December 14, 2010

What Is Entertainment Law Anyway?

Whenever I tell someone outside of the music or law world that I'm going into music law, they always smile and say, "That's great!" And then they ask what it means. So here's a quick primer on what music lawyers actually do.

There are two basic areas that entertainment lawyers practice in: litigation and transactional law. A lawyer will generally specialize in one or the other.

A litigation lawyer is a trial lawyer. These are your Atticus Finches and your Cousin Vinnys. He drafts complaints, engages in discovery (which is basically evidence collection), conducts depositions, makes motions, and argues in front of a judge and/or jury. When you watch courtroom dramas this all looks very glamorous. In reality, it's often not. The discovery process can take years, and there's always the chance of the parties settling before you even make it to court. Getting to argue in front of the United States Supreme Court is like winning the lottery. But you will eventually have your day in court, and you will get to write a lot of threatening letters in the meantime.
The types of disputes that entertainment lawyers generally handle include copyright infringement, trademark infringement and dilution, unfair competition, right of publicity, defamation, breach of contract, and various other disputes that can arise from contracts.

A transactional lawyer takes care of drafting and negotiating contracts and other legal paperwork. Her goal is to negotiate contracts so that her clients get the best deal possible. She also strives to make the contract specific enough and address enough possible situations so that it never has to be litigated over for lack of clarity.
For entertainment lawyers, these contracts may include record label agreements, licensing agreements, endorsement agreements, live performance agreements, contracts with an artist's team members (like the manager) and agreements between band members, such as a partnership agreement. She may also be involved in the registration of trademarks and copyrights, setting up business entities, and counseling on any other legal issues that may come up (such as a website privacy policy, proper contest rules, or clearing samples used in a song).

There are of course other sectors of entertainment law outside of music (film, theater, television, visual art, publishing, multimedia) and other areas of the law that an entertainment lawyer may end up working in (employment, labor, trusts, bankruptcy, immigration, international), but the real meat and potatoes of what entertainment lawyers do is contracts, trademarks, and copyrights. Outside of his or her legal duties, an entertainment lawyer may also shop demos to record labels or introduce clients to useful contacts in the industry.

Twitter: @Musicn3rd
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