs to her own show then?

Robin Meade, news anchor, recording artist

Although I have not yet done a chart ranking the worst  songwriting competitions, but if I did, Robin’s would take the cake.  You give up everything and the contest Sponsor makes $20K a year off your work.  Good deal.

CNN and Robin Meade– you win the Moses Avalon “Shame on You Scam of the Month prize for July 2011. This is a coveted annual prize we give out to those who have managed to take the exploitation of young talent to a new low level. You join the ranks of music biz legends such as Morris Levy, Berry Gordy and Colonel Tom Parker.


The CNN contest ends on August 2nd, 2011, so if you’re still interested after reading this, don’t waste any time; already her site is littered with entries (scroll to the bottom of the page), some so bad that $0 and a trip to Atlanta seems too much to pay for a buy-out.

I can’t wait to hear the winner.

Mo out

Thanks to Jimmie Vestal for the lead. Check him out:

If you have any leads on a scam or other shady music business stuff please drop me an email via the “Email Moses” tab in the navigation bar above. And as always, your comments below are what keep this site vital.  Post some.

49 responses to “CNN and Robin Meade Scam Songwriters Out of Thousands in Latest “Contest””

  1. Jason Miles says:

    I love this!!-So perfect for 2011-we’ll make you a star kid!! (chomp,Chomp on the cigar) This shows you the desperation out there for recognition and the condition of the business

  2. claris says:

    Keep in mind, most of the entries are going to be, well, below standard. However, networks are really not looking for a hit song, they want eyeballs and emails…and that they’ll get! The winner may not get much but, don’t underestimate a kiss on national TV! Plus the winner gets to talk about the win on his/her website, book, etc
    God knows what else could follow. Do I hear label interest, perhaps? After all, an industry run by the numbers, will notice ya! You’ve been seen by millions? Sure, here’s a deal. Anyone who has been in music long enough will tell you there is no “overnight success.” However, the lure is simply too big to ignore. So, while Moses may call this “exploitation of young talent to a new low level,” it takes two to Tango!

    • Jason Miles says:

      Uh-Excuse me-Goods and services are not for free-The lure is BS-You want your shit out there getting played and not getting paid-Good luck-I have done well in my life with several songs and spots on TV-One has to pay their bills.It goes with my theory that this is all an amateur exercise and an exercise to get something for free that should be paid for-There is no guarantee that anything will happen for the winner

    • CTMartin says:

      Label interest? Sorry, NOT A CHANCE.

      Are you being sarcastic?

  3. Steven says:

    This is just one more thing in figuring out how to take advantage of the songwriter or artist…they NEED the help and these guys know it…so they can exploit them and take all the winnings.
    If they REALLY wanted to give something back, offer the deal to the writers and composers. even 50% of it all…writers and publishing, would be somewhat fair. I’d be willing to trade for the opportunity to make $20K a year!

  4. Jon Rezin says:

    I love it! “(Approximate Retail Value (ARV): up to $3,950)”… Aren’t winners of prizes obligated to pay taxes on the value of prizes they win? In this case… you lose your song, lose potential income of 20k per year from performance of said song, work for free to record the song, and then… to add insult to injury… you have to pay Taxes on the $3950.00 prize which you never actually received!? Awesome! Where do we go to submit songs again?

  5. Avo says:

    This is such a good reason why artists need to be EDUCATED about the business side of things.

    Way to go, Moses!

  6. Sounos Zo Rhetes says:

    Seems right for this ‘American Idiots… sorry Idols” generation of the “Good Enough” and mp3’s.
    To only thing to do, is what Moses is doing: Exposing them where ever you can (twt, face, g+, etc.)
    God save the artist!!

    PS: the best thing is that they want to hire you to record “their” song for free, at the time they decide and on top of that, ask you to say: Thanks!. It’s like in the worst 3rd. world comunist country.

  7. Maria says:

    This is a bragging rights situation. The songwriter gets to say “I did that.” I’ve done a few of those and that’s all you get. It has never opened a door… just bragging rights. I’ll never do another one for that reason.

    Hey CNN – To take 100% of the copyright and give the songwriter no part of the revenue stream is pathetic.

  8. LaRombé says:

    This is SOOOOO sad & typical of whats happening these days. Yo Mo, what do u think about all these sites charging for submissions for film, tv & other projects? Is it legit or sh#t .

  9. Matt says:

    If MTV gets away with basically the same deal, is it just the law of supply and demand? It’s the reason why Guitar Center is such a big business, endless wannabes. Not that it’s a justification, just a comment on the mentality of “you too can have instant fame.” Like lemmings to the . . . Thanks Moses

  10. Ivan says:

    Everyone that reads this should tweet and fb this, it’s alarming that the music business has come to this… will you work for gum?

  11. Jimmie Vestal says:

    In this sorry contest, only the winner loses his/her song ownership.

    I’ve come across contests in which every person that enters, whether they win or not, gives up ownership of the song submitted.

    Songwriters and musicians everywhere …. read those contracts carefully.

    • Jimmy/Moses. Did you see the same thing I did regarding Arbitration/Mediation? This is one of those clauses that few people get, but needs to be explained.

      When you see this cause basically it means– you cannot sue. No matter what. You give up that right. It means that the contract issuer has bound you to agree to a settlement should any legal disagreements occur. Further, they choose the venue and the mediator (whom they most likely have worked with before and you have not). So, who do you think gets the better end of all arbitration deals? That’s right. The man wins again, but only if you let him.

  12. Lucian says:

    “…just another brick in the wall.”

  13. Peter says:

    I’m tweeting this and putting this on my site and my band’s sites. Keep it up Moses. Keep banging artists over the head to let them know what they are doing to themselves–yes, themselves. You can’t blame anyone but yourselves for accepting crappier and crappier deals and giving up more and more of your monies and rights. It’s gotten to the point where people will not only not pay you for a theme, but they even want half your WRITER’s share of the PRO monies. That’s bullshit and I never agree to those kinds of deals, but people do and then everyone complains how shitty the industry has become. Look in the mirror.

  14. Peter says:

    Let me amend my last comment. SOme want not just half your writer’s share but ALL of it. And yes, people agree to this and so further erodes our value. Get smart and don’t be fool who takes any garbage scraps they throw at you. Don’t have money? Get another job or a side job, but don’t F up your industry.

  15. Chris says:

    While I agree that this is pretty poor compensation, I have to disagree that the writer would be losing a long-term revenue stream. In any other circumstance I believe this would be handled as a work-for-hire: you’d get a single paycheck for the music, retain no rights and receive no royalties. Sure, it’s a lame deal – but most likely they’re going for the latest unsung YouTube hero-to-be, who isn’t looking for that kind of compensation anyway.

    • Actually in work-for-hire agreements the composer is still the author, they may share authorship but mostly it is the publishing side re: master holder.

      So, the composer will always get that writer PRO credit.

      You may only assign copyright transfer. In this case it looks like you do that preemptively, which has been ruled illegal. Basically a creator/author must be first listed and then can transfer. But this is a copyright deaf nation and we don’t read contracts, much less prosecute those who draft fallible ones.

      • Moses Avalon says:

        I’m not sure the “preemtive” argument would alppy here. You are actualy creating the work specifically for the contest. It’s not as if you had the song laying around and then submitted it. Although that is possible, it’s not likely with the “2 minuite song” stipulation the contest’s “rules” create. Further proof of the insidiousness of this “contest.”

        So, in this caes, any retianing of authorship would still be an empty victory.

  16. Christian Unruh says:

    In consideration for you writing, composing and recording a theme song and in consideration for you granting us all the rights in your composition and your performance, our multi-million dollar corporation will USE your song, for as long as we wish and until we decide to use a different song.

    Such a deal!

    I bet they considered trying to claim ownership on ALL the submissions, whether it was chosen as the winner or not – until someone in legal said, nah, we might not get away with that…

  17. Thank you for this article. As a pub, I have been screaming about this for years. It’s nothing more than copyright fraud and it’s a shame that orgs like NMPA and MPA and especially the PROs aren’t united and vocal against it.

    BTW, the “exposure” never, ever, never ever is worth it. If an artist can get a paid placement, that exposure amongst all of us who license music is far greater and will translate to larger shares later on.

    Great Post!

  18. John says:

    Shame on CNN. For those that had said this would normally be a work for hire deal, yes that is true. However you would work out the terms with company. They get to use the song of X plays, or so long for Y dollars. If they don’t like what you ask for, they can go elsewhere. I do a lot of work for hire with photos. You want exclusive use, and not list my name in the credits and you want to sublicense to others. I’ll do it, it will cost you. Pros know it will cost them for that magical creative work, and are willing to pay for it. Someone at CNN is trying to pull a fast one and get something on the cheap.

    I see this thong happen many times in big companies, but they do it all within. Employee contests for pictures, artwork, slogans, and yes music. You always end up giving up all rights.

  19. Shared! And posted to the CNN/Robin page and email sent to them too. I wish you could get a campaign or something going. Unreal. Simply disgusting. I could go on, but I’m on repeat, so I’ll end here.

  20. […] Avalon is reporting that a new contest from CNN will cheat a struggling artist out of potentially $20,000 / year.  I […]

  21. Unfortunately like many other things there are way too many people who are either so naive, just plain ignorant or selfish or whatever that they’ll get all excited to help screw themselves some more. Moses, I guess you have to holler louder although you’re probably preaching to the choir….

  22. Marilyn Miller says:

    Copyright is the new gold, fellow creatives, and Corporate knows that VERY well.

    Thanks again, Moses, for your excellent warning.

  23. Trudee Lunden says:

    Thanks for sharing this Mo; I’d like to second LaRombe’s question to you. A good follow up to this post may be a review of which websites/contests are legit vs. other scams.

    And also thanks to Jimmie Vestal! Good eyes!

    • Moses Avalon says:

      We will someday. But for now we are placing our limited resrouces on a more important issue: digital distribution and the potential scames therein. Please help us in this effort and flow the link below and Tweet is often to your lists.

  24. Brooke Trout says:

    Isnt it fun to tear apart legal documents that use too many words in the hopes of confusing the applicants out of their rights? I love how the contract starts by saying we’ll have no liability, but you better not infringe upon the copyrights of others, only to finish by saying we’ll own your copyright without compensation, permission or notification.

  25. SpaceMonk says:

    We got gotta get you on her show to debate the issue…

  26. Thanks for taking the time on this! I nearly stopped reading after the opening clause, which is indeed a transfer of ownership. I’ve seen all this before. Last year, applying for Spain’s Eurovision contest entailed an automatic transfer of the publishing rights – even if they never used the song. I thought that was debatable enough. But this…

    I’ll Tweet this info.

  27. Phil Kelly says:

    As a composer / arranger who has over the years writing
    hundreds of pieces of broadcast promo material ( for ESPN, ABC Sports as well as TV station image
    packages ), I find this attempt by CNN at exploiting the gullible amateur songwriters appalling.

    CNN knows better..They sure had their attorneys load up the WFH “submission” agreement with all the appropriate weasel works to ensure their abusr of talent was “legit”

  28. Mojo Bone says:

    I suspect that Moses is somewhat less than conversant in music licensing, as opposed to record label contract negotiations; this kind of boilerplate is distressingly common, but it usually doesn’t mean what most folks think it means, and in fact ASCAP and BMI would never enforce such a contract, were it to be taken literally.This is a buyout, but a buyout doesn’t necessarily mean “no royalties”, and CNN knows that, even if some, or even most contestants don’t. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if a less-informed winner were denied the royalties owed, lord knows it happens often enough, but there’s no way a savvy writer doesn’t get what’s due, regardless of the squirrelly legalese. There’s plenty of legit concerns about the fate of copyrights in this new millennium, but this ain’t one, imo.

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Well, you would be mistaken about my experience in music licensing. A buy-out means exactly that– no royalties. And in this case the writer would be “bought out” and receive nothing. I put the words “buy out” in quotes because this isn’t a buy out either, as no money is changing hands. And that is what makes it particularly nasty. But I suspect that you are not familiar with the Cpyright Act, which requires legal tender for a title transfer, not an in-kind service such as “exposure,” or you would have known that alredy.

      My guess is that this “contract” would not survive a trial, the rights would be established as the writer’s, and CNN would have to renegoiciate, but that would only be after the writer has spent thousands on attorney’s feeds that he/she would portably not get re-embursed for. So, ironically, you are right about the writer getting royalties, but for a different reason than you state in your analysis.

  29. Wondering if you meant “attorney feeds” or “attorney fees”. Works either way.
    “Thousands” is conservative, when speaking of litigation against CNN.
    I was just wondering if a case would be couched as a contract case of a copyright infringement case. My guess is that the copyright infringement claim wouldn’t survive (although you might get a judgment declaring you the rightful copyright owner via the contract claim). Big difference between claims though. Even if you are successful in the contract claim, you pay your own attorney fees (i.e., no re-imbursement). If, however, you are successful in the copyright claim, most courts will award you attorney fees. It is a double edged sword. If CNN were successful in defending the copyright infringement claim you might very well find yourself paying their attorney fees. Thousands? Oh yeah.

  30. Granville says:

    If you want the golden eggs, you have to feed the goose.

  31. bigrich says:

    Sometimes we get so enamoured with our music we forget to read between the lines. Thinkng of furthering ones career to make the almighty dollar and the recognition of success puts the legal aspect on the back burner..i learned this the hard way..i am the owner of a recording studio and i know about royalty checks..everybody wants a peice of the action so be very leary of freevor contest without reading the fine print…

  32. Pam says:

    Why did we let a group of lawyers create a language inside the english language that the average person can’t understand? Good people are duped into bad deals everyday because they signed paperwork or web agreements that they didn’t really understand. Only after it is too late do they realize that they were taken advantage of. It’s such a shame, especially when it happens to a musician who has probably spent most of their youth inside their room learning to master their instrument.

  33. Rob says:

    The music business is corrupt, as well as the government, oil companies, banks, schools (Yes…even schools), big businesses, and any other money making corporation. Money rules ALL THE TIME. NO EXEMPTIONS. So, why shouldn’t CNN join the corruption? It’s the American Way. Superman would be ashamed since he is for truth (non-existent in America), justice (if you have enough money and lie well, justice is contrived) and the American Way (meaning, he’ll spend more than he makes and be in debt for the rest of his super life). So..what can be done? Nothing. Just stay honest, stay vigilant and don’t give in to these scams unless you know the rules very well.

  34. reality check says:

    You all have missed the point! You are all soooo wrapped around the axle in the liberal scum-bag world of Hollywood / Music industry / TV industry that you dont get it!!! Most of these folks are NOT waiting for the windfall from their music, as you all are!! They dont make their living with music, as you TRY to!!
    They are the MAJORITY, they, i am sure, have jobs and other ways they are making a living. This is a way to have fun, join a contest and maybe get some recognition doing what they love to do! If they get picked great if not they will get up the next day and move on. You all would call your lawyer and whine you did not get what is owed to you!!! The big bad company that employees thousands did not compensate you! You DESERVE more!! Blaa blaa blaa! Pathetic!!

    • Moses Avalon says:

      Yeah! Leroy has a point. But his hair is covering it.

      I say we help him to see it our way: let’s find out what he does for a living and start a contest that creates competition around his profit center and then offer no compensation for the product– futher reducing his commercial value. He wont complain because we’re just “doing it for fun” and laughs.

      But at whose expense Leroy? At whose expense? Have you forgotten basic social ethics? Do unto others… etc, etc.

  35. reality check says:

    That is funny, ETHICS? Your web site states clearly your mail will not be published but yet you extract my first name from the email and use it? Yet you speak of social ethics?? That is a joke! You exposed your level of ethics… a very low level I might add. In addition you request your readers to somehow figure out how to harm me! NICE, but in complete character with liberal views. Very liberal…as long as I agree with you. See first sentence of my post, thanks for the verification! Moses.

    A simple point, not everything is ominous and evil. I own a pavement maintenance company, bust my ass every day and have companies cutting my prices and paying off folks to get business. In your bubble you are the only one group that deals with stuff on a daily basis?

    • Moses Avalon says:

      I wouldn’t worry too much about getting email from my readers. They are not the type to harass and they understand my sense of humor. Where as clearly you have none.

      I will respect your desire to remove the email’s visibility.

  36. Tom B. says:

    The first thing I did after hearing about the contest was go to the website and read the rules. Which I immediately concluded was probably nothing more than an arrangement between Meade and CNN to promote her personal projects at the expense of artists who may or may not have understood their sacrifice. I believe if this had been a real talent contest and CNN/ Meade had been sincere about promoting the winning artist career, there would have been something more tangible than a wink and a nod for the winning contestant. As savvy as Meade would appear to be about her own image and career, I find it very difficult to believe she was unaware at the blatant disregard to the rights and royalty benefits withheld from the writer by CNN. I get it when it comes to CNN taking advantage, but disappointed in Robin Meade as their accomplice. Having reached this conclusion, as for myself, I don’t believe I will ever see her the same again, no matter how good she looks. CNN, the most trusted name in news. Really?

  37. Charles Volcher says:

    GREAT ARTICLE!!!!!!!!!!!! Moses. It’s like the old saying goes “If it sounds to good to be true it probably is” CNN HLN and Robin Meade Yeager (Thats her full married name) should all be lible for false claims and your right If they wanted a theme song for HLN CNN could have pony up the few thousand to pay for 1

  38. WiFibandit says:

    lets get to the real point she has no talent she talks like a ventrilaquist showing her teeth with out opining her mouth the only place I have seen her music is on hln news to cheap to advratise her self ovecorse if the music suckes why spend any money on advratisement no body listens to her crap that I know of that is why there is a stupid contest for a new theame song she is not talented enough to think of one on her own

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