Updated: Aug 21, 2020
The United Kingdom (UK) continues to thrive as a global leader in the entertainment industry. According to a 2017 report from the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport, the UK’s creative industries have smashed through the £100 billion mark, contributing £101.5 billion to the UK economy in 2017, an increase of 53.1% since 2010 (£66.3bn), and accounts for 5.5% of UK Gross Value Added (GVA). Additionally, the creative industry accounts for 9% of all services, 5% of all goods exported from the UK, and one in eleven jobs.
Entertainment law interlinks with various legal fields and covers a variety of areas in the entertainment industry, including film, broadcasting, music, theatre and publishing. Whilst, over the years, the media and entertainment industry has experienced rapid growth and constant evolution, it is also faced with numerous legislative challenges and complexities, requiring a higher demand of legal professionals specialising in or familiar with entertainment law.
However, there are not many lawyers out there in the industry as is the requirement. Many individuals choose to specialise in entertainment law due to its variety and involvement of a range of legal areas. Entertainment lawyers typically counsel clients in company or intellectual property law, including accompanying contracts, copyright, litigation and licensing issues, and sometimes other concerns that pertain to employment, securities, international, taxation, and immigration practice areas.
Within a law firm that specializes in entertainment and media law, the practice itself can be quite varied with clients in all sorts of stages of completion with their projects. Those stages can include: development, production and distribution of entertainment projects. Among the different types of client are performers; their managers and agents; the creators of artistic works; the owners of theatres and festival grounds; broadcasters and publishers, distributors and advertising agencies; and the big brands that employ celebrities to endorse their products.
There are and have been many famous entertainment law cases. However, specifically this year (2019), in the United Kingdom, Cyclone, Stiwt and their respective directors were faced with High Court proceedings, brought by entertainment giants, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, and their music publishing arms, TCF Music Publishing Inc and Fox Film Music Corporation (‘Fox’). This was after Cyclone performed its own version of Fox’s “The Greatest Showman” at the Stiwt theatre last summer. The total ticket sales for the production amounted to around £40,000. Despite this, Fox, represented by the law firm Wiggins LLP, brought proceedings for copyright infringement and breach of contract in the High Court on the basis that damages would exceed £200,000. The defendants, Cyclone, argued that the claim should be transferred as to damages for copyright infringement from the IPEC multi-track to the small claims track. This argument was refused, as it had not been shown that keeping the claim in the multi-track would compromise their access to justice.
Especially following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU), entertainment and media industries will have to follow numerous adjustments towards its operations. As there is a lot of uncertainty, many major entertainment and media companies are seeking or will be seeking advice from lawyers, regarding risk management and compliance with any new legislation following Brexit.
Cross-border licensing arrangements will have to be reassessed, while the laws surrounding IP, data protection, cyber risk and e-commerce may also change as the UK disentangles from EU legislation.
However, maintaining a compatible legal system comes with numerous commercial advantages and so it is likely that the UK will implement laws that will not diverge drastically from existing EU legislation. In addition, EU subsidiaries are currently available to support content production in the UK.
Through its MEDIA/Creative Europe scheme, the EU provided over €100 million to the film and television industries between 2007 and 2013, helping to fund training, development, production, distribution and exhibition, and has invested in Screen Yorkshire. Seven films received more than €1 million of such funding, including The Iron Lady, Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech.
Following Brexit, this funding is unlikely to continue and so the UK will no longer be able to benefit from these funding streams. That will have a significant impact on the film and television industry and particularly impact small production companies and emerging UK talent.
Many individuals who practise entertainment law tend to stay within the practice area for the remainder of their working careers. As the entertainment industry is fast-paced, and constantly faced with newly emerging issues, entertainment lawyers must constantly be alert and kept up to date with any legislative or significant industrial changes. Whether it’s interested parties working on a project, new technology, or other developments, these changes keep the work interesting and allow entertainment lawyers to continue learning and growing. A typical entertainment lawyer’s career path can circumnavigate from a law firm to in-house and sometimes back to a law firm.
A growing number of organisations, like the Warner Music Group (WMG), employ in-house counsel, who look after the legal needs of the organisation they work for, instead of outsourcing the bulk of their legal work to outside firms.
The Warner Music Group Legal Team is responsible for negotiating and drafting commercial deals and contracts on behalf of the business, providing commercial and legal support, as well as handling any disputes. The legal team is involved at every stage in an artist’s career, working with the WMG Artists and Repertoire Departments to negotiate recording, publishing, merchandising and management agreements.
During an artist’s recording process, the legal team ensure contracts are in place with producers, re-mixers, musicians and vocalists, as well as clearing any samples. Prior to and following the release of a single or album, the legal team work with the marketing and promotion departments negotiating and drafting deals relating to the production of promo videos, the design of cover artwork and logos, recording of live TV, radio and online sessions and festival appearances.
Following release of a single or album, the legal team oversee contracts dealing with compilation and synchronisation licenses, brand partnerships and the exploitation of artists’ catalogue recordings, as well as overseeing the legal aspects of Warner Music’s business in the international territories.
Entertainment law provides a wide range of opportunities to be a part of an exciting and creative practice area and industry.
Lawyers, who practice entertainment law, help their clients understand the laws and regulations that apply to them and they help their clients negotiate agreements and resolve disputes while they occur. Entertainment law is specifically significant to experts in individuals working in the entertainment, impacting not only the talent that performs in the entertainment industry but also the production aspects of creating entertainment content, and has been fundamental in the growth of the many organisations and individuals.
As technological advancement and rapid societal change continues to have a large impact on the entertainment industry, and legislation is constantly adapting, the demand for lawyers and in-house legal teams is extremely necessary.