I know that sometimes you hear the word “lawyer” and it might make you nervous. *Cue the Law & Order theme* That’s why I’m here to share news, tips, and other information to help you navigate the fun and exciting world of entertainment law.
Whether you need an entertainment attorney or just generally curious about a future need for one, you can never be too prepared! This is a short guide to give you a general idea of the services an entertainment lawyer provides and other considerations to keep in mind.
What is an entertainment lawyer?
Simply put, entertainment encompasses a big umbrella. Under the entertainment umbrella is a wide variety of specific categories which relate to entertainment – namely music, film/tv, new media, print, social media, video-on-demand, blogs, podcasts, photography, literary, and theatre. An entertainment lawyer serves creative clients across the industry (actors, writers/directors, producers, musicians, music producers, musical artists, authors, influencers) or professional entertainment entities (management companies, production companies, unions/guilds, licensing companies, studios).
What makes entertainment attorneys unique is that they impart specialized knowledge regarding the intricacies of a complex framework of rights, play a key role in structuring deals, and advise artists and companies on their artistic business endeavors. They can be experts in a particular segment or service a wide range of clientele.
Entertainment lawyers also serve to liaison with other members of the clients’ professional team, such as the managers, agents, business managers, other lawyers, or tax professionals. They are usually in addition to and do not replace these very important members.
What is the difference between entertainment and intellectual property (IP)?
Think of it this way: entertainment is the creation and dissemination of intellectual property.
In a nutshell, Intellectual Property is an exclusive property right that you own which protects the tangible expression of an idea. It is often one of the most valuable things you own. We often think of IP as copyrights, trademarks, patents, right of publicity, trade secrets, among others. Once that IP is created, packaged, delivered, and enjoyed (and hopefully properly protected), then it may become the entertainment you experience and is shared with the rest of the world.
It is important to understand this distinction because the services of an entertainment lawyer overlap with IP law. The IP you create and own is what entertainment lawyers help to protect. There are also IP lawyers who only protect and enforce specific types of IP, such as patent lawyers.
Are there different types of entertainment lawyers?
Why yes, different lawyer strokes for different folks. While entertainment attorneys have expertise in many different areas of the law and specialize in niche areas of the entertainment umbrella, some have specific skills that are better suited for the legal problems a client may have.
The two main types are transactional lawyers and litigation lawyers. A transactional lawyer typically advises on contractual matters. For example, if you have a contract that needs review, have questions about a deal you might be involved in, or seek general legal advice about your career, a transactional attorney is your preferable option.
On the other hand, if you have IP rights you are trying to enforce, someone has infringed on your work, or you have been served with a lawsuit related to an entertainment deal you entered into, a litigation attorney is the better option for you. In the case of enforcing rights or infringing works, you may not need to call on a litigation attorney right away because there may be alternatives to costly litigation. However, if you think you may want to bring, or are a party to, a lawsuit, time is of the essence, so be sure to reach out to an attorney sooner rather than later in these cases.
Some lawyers and law firms, while rare, are able to do both or advise you on the process you may need. The particulars of a client’s situation are unique and it’s hard to generalize as to what type of attorney you may need without reviewing the specific facts of a case first. When in doubt, reach out (to a lawyer, that is)!
What kind of matters do entertainment lawyers handle?
As we discussed above, some lawyers specialize in one subset of the industry umbrella, while others can handle a wide variety of matters. Here’s a brief breakdown of what entertainment lawyers help with:
- Drafting and negotiating entertainment-related contracts, agreements, licenses, offers to purchase IP between different parties;
- Protecting IP or defending IP like movie and tv scripts, original musical compositions, trademark brand names/logos, and other copyrighted works;
- Representing parties in pending or future litigation cases (see previous section here for the full discussion);
- Advising clients on rights, obligations, or ownership splits as they relate to IP or entertainment deals;
- Managing liability and risk for past, present, and future IP or entertainment issues.
Do I need a lawyer now or can I wait?
People often wait to retain the services of an entertainment lawyer, either because a) they don’t think they need one, b) don’t think they can afford one, c) don’t know where to go after the deal has gone south or d) all of the above. Not having an entertainment lawyer from the outset can quickly become a costly mistake. (If you can’t wait for the cost discussion, click here)
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Here’s a few questions to ask yourself:
- Are you about to sign an entertainment deal? You DEFINTELY need an entertainment lawyer ASAP!
- Has someone stolen your work or IP and you want to sue them? You DEFINTELY need an entertainment lawyer and FAST! There can be important deadlines you CANNOT miss to enforce your rights.
- Are you being sued for an agreement you entered or something you created? SEE #2! Don’t wait! If you miss your deadline to respond, it can lead to larger troubles!
- Do you want to make an offer to other companies/talent for their services? You can agree to the major deal points with the other party directly, but you should have a lawyer draft the formal agreement and negotiate any finer deal points or answer your questions about the agreed terms.
- Want to know your rights that you have in a contract/agreement that already exists? The urgency may not be overwhelming if you’re performing under the contract with no issues. However, there may be deal points or language you don’t understand or you don’t know for how long the contract is in effect, in which case it is prudent to contact a lawyer before the need arises.
- Do you need general advice and guidance about your present or future entertainment career? It may be best to consult with a manager or agent that specializes in the services you seek. They can also recommend a good attorney they already work with to answer the legal points.
Whether you have an immediate need for an entertainment lawyer can depend on where you are in your career, what is being presented to you, and how you want to proceed. If there is a contract or offer on the table, then consider it the most crucial time to secure services of a knowledgeable lawyer. Lawyers play a big role in helping the transaction go smoothly and avoiding liability down the road.
Can I afford an entertainment lawyer?
That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
There are different ways of pricing when it comes to legal services, but generally speaking, there are a few main types of billing arrangements:
- Hourly Fee
- Fixed Fee or Flat Rate
- Contingency Fee
It’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to pricing structure of entertainment lawyers because every lawyer bills their services differently. This may be due to unanticipated time costs. It could also be because a matter may appear easy at first glance but quickly becomes complex. Rates can also fluctuate depending on the scope of the project and the services performed.
Hourly: Some attorneys charge an hourly rate, meaning one set dollar amount per hour for however many hours a matter might take. These vary by lawyer. Lawyers can and should give you a fair estimate of the number of hours a matter might take to avoid any surprise expenses later.
Fixed/Flat Rate: This is a flat price, paid up front or after completion, for the service you request. This is often used in transactional deals when a lawyer is asked to draft an agreement between parties or a template is created.
Contingency: This is a percentage fee, usually with no up-front payment, and is based on the value of a future settlement or litigation award collected. This is most often used in litigation cases where the time and costs are unable to be estimated at the offset.
Percentage: These fees are a little different in that these can be based on the final value of the finished deal. This is popular in music and tv/film deals, where the standard lawyer percentage is 5% to 10% and is collected at the end of the deal.
Retainers: Some attorneys charge a “retainer” which is essentially a set monthly fee to which you have full access to a lawyer’s services or a large upfront fee from which the costs of services are drawn down. This can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. If the lawyer is retained for complex transactions or litigation services, the retainer will likely be in the higher end of that range.
Hybrid: Lawyers can do a combination of the above. It never hurts to ask your lawyer if a certain pricing structure meets your budget better.
Lawyers should be very clear with their pricing structure up front, provide an executed fee agreement, and answer your questions thoroughly to avoid any confusion down the road. A few hundred dollars at the outset can potentially save thousands in costs to fix a deal gone wrong later. It just makes sense and cents!
How can I find an entertainment lawyer?
Reach out to your network to get referrals for entertainment lawyers. Reputation is everything in the entertainment industry, so ask around for someone in your network who is trusted and has great reviews from clients. Their experience, relationships, demeanor, and knowledge are all key things to look for when establishing a relationship with a lawyer.
What if I have more questions about the process or about you?
I thought you’d never ask! Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you think you might need a lawyer or if you would like assistance with any entertainment transactional matters. I provide a free consultation to discuss your needs. Email me at email@example.com or see my full contact information here.
Disclaimer: This is an informational post only and should not be misconstrued as legal advice. An attorney-client relationship is not established until a signed agreement is made detailing the nature and scope of legal services. This website and blog is considered attorney advertising. Law Office of Melanie Rodriguez, Esq. is licensed in California.