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Archive for the ‘Entertainment Law’ Category

Choosing mediation over litigation: Benefits and drawbacks

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

The general public knows substantially less about entertainment law than it does about the general criminal justice system and when you take a close look at how complex and sprawling entertainment law can be, you understand why. From prolonged contract negotiations to intellectual property cases, entertainment law can be a bit dry and boring, even if the dollar amounts involved are gigantic. One alternative resolution method that many entertainment lawyers recommend to save time and money is mediation. With mediation, both sides of an issue meet and talk in hopes of solving a dispute so the two parties do not have to go to court, which often times takes significantly longer and can, in some cases, cost significantly more. Let’s take a look at some of the plusses and minuses of using mediation over litigation.

Probably the biggest advantage mediation has over litigation is that it helps two sides sit down at the bargaining table and attempt to talk out their problem instead of spending unreasonable amounts of time in court. While most mediators are paid by the hour and can be somewhat costly if the two sides are far apart, it is often significantly less than what both sides would pay for separate legal representation.

Problems with mediation can arise if the two sides are especially contentious with each other. There are infamous scenarios from the world of international politics where the two parties involved take weeks to decide on the shape of the table they will be negotiating at and what sort of food will be catered at the negotiation. If this sounds like the situation you are in at the moment, you probably want to forego mediation for something more formal.

Mediation can also be a great public relations tool. It shows a level of maturity and willingness to compromise with the other side if you can sit down and have a real conversation. Often times, companies that are experiencing strikes will ask for mediation simply because of the photo-ops that take place and the image of the two sides literally sitting down at the same table and talking. Mediation can also help clear up any misconceptions the two sides have about each other that might not be resolved until the two sides meet in court. If a long standing dispute has been played out in the media over a long period of time and both sides have been routinely misquoted, which is routine in so many high profile entertainment disputes, mediation gives both parties a chance to sit down, clear the air and maybe even reach a settlement. If not, mediation can give both sides a clearer idea of what the other wants and can completely change the tone of what has happened up to that point.

While mediation can never be considered a cure all, it is considered a far more adult way to solve standing disputes. It gives two parties a chance to discuss a situation face to face for a fraction of the cost of litigation. It may not be for every situation, but it does have far reaching applications in the world of entertainment law.

How to choose the right entertainment lawyer for you

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

If you could do a quick survey of everyone in Hollywood to find out how they became stars, you would likely find that there are two distinct camps: those that sought to be a star and worked hard at it and those people who, through one way or another, became stars without ever really meaning to. Regardless of how you have joined the non stop circus that is the entertainment industry, you are likely in need of a trained professional to help you from this point on. No matter what others may tell you, the field of entertainment law is highly specialized. Colleges and universities offer completely separate degrees in entertainment law because of how complex it can be, so it is probably best not to listen to your uncle who is a real estate lawyer when he asks to manage your career. Here are a few tips you should consider when picking the right entertainment lawyer for you.

The most important attribute that your entertainment lawyer should possess is versatility. While most lawyers make their living prosecuting or defending cases in front of a judge, your entertainment lawyer will also need to be a wizard with contracts. From big to small, contracts rule Hollywood. If you are an actor who sees him or herself in films, television or commercials, you will likely be singing contracts every step of the way. While you may need your entertainment lawyer to represent you in a court of law should something happen, it is their role as a contact specialist that makes them so valuable.

Some members of the entertainment industry also use their entertainment lawyer as their agent, while some people find that heaping even more responsibility on an already overworked lawyer tends to yield negative results. If you do choose to utilize your entertainment lawyer as your agent, you are going to need to check and then double check a whole new list of criteria that they can meet. It is also possible that the role of entertainment lawyer can change over time. For instance, the musical group R.E.M. originally had an entertainment lawyer and a band manager that served as their agent. As time went on and operations became more streamlined, the band’s entertainment lawyer slowly took on the responsibilities of both jobs, so it helps to find an entertainment lawyer who is open to accepting new challenges and is also a fast learner.

If the search for your own entertainment lawyer has you feeling overwhelmed, it is always a good idea to seek out personal references. Even if you are new to the entertainment industry, chances are you know others who have more experience in the business than you do. Find out who the respected names are in your field and call around. There is often an entire interview process where you can speak to an entertainment lawyer one on one before deciding which one you want to work with. Remember, they need to impress you to earn your business.

Should you copyright your script before you start selling it?

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

While Hollywood has done magnificent job packing movie theatres across the globe for the past 100 years, it has done an even better job of selling itself to the world. From sandy beaches to sunshine to that quintessential California lifestyle, Hollywood has perfected the art of self-branding to the point where, every year, aspiring actors, screenwriters and directors show up on busses with nothing more than the clothes they have on their back. They soon learn that they are completely ill prepared for what Hollywood truly is, a cutthroat business town that chews up and spits out those that aren’t ready to defend themselves. It is for this reason and a million more than you should consider copywriting your script before you catch the next bus headed west to make your fortune in Tinsel town.

For those people that have done a bit of research on their own, they may believe that copyright is inherent in any written material, and while an antiquated 1889 law does provide some legal protection, you will be much better off getting a full copyright on your script before you begin to show it to people who may or may not be honest. Known as the Berne Convention, this international copyright treaty has helped writers protect their creations for over a century stating that copyright is essentially automatic as soon as you put pen to paper, but as legal wrangling and court rulings have chipped away at the original intent, further proof of copyright is now needed to truly protect one’s interests.

For far too many years, urban legends have given false hope that one’s creations are protected from intellectual theft. Almost everyone has heard of the easy and inexpensive ritual of simply mailing yourself a copy of your script, or of anything else you’ve created, and then storing away the unopened envelope and using the indelible postmark as irrefutable proof that your creation was made on the date certified. In reality, this practice accomplishes nothing other than wasting postage. There is no proof whatsoever that you didn’t just mail yourself an empty envelope and then store it away for future use. Your script could have been written yesterday and then inserted into the postmarked envelope and presented to the court. If you’re thinking about using this method to protect your copyright, no court of law on earth will accept it.

If you insist on showing your script around town without an official government copyright, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. Keep flawless records of each and every person you show your script to and have them sign a simple release form that states they will not and can not use any ideas, characters, etc, from it in any form. A good sign that you’re dealing with a reputable Hollywood producer and not someone looking to take advantage of you is that they won’t even look at your script without signing one of these releases. Remember, no one else in Hollywood is going to protect you, you must protect yourself.

The difference between libel and slander

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

If you are considering a career in the entertainment industry, one of the first things you should do is hire an entertainment lawyer to make sure that your best interest are protected. The field of entertainment law is vast and quite complicated and one of the most complicated and often misunderstood areas is that of libel and slander. While these two terms are very much related and are sometimes, incorrectly, used interchangeably, they are different and it is important that anyone considering a career in the entertainment industry know the difference, know when they have been a victim of libel or slander and know the only true ultimate defense. Let’s take a look at these two terms and how they are used, and often, misused.

Before we talk about how the two terms are different, let’s look at how they are similar. Both libel and slander qualify as defamation of character. Defamation of character is defined as the clear communication of false information as stated as fact which then brings harm to an individual or an entity. To put it simply, defamation of character is a lie told by someone to another individual or group that does harm to you or to a group. Since both libel and slander fit under the definition of defamation of character, it is easy to see how the two can get confused. Even the mass media sometimes uses the words interchangeably, so confusion is understandable.

Libel is defined as defamation of character that is in written form. If you read something untrue written about you that you feel does you harm that is in a magazine, newspaper or other written medium, than you have been libeled. On the other hand, if you hear someone say something that you know is untrue and it is being said to more than just you and that you have been harmed in some way by what was said, than you have been slandered. What makes libel law and slander so difficult to define is that, especially in the world of entertainment, ideas cross multiple media platforms so quickly. There could be a breaking news story in an entertainment publication like Variety that hours later is repeated by an anchor on the television show Entertainment Tonight. In a matter of hours, what was once libel has become slander.

While your entertainment lawyer may craft several defenses in court in an attempt to defend you and win damages against the parties who either libeled or slandered you, there is only one “absolute defense” against these actions and that is proving that they are false. Of course, this can be drastically more difficult than it sounds. For instance, Tom Cruise has sued several different organizations for both slander and libel for reporting that he is gay, but “proving” that he isn’t is obviously extremely difficult. This is why so many slander and libel cases never advance to a court trial and why defamation of character is one of the hardest things to prove in any category of law.

Tips for writing a better entertainment contract

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

When the final contract to the most expensive film ever made, Titanic, was finally drafted, it easily dwarfed the script, complete with stage directions, by several times. Chances are, you will never need to draft a contact of that magnitude, but contract drafting can still be a challenging field even for the most accomplished entertainment lawyer. Here are a few tips you can keep in mind if you are even saddled with the daunting challenge of drawing up an entertainment contract.

It may sound a bit bizarre, but writing clearly is probably the most important part of drafting a good contract. To the average person, a contract is practically unreadable thanks to the prevalence of “lawyer-speak” that dominates most official documents, but by using such language, a contract becomes legally binding and very difficult to challenge in court. As any experienced entertainment lawyer can tell you, it is close to impossible to draft an iron clad contract without a vast knowledge of legalese so it is a good idea to not ever give this a try.

Another major challenge facing those that wish to draft an entertainment contract is completeness. Being able to think of every eventuality, every circumstance and every possible turn of events as it regards to your client may seem impossible, but that is literally what is being asked of you. There are general clauses that can be added in to protect your client’s best interests should a circumstance arise that isn’t explicitly spelled out in the contract but these are often easily challenged in a court of law. To help contract drafters cover all necessary bases, they often times use preexisting contracts as general templates to ensure that everything is included. Of course, you don’t want to copy another contract word for word, but you can itemize the various categories and areas that a respected existing contract covers and then make sure that your contract covers the same things.

Working hand in hand with the previous point, make sure you sit with your client and go over every possible way in which your particular situation is unique. Using a preexisting contract as a guide can be very beneficial, but it can also handcuff you in the end because, after all, that contract was written expressly for someone else, not your client. The whole reason why you are writing a contact from scratch is because your client has unique needs and attributes that no one else has. Make sure you cover your bases with a preexisting contact, but the need to personalize your contract so that it accurately reflects your client is just as important.

Finally, it is important for anyone looking to draft a contract to realize that there will often be a negotiation process once your first draft is received. That means that you write in a degree of wiggle room and flexibility into every contract. Of course, you don’t want to make absurd demands since that pollutes a good faith negotiation, but don’t completely show your hand with your first draft, either.

What is entertainment law?

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

While the private lives of celebrities are fawned over, analyzed and broken down to an absurd degree by the general public, the legal wrangling that makes Hollywood what it is is often ignored. The world of entertainment law is one of the most complex and varied forms of law practiced today because it encompasses so many existing forms of law under one umbrella. Not only are entertainment contracts some of the most sweeping and confusing documents ever created by mankind, court cases involving entertainment law can also be extremely complicated. The demands placed on an all-purpose entertainment lawyer are high, but often times, so is the reward. Let’s take a quick look at what falls under the banner of entertainment law.

To put it simply, entertainment law encompasses no less than eight different disciplines, including, but not limited to, labor law, employment law, immigration law, intellectual property law, securities (law & interests), insurance law and agency. Major stars who can afford a team of lawyers or those that have contracts for representation from an entire law firm instead of singular representation from one lawyer often have a team of lawyers who manage the various fields that entertainment law encompasses. If you aren’t that wealthy yet, you are going to have to find an entertainment lawyer who is literally a jack of all trades. Depending on what part of the entertainment industry you’ll be calling home, you may need an entertainment lawyer to help you with any or all of the issues listed below.

If you are going to be calling the film industry home, you had better hire an entertainment lawyer who dislikes sleep. You’ll likely face problems regarding everything from contract negotiations to complex intellectual property issues, and that’s on a slow day. You may also face such other challenging issues like production and post production legal issues, as well as negotiating distribution rights and option agreements that resemble small encyclopedias.

Entertainment lawyers who choose a career in film oriented law aren’t the only ones that get to feel overworked. The music industry has its own separate demands that are placed on entertainment lawyers, including talent agreements that can take months to create, negotiate and sign, negotiating and writing contracts for people who will work with the band you choose to represent such as session musicians and producers and even music-industry specific fields like synchronization rights for music videos and intellectual property law due to the widespread theft of digital music.

While film and music tend to be the most complex of the various entertainment fields to represent as an entertainment lawyer, each field has its own unique requirements and demands. A good entertainment lawyer is, above all, passionate about their chosen field and has a desire to constantly learn more so that they can represent their current clients and their future clients more effectively. It is no wonder that the entertainment law field is one of the best earning in the world. The demands and responsibilities are truly extraordinary.