Music is ubiquitous. It’s on the radio, on tv and in the movies, in elevators, in department stores, at concerts, online, and so forth. While the world would not be the same without the artistic talents of musicians, they would hardly be where they are today without people who have dedicated themselves to entertainment law. There are many routes an entertainment lawyer can take, from publishing, film and music, television, to advertising and much more. For a working musician, the business end can be a complicated world of legal contracts, royalties, licenses and intellectual property conflicts. Having a competent, savvy entertainment lawyer on your side is a great way to ensure rights and interests are and remain protected.
Vital members of the entertainment industry, entertainment lawyers focus on all media. While a lot of what they do consists of drafting and negotiating licensing, recording, publishing and other types of contracts, they are sometimes involved in arbitration and litigation issues. Some attorneys have experience in related fields such as intellectual property, bankruptcy, finance or even constitutional law with regard to First Amendment protection of free speech, which can be extremely helpful.
Anyone who produces intellectual property – essentially intangible products such as a song, book, essay, design concept, etc. – stands to benefit from the services of an entertainment lawyer. Before the Internet, trademark, copyright and intellectual property law was far less complicated. With the advent of the Internet and its vast reach, skilled entertainment attorneys are in high demand.
How a musician gets paid for their work has become very intricate. To illustrate one example, imagine a song written by an artist/performer. Now, after recording that song, two copyrights are created. The first is for the song itself, and the second is for the recording of the song. For musicians working with a record label, that label typically owns the sound recording copyright, and musician owns the right to the song. Without an attorney, it is quite easy for a musician (who may not be knowledgeable about the legal end of the business) to be exploited by a record company. A lawyer helps manage the details, ensuring that the artist makes a fair share of revenue from sales of that record, live performances, sheet music sales and the third-party licensing of a song to be used in a TV show, commercial or movie, etc.
And that’s just one aspect of their job. Attorneys help musicians negotiate record contracts, distribution deals and all types of licenses. If there is a breach of contract or an unauthorized use of a musician’s intellectual property, litigation (or at least the threat of it) may be in order.
Depending on the musician and the value of their product, millions of dollars can be earned. Album sales, downloads, merchandising, song licensing, performances – all of these are prospective moneymakers. Poorly written contracts can lead to a major loss of revenue for musicians, so it is in their interest to be represented by a professional, knowledgeable lawyer.
As with any lawyer, reputation and experience are important traits. Musicians should hire an attorney who not only specializes in entertainment law, but who has direct experience writing and negotiating recording and performance contracts, and ensuring music licensing deals are the most beneficial for the client, and who knows how to wield the power of the law in the event of copyright infringement.