What does an entertainment lawyer actually do? An entertainment lawyer handles a range of transactional deals for his client which can sometimes lead to litigation. An entertainment lawyer understands all aspects of the business from production until distribution.
Producing a record, film, or TV show involves numerous people with individual intellectual property rights, and for this reason, several contracts are needed to protect each person’s own interests and avoid potential disputes.
Clients of an entertainment lawyer include artists, producers, songwriters, actors, recording labels, managers, motion picture studios, distributors, cable, and broadcast TV networks.
Production, Licensing, And Distribution
A film or show begins with an investor or producer who has rights to a screenplay and would like to have it produced without going through the inconvenience of production. Sometimes, when the budget is too big, this investor collaborates with other investors in a co-producer contract, and they then form a limited liability company for the sole purpose of producing, licensing, and distributing the film or show.
The investor or producer would enter into a Production Services Agreement with a production services company to produce the screenplay under a given budget, with the investor/producer retaining full intellectual property rights (including distribution) and the right to designate and/or approve certain elements of the production, such as the director, writer, editor, lead cast members, and changes to screenplay.
The production services company, in turn, enters into a series of contracts with all the other parties involved in producing the movie or show. These include acquisition agreements to acquire actors, directors, performing artists, line choreographers, art directors, costume designers, and recording artists. In these acquisition agreements, the artists give up certain intellectual property rights to the production services company, which the production services company transfers to the investor/producer.
Problems normally arise in these production services agreements when the company fails to obtain the proper contracts from the artists that would transfer the required intellectual property rights to the investor/producer, leading to issues on chain-of-title. Other problems relate to going over-budget and payroll problems, which lead to suits by the union of the cast, crew, and other participants against either the production services company or the investor/producer, whoever is the easier target.
Once production is completed, the investor or producer enters into licensing agreements to third parties to display the movie. These include movie licenses, character licenses, images licenses, license to merchandise, and license to remake. Distribution agreements are also executed during the post-production phase for film distribution, foreign distribution, film distribution on TV, film distribution on the internet, exhibition agreement in cinema.
What an entertainment lawyer can do is oversee all aspects of drafting these contracts from production to distribution in order to fully protect his client.
Actor an Performer Contracts
The actor contract is one of the most important contracts in the movie or show production process that an entertainment lawyer should negotiate.
Important provisions to look out for are the employment term, work hours and days, compensation, exclusivity, the right to the actor’s image and likeness for promotional or merchandising purposes, and appearance for promotion and publicity services.
Negotiating points normally relate to compensation, whether it be flat rate, hourly, per performance, or percentage of proceeds. For the transfer of intellectual property rights of the actor’s image and likeness, the actor most likely should consent to appearing in the production.
However, he may have leverage in the use of his image for merchandising purposes (which could include T-shirts, posters, action figures, books, etc.), and request for compensation equivalent to a percentage of the sale proceeds.
Recording Artist Contracts
The contract of a recording artist with his record label is very important. Just look at what happened to Taylor Swift and her previous label regarding her earlier works.
Salient points in this contract that an entertainment lawyer should look out for relate to ownership of the songs, term of the contract, advance payments, royalties, and creative control. Budding recording artists are sometimes excited to just have an offer on the table, but it is always wise to have an entertainment lawyer review the contract before signing.
A common part of this contract is an advance payment made to the recording artist. However, this advance payment appears to be a debt because it is repayable once the recording is released.
What an entertainment lawyer will do is negotiate to make this “recoupable” instead, which means the record label gets the advance back after the recording artist begins earning royalties. The royalty provision is very important because it relates to the compensation of the recording artist.
The key points to look out for are the percentage of sales the artist will receive and any reductions in the way the royalties are computed. An lawyer will be crucial in negotiating these provisions.
The management contract is an agreement between an artist and his manager. Normally, the term is between three to four years, but from the perspective of an artist, it’s always better to have a shorter team, so he can change managers in case he is unhappy. The important provisions in the management contract are authority, commissions, and collection of money.
Managers normally ask for 20% of the artist’s gross earnings, but what an entertainment lawyer can do is negotiate, define, and limit gross earnings to a particular industry. It should not include the artist’s earnings from the stock market or passive investments and should exclude non-industry income (i.e., music earnings vs. film earnings). Sometimes, managers ask unsuspecting artists to sign a power of lawyer in their favor, authorizing the manager to sign contracts on behalf of the artist. An entertainment lawyer will likely advise an artist against signing documents like these.
Lastly, collection of money can be an issue between artists and their managers, because the manager wants to make sure he is paid. For this reason, the entertainment lawyer should be clear in drafting the management contract to include a procedure for collection (i.e., placing the gross earnings in a joint bank account, with audit rights for each party, and the agreement to maintain true and complete books and records of income).
An entertainment lawyers is prepared to go into litigation, especially when it comes to protecting their clients’ intellectual property rights. But mostly, the work of an entertainment lawyer is transactional with the many types of contracts involved in the creation, production, licensing, and distribution process.
If you are looking for an entertainment lawyer, consider what the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin can do for your needs. We can be reached at 212-233-1233 or 718-509-9774.