Imagine yourself a recording artist just signed to a contract with one of Sony Music's record labels. You put out a couple of albums and start a website using your own name (say, for example, www.bobdylan.com). But the music wind starts blowing in a different direction, your contract comes up for renewal, and, either through your manager's insistence or that of one of Sony's big cheeses, you decide to leave the label and sign with someone else.

There's just one problem: Your contract says you can't take your website with you. Sony owns it for the rest of your life (and, probably, beyond).

According to a story first uncovered by CNET last week, this little detail is buried in the small print of Sony's recently revised agreements: "Sony and its licensees shall have the exclusive right, throughout the world, and shall have the exclusive right to authorize other persons, to create, maintain, and host any and all Web sites relating to the artist and to register and use the name '[artist name].com' and any variations thereof which embody the artist's name as Uniform Resource Locators (or 'URLs'), addresses, or domain names for each Web site created by Sony in respect of the artist." And then the kicker: "All such Web sites and all rights thereto and derived therefrom shall be Sony's property throughout the territory and in perpetuity."

The wording indicates that any other version of, for example, www.bobdylan.com, such as www.dylanbob.com, would also belong to Sony.

In a time when the website is becoming increasingly important as a marketing tool, community "well," and PR outlet for artists, some see this new deal as striking at a musician's ability to sustain a successful career without Sony's support. Artist Manager John Parres, who works with Artists Management Group, says that "The URL encompasses everything related to an artist's career. It is the key to everything. To make that a condition of the contract is way beyond the scope of the contract. The URL is the relationship between the artist and the fan."

Sony, for its part, refuses to comment on the new contract clause, but has obviously seen that the Internet will likely become a major factor in supporting its music business. Whether other labels will follow suit, and whether the musicians and their lawyers will allow the loss of domain-name rights, remains to be seen. For his part, entertainment attorney Scott Harrington sides squarely with the artists. He sums up: "I don't think they have any more right to this than they have over the publishing or the merchandise or anything else that isn't their business."