What is Entertainment Law?
Entertainment law involves the application of contract, employment, and intellectual property law principles to the interactions that occur between members of the entertainment industry. Attorneys who practice in this area of the law are typically engaged in one of two activities. Either they are hired to structure deals in way that provides the most benefit to their clients, or they are hired to protect the interests of their clients when deals go bad. Individuals who claim proprietary rights to motion pictures, television programs, music, and other forms of entertainment can also require assistance from an attorney in order to protect their rights from infringement.
Legal issues can arise at any stage in the creation of original works of entertainment. During the production stage, formal contracts are needed to set forth the respective rights of the parties involved in the project. For example, an actor playing a part in a commercial will be asked to sign a talent release. This document is a legally enforceable agreement whereby the actor gives the producer the right to use his or her name, likeness, voice, and performance in exchange for financial compensation. The terms of these and other production agreements must be negotiated by the parties and reviewed to ensure they comply with the law.
During the licensing and distribution stage, any number of legal issues can arise in the dealings between the owners of a work of entertainment and those who will be disseminating it to the public. For example, someone who holds the copyright to a popular song may enter into a royalty agreement with a radio station. Each time the radio station plays the song, the copyright holder receives a royalty payment. Similar agreements are necessary when protected works are distributed through other mediums, such as the internet. Entertainment law governs these kinds of transactions and offers protection against piracy and unauthorized use.
Transactional Services for the Entertainment Industry
Standardized form contracts work just fine in some areas of the law. For instance, a landlord who wants to rent an apartment can often obtain a model lease agreement, make a few minor adjustments, and use the form with any potential tenant. This does not work in the field of entertainment law. Every performer, agent, manager, record company, publishing house, movie studio, or other party to an entertainment contract brings a unique set of attributes to the deal. Attempting to use a one-size-fits-all contract can sabotage an otherwise promising collaboration, before the project even gets off of the ground.
Transactional entertainment law attorneys are not courtroom litigators. Rather, they specialize in drafting contracts that accurately reflect the expectations of the parties and comply with the nuances of the law in that jurisdiction. This does not mean they ignore what is happening in the world of entertainment law litigation. In fact, transactional attorneys pay close attention to how judges decide new cases, and they use this information to craft agreements that avoid issues that can lead to expensive and time-consuming lawsuits. For this reason, consulting an entertainment law attorney at the outset of a project usually proves to be a wise investment.
Efficient Resolution of Contract Disputes
When contention arises over the terms of an entertainment law contract, there is no reason for the parties involved to head straight to court. Informal negotiations between the parties to a dispute may be able to produce a solution that saves everyone a great deal of trouble and expense. Retaining an established attorney who is familiar with the major players in the industry can go a long way toward achieving a compromise. Arbitration, mediation, and other types of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) may also be appropriate.
When Negotiation Fails - Litigating an Entertainment Law Case
There comes a point in an entertainment law dispute when negotiation and compromise are no longer plausible, at least not without a credible threat of taking the matter to trial. When the actions of another party have caused serious or irreparable harm, filing a lawsuit may be the only way to obtain compensation. Juries are remarkably adept at determining who is to blame, and they will not hesitate to award damages to the party who was wronged. Of course, the chances of success at trial will depend to a large degree upon the skill of the lawyer arguing the case.
Presenting an entertainment law case to a judge or jury requires a special kind of advocate. To litigate successfully, an attorney must have a strong understanding of the applicable legal rules, a firsthand knowledge of the entertainment industry, and a courtroom manner that exudes credibility and poise. Fortunately, entertainment law is a niche practice and it is not difficult to identify the most qualified practitioners. Look for an attorney with a track record of satisfied clients and success in the courtroom.
Seeking Legal Advice from a Professional
If you need assistance with the legal aspects of an entertainment deal, or if you are facing the prospect of a lawsuit, there may be more at stake than just money. Your reputation and career may be in jeopardy as well. Contact an entertainment law attorney today to discuss your case.