The entertainers and superstars whom we love to watch on television and the big screen often have a team of lawyers behind the scenes negotiating deals and resolving disputes. Due to its dynamic nature, entertainment law encompasses a wide variety of legal fields, including intellectual property, copyright, international law, and employment law. Although most of entertainment law consists of transactions, there are many legal disputes that arise over the terms of these agreements and the royalties to which an individual may or may not be entitled. Many entertainment lawyers take on multiple rules, serving as legal counsel, talent management, and confidants to stars and entertainers. As a result of their close proximity to celebrities’ private lives and daily happenings, many entertainment lawyers are required to sign nondisclosure agreements. These agreements prevent the lawyer from sharing any of the celebrity’s private information, including photographs and video footage, with the media or general public.
Entertainment law can be divided into a number of categories. For example, the music industry frequently uses talent agreements to retain musicians and composers and to ensure that they will not sell or distribute their talents to another agency or company. The rise of the Internet era has created a host of problems for record companies, which struggle to compete with the increasing rate at which music is distributed online free of charge—with or without the artists’ consent. Music labels frequently bring lawsuits against websites that illegally pirate and redistribute music and other media.
Publishing and print media issues typically involve disputes with advertising agencies, models, authors, and general intellectual property disputes. Advertisers pay magazines sizeable sums of money in order to have their products or services featured in their pages. If the magazine fails to uphold its end of the bargain by failing to run the ad campaign for the agreed upon number of issues, the advertising agency can sue the magazine for breach of contract. Plagiarism is all too frequent in the literary world, and many authors are forced to bring lawsuits to stop a plagiarist from continuing to claim the author’s work as their own.
Visual arts and theater companies encounter a wide variety of legal disputes, including disagreements over the leasing of theater space. Movie production companies and theater production companies sometimes employ thousands of individuals throughout the course of the development and production of a single movie or play. Naturally, this creates boundless opportunities for labor and employment disputes to arise. Many workers in the entertainment industry have created unions or guilds to promote fair wages and workplace conditions.
A popular legal theory of recovery available to public figures is known as the right of publicity, or personality rights. The right of publicity provides an individual with the right to control the commercial use of his or her image, likeness, name, or other characterization of his or her identity. Some companies advertising campaigns teeter dangerously close to using images and likenesses that resemble popular celebrities without first obtaining the celebrities’ authorization and approval. Since it is considered a property right and not a personal right that attaches with the individual, the right of publicity sometimes can survive an entertainer’s death and allow his or her heirs to bring a lawsuit seeking compensation for the unauthorized usage of the decedent’s likeness for a commercial purpose.
How do talent agents get paid? Talent agents usually receive a commission, which is a percentage of the fee received by a client for a project. Sometimes they may receive a package fee if they are representing multiple entertainers in the same project.
How much control does a producer hold over a film? A producer often can choose the director, lead actors, and other important people in the production, and they may require their approval for substantial changes to the script. A producer also will set the budget and provide deadlines for certain stages of the project. They will hold the copyright once the film is eventually created.
Is piracy a victimless crime? No, piracy is not a victimless crime. Musicians may suffer significant financial losses and reputational harm, businesses selling music or films may struggle to compete with pirated copies, and consumers suffer as record companies and other entities raise prices for access to copyrighted works to offset losses caused by piracy.
Can a video game company collect my personal information? Yes, a video game company generally can collect your personal information, but it must adhere to any applicable privacy laws. Players usually have a right to know which information is collected and the purposes for which it is used. A video game company must protect personal information from data breaches and respond promptly to any breach.
Publicity Rights Celebrities and even ordinary people generally have a right to control the commercial use of aspects of their identity, such as their name and likeness, and this right may extend beyond death.
Talent Representation Agreements When an entertainer hires an agent or manager to represent them, they usually must sign an agreement that defines the services provided by the agent or manager and the compensation structure.
Film Production Services Agreements A producer can outline their goals for what will happen before, during, and after filming a movie or TV show, and the production company will use its specialized expertise to execute them.
Divorce and Family Law Issues for Entertainers Challenges may arise in allocating complex or intangible assets, calculating income for spousal or child support, or devising a child custody arrangement that accounts for long periods of travel.
Immigration for Entertainers A foreign national entertainer might pursue an O visa or a P visa, depending on their situation, or they might seek a B-1 or B-2 visa, which is a more efficient process but confers fewer benefits.