Renting Musical Instruments via Sparkplug: 5 Sound Legal Tips - Free Enterprise
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Renting Musical Instruments via Sparkplug: 5 Sound Legal Tips

The Internet's sharing economy -- fueled by breakthrough startups like Airbnb and Uber -- has made its way into a somewhat unlikely new area: musical instruments.

A new service called Sparkplug allows musicians with musical instruments, gear, or practice spaces that aren't being used to rent it out to other musicians who may need it. Unlike Craigslist, eBay, or other sites where users can buy and sell musical gear, Sparkplug allows musicians with valuable equipment to generate income during downtime without having to part ways with a prized musical instrument or hard-to-find amplifier.

Sound like something you'd be interested in? Here are five legal tips for using this new musical sharing service:

  1. Sparkplug is just the middle man and disclaims any liability. As founder Jennifer Newman Sharpe told Paste, Sparkplug functions as an intermediary between the owner of the gear being rented, taking deposits and processing payments. This means, however, that the site disclaims any liability resulting from the transactions, as stated in the site's terms of service. So if you rent an amp that catches your house on fire, you'll have to take it up with the other party.
  2. Don't list anything worth more than $5,000. According to Sparkplug's FAQs, the site does take security deposits from renters to cover the replacement value of the item listed -- but only up to $5,000. Anything beyond that, and you're likely on your own.
  3. Trust your gut. According to the site, you are free to refuse requests to rent your instruments, gear, or practice space. Other sharing services, such as ride-sharing app Uber, have been criticized for facilitating criminal behavior, so it goes without saying that there are likely to be some bad apples taking advantage of unsuspecting gear owners. Sparkplug allows you to trade messages with prospective renters before approving the request, and declining requests will not affect your ability to continue listing on the site. However, the site does have a cancellation policy that may penalize you for backing out of a confirmed transaction.
  4. Be quick to address any problems. Be sure to double-check any rented equipment as soon as you get it; you only have 24 hours from the time your rental starts to make a claim for a refund. Likewise, any damage claims by owners against the renter's security deposit must be made within 24 hours of the end of the rental, or the renter will be refunded his or her full deposit.
  5. Be careful whom you let into your home. Once a transaction is confirmed, the renter and the owner make arrangements to meet up. But if Craigslist has proven anything, it's that you never want to assume the person answering your online ad isn't a potential criminal. If possible, meet in a public place outside of your own home. If you're a renter, ask a friend to come with you.

Although initially focused on New York City, Sparkplug is actively expanding its service to every major U.S. market. That's probably music to the ears of many starving artists.

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