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Media, Entertainment, Sports

Sports, media and entertainment law covers a wide range of traditional legal disciplines, including intellectual property laws; telecommunications and Internet law; First Amendment rights; and legal issues regarding the news media and the entertainment and sports industries. Students interested in this area should consider obtaining a solid grounding not only in business law and intellectual property law (especially copyright and trademark) but also in some of the business issues affecting the industries involved in creative and artistic work, such as the motion picture, television and music industries.

The world of media and entertainment continues to grow and evolve, and offers exciting and sophisticated legal and business challenges. The entertainment law field spans different areas, including movies, television, book publishing, multimedia, and music. Increasingly, attorneys specialize in one or more of these fields. [...]

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Sports, media and entertainment law covers a wide range of traditional legal disciplines, including intellectual property laws; telecommunications and Internet law; First Amendment rights; and legal issues regarding the news media and the entertainment and sports industries. Students interested in this area should consider obtaining a solid grounding not only in business law and intellectual property law (especially copyright and trademark) but also in some of the business issues affecting the industries involved in creative and artistic work, such as the motion picture, television and music industries.

The world of media and entertainment continues to grow and evolve, and offers exciting and sophisticated legal and business challenges. The entertainment law field spans different areas, including movies, television, book publishing, multimedia, and music. Increasingly, attorneys specialize in one or more of these fields. Most entertainment lawyers are located in New York or Los Angeles. They may work in large firms or in small boutiques or solo practices. The majority of work in film and television is done in Los Angeles, whereas New York tends to be the center of financing activity for the movies, as well as the center of work related to the theatre. A few other cities have drawn an “entertainment law” practice. For example, those who specialize in music might reside in Nashville, and those who are in multimedia might reside in Seattle or the Silicon Valley.

Entertainment and media clients can include large corporate entities, as well as individual talent and content creators of all types. Career opportunities for entertainment lawyers can therefore exist “in–house” with many types of employers, such as publishing houses, recording studios, motion picture companies, TV studios and cable networks, telephone companies and software developers. Media and entertainment lawyers may also represent recording artists, composers, authors, directors, songwriters, actors, designers, executives, real estate developers, hotel franchises, museums, educational institutions and all other businesses in the communications, media, entertainment, merchandising and retail industries.

Media and entertainment lawyers perform a variety of services, including the opportunity to:

• Negotiate talent agreements for movie and TV stars.

• Structure agreements for executive producer, producers, show runners and staff members for motion pictures and television.

• Advise and represent clients in rights pertaining to literary, format, and all other forms of rights acquisitions and licenses connected to all media.

• Negotiate employment agreements for entertainment industry executives, talent agents and managers.

• Represent composers and music libraries in acquisitions, licenses and general legal concerns.

• Negotiate and draft agreements for licensing, recording, distribution and merchandising for music performers, composers and labels.

• Counsel on online digital components of celebrity television network deals.

• Advise on online and digital components of multiplatform television production/exhibition agreements.

• Represent clients in cybersquatting protection issues and claims.

There is a frequent cross-over between entertainment litigation and transactional work because threatened or pending litigation in the entertainment industry is often resolved by entering into a new business deal. Clients in the industry tend to look to their lawyers to help them with everything from soup to nuts. If you are representing talent, the clients tend to see you as their personal lawyer and they come to you with all of their problems -- contract issues, media problems, stalkers, criminal issues, neighbor problems, profit participation issues, manager or agent problems, and so forth. “Entertainment law,” therefore, is typically a combination of various legal disciplines (contracts, torts, intellectual property) applied to a rather complex and insular industry.

A major trend which has been creating disruption in the entertainment world, both intellectually and financially, for the past 15 years is the digitization of intellectual property. Digitization has raised a number of fascinating and complex legal issues, including piracy, ownership and distribution rights, and the application of international law to a variety of disputes. Digitization has changed both the legal rules and the business and financial landscape in the entertainment industry. These changes have been happening both fast and incrementally, which has kept the industry in a continual state of turmoil and adjustment for some time.

Key skills and characteristics for a successful entertainment law practice are:

• Creative lawyering: Think outside the box. If a case appears to tell you "no," you need to examine it from a different perspective to see if you can find a "yes" answer for your client. Finding creative solutions to the most complex problems is what separates the great lawyers from the good lawyers.

• Problem solving: While law school teaches you to "spot" the problems in any fact scenario, the most important skill you have as a lawyer is to figure out how to solve the problem you spot. As an associate, don't simply list a series of problems for the partner -- list potential solutions for each problem as well.

• Good judgment: No one can teach you that, but it is a critical skill you must have to succeed in the realm of entertainment. For example, you need to develop a sense of when to be aggressive and when to give on a point to close the deal. You also need to have relatively good social skills because in an entertainment practice you spend more time socializing than you do in other practice areas (antitrust, for example).

• Good analytical and investigative skills: Because many entertainment clients don't have significant business or legal skills, it is particularly important for you as the entertainment lawyer to quickly analyze a given fact scenario (which may not be presented to you in the most logical, business-like format), spot the glaring problems and investigate those issues that indicate a problem which may be lurking beneath the surface.

• Good writing skills (especially for entertainment litigation): Clear, concise, persuasive brief writing is critical. On the transactional side, it is important to draft clear provisions -- it makes the litigator's job much easier when disputes arise later.

• Working knowledge of financial and accounting skills: One of the most important elements of an entertainment practice, whether transactional or litigation, is to have a firm grasp on participation accounting issues. This is true whether you are on the studio side or the talent side. So do not leave law school without taking an accounting class or two.

• Dedication: Entertainment law is one of the smallest cliques in the legal market, and many lawyers want to break into this club. It is not easy to break in. Both talent and studio can pretty much have their pick of the best legal talent. Even more than in a normal commercial legal practice, entertainment clients expect their lawyers to be 24/7. Especially with talent clients, when they have a problem, it is all-consuming. They are not used to "normal" business hours and will not take kindly to being told to call back on Monday morning at 9 am. This aspect of an entertainment practice has only gotten worse with cell phones and email. Clients not only expect complete dedication, but they expect to be able to reach you at any time of the day or night.

• Need to be a self starter: This characteristic goes hand in hand with problem solving. Many clients in the entertainment industry are not very business savvy. They don't want a "nay-sayer" and often don't themselves know how to overcome whatever business or legal issues face them. Instead of waiting for someone else to tell you what to do and how to do it, you need to figure it out yourself and come to the partner or client with several options.

Entertainment litigation is also a thriving practice. Examples in the film industry include conflicts over initial rights acquisitions, the engagement of talent, motion picture production, exploitation and distribution, copyright and trademark disputes, editing rights, right to final cut and writer’s credits. In the television industry an entertainment litigator may handle disputes between actors, production companies and broadcast and cable networks. With respect to the music industry, matters may include representing performers, composers and songwriters, music publishers and record labels in copyright, royalty and other litigation arising out of the exploitation of sound recordings and musical compositions.

Media law practitioners generally have a First Amendment practice and represent publishers, broadcasters, media trade associations, as well as national media. They may provide prepublication review, libel and privacy advice, protection of newsgathering and editorial processes and related services for a range of clients. Some may have a specialized media law litigation practice and may represent international, national, and local publishers, broadcasters, online content providers, reporters, authors, businesses in a variety of disputes involving how information is collected, disseminated and used. Examples include defense against defamation, invasion of privacy, and related claims, prosecuting public records litigation under the Freedom of Information Act and responding to civil, criminal, and grand-jury subpoenas seeking testimony from reporters.

Sports lawyers represent sports leagues, agents, players, producers, promoters and a variety of other sports-related entities. They may advise buyers and sellers of sports teams, negotiate contractual and IP rights for players, and negotiate stadium and arena leases or development agreements. Sports lawyers need broad interdisciplinary skills to resolve the business issues and disputes that affect clients in these highly competitive entertainment and media markets. A sports law practice group in a firm may include a number of lawyers with experience in sports matters who have different areas of specific expertise: for example, transactional, tax, labor, litigation, antitrust, real estate, bankruptcy, franchise law, IP and new media. They may handle financings and securitizations as well as bankruptcy and insolvency proceedings. In addition to television, cable and radio broadcast agreements; sports lawyers may handle licensing, sponsorship and marketing agreements with a focus on e-commerce over the Internet and broadband networks. Electronic commerce has created a wide range of new legal issues for sports lawyers, such as the relative rights of telecasters and Internet providers, website "linking," and Internet taxation.

Litigation involving sports-related entities and individuals can include a broad spectrum of legal issues, from criminal law to various common law torts that may range from personal injury to injury to the reputation. Sports lawyers may have to defend their clients against U.S. antitrust proceedings or investigations by European domestic regulatory bodies. They may conduct internal investigations for their clients (for example, regarding player misconduct), provide advice with regard to collective bargaining, and handle other labor and employment law matters (for example, sexual and racial discrimination matters, or the application of the disability laws).

 
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