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How Entertainment Lawyers Work


Specializations of Entertainment Lawyers
Attorneys often negotiate contracts for actors. Here Monica Rosenthal, left, attorney Patti Felker, center, and producer Phil Rosenthal, right, chat.
Attorneys often negotiate contracts for actors. Here Monica Rosenthal, left, attorney Patti Felker, center, and producer Phil Rosenthal, right, chat.
© Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Subtleties among the various entertainment arts call for specialization, as do the client's specific legal needs. If your band is signing its first recording contract, for example, you want an entertainment lawyer who focuses on the music industry and contracts, not a film or publishing expert. If someone has lifted some of your song lyrics, you want an entertainment lawyer with expertise in both music law and intellectual property -- and you may even need a litigator who can take the music thief to court.

One way of looking at the specialties of entertainment lawyers is to take a by-industry approach. Here are some of the areas lawyers may handle for each industry:

  • Film -- Contracts with stars and other talent, labor negotiations with various union crews and employees, financial backing arrangements, distribution agreements, equipment and space rental, production liability issues, merchandising and product placement, and copyright and trademark issues.
  • Theater -- Contracts with talent and crew, rental and co-production agreements, producer agreements, production liability issues, ticket sale agreements, and copyright and trademark issues.
  • Music -- Contracts with record labels, managers, agents, concert promoters and concert producers; tour crew agreements and equipment rentals; recording studio rentals; music licensing and royalty agreements; and copyright issues.
  • TV/Radio -- Contacts with talent and crew, production studio and network agreements, distribution agreements, broadcast licensing and regulatory issues.
  • Digital -- Space and equipment costs, employee contracts, talent agreements, music and image use agreements, licensing arrangements, and copyright issues.
  • Publishing -- Production contracts, author agreements, advertising and marketing agreements, and copyright and trademark issues.

Another way of splitting up the specialties to look at the type of law being practiced. Attorneys divide the practice of entertainment law into two basic categories: transaction-based and litigation-based. Transaction-based focuses on drafting and negotiating entertainment contracts, while litigation-based means resolving disputes by filing a lawsuit or though mediation or arbitration.

More specifically, an entertainment lawyer can focus on any or several of many practice areas: intellectual property, corporate law, labor law, arbitration and alternative dispute resolution, litigation, estate planning, real estate, criminal law, international law, matrimonial law, taxation and immigration.

Larger entertainment law firms are likely to offer a wide variety of these specialties. Smaller firms may be more focused on a specific area, such as writing and negotiating contracts. Litigation is often handled by a separate, specialized law firm.

Perhaps your biggest concern is finding the right entertainment attorney to help you with your needs, such as negotiating a contract with a record label. Keep reading to find out how to choose an entertainment lawyer.