In an industry that involves a wide variety of intellectual properties and many types of contractual agreements, it can be confusing for creatives to navigate when and why they might need the help of an entertainment lawyer. The many types of copyright, liabilities, and contract formats means that understanding what is an entertainment lawyer and when you might need one is a vital piece of navigating your career.
Entertainment Lawyer Description
All You Need to Know: Ent. Lawyers
In this post we look at what is an entertainment lawyer and when you might need one. In addition to providing an entertainment lawyer definition, we’ll also cover how to find one so that you know where to turn and what to look for when selecting an entertainment lawyer. For a complete guide to the major roles in film production, check out our ultimate guide to film crew positions.
Entertainment Lawyer Definition
What is an Entertainment Lawyer?
An entertainment lawyer practices a specialized type of law specific to the entertainment industry. When you think about what is an entertainment lawyer, an image of a slick Hollywood type looking to take advantage of a naïve performer may come to mind. But it is important to understand what an entertainment attorney does, as they can provide essential career advice and expertise. In addition to advising on issues that might arise in the publication and distribution of intellectual property, a lawyer for entertainment industry professionals can also be useful in helping you navigate the industry and make vital connections to help your career.
Areas Entertainment Lawyers Can Help With
- Navigating contracts
- Protecting Intellectual Property (IP)
- Connecting clients to other industry professionals (lawyers, managers, agents)
Entertainment Attorney 101
What does an Entertainment Lawyer do?
First things first: if you are in the entertainment industry and have questions about contracts, copyright claims or infringement, or any other legal information related to your creative work, do not seek advice from a non-industry lawyer.
Law is highly specialized, and the entertainment industry in particular requires the knowledge and ability of an entertainment attorney who understands all the intricacies of the field. In any entertainment lawyer description, you want to make sure you see the areas of expertise particular to your situation.
Here's an interview with lawyer Elsa Ramo on the basics of the job and the difference between a lawyer vs. an agent or manager.
From watching out for copyright infringement to signing contracts, a lawyer for entertainment needs will provide a wide variety of legal advice related to many facets of creative projects. All of these are part of understanding what does an entertainment lawyer do and answering the question, “Do I need an entertainment lawyer?”
It is also beneficial to keep in mind that the rights and regulations for, say, filming on location in one state may be very different in another state (or country). Hence, it is a good idea to source an entertainment lawyer who is well-versed in legal matters not only related to your specific part of the industry, but also wherever your project is taking place.
When and Why You Need an Entertainment Lawyer
Do I need an Entertainment Lawyer?
As a screenwriter, director, musical artist, fiction writer, or a performer with a public image or voice, you own creative copyright. Whenever you perform your services, distribute your work, collaborate with other creatives, or share production costs or facilities with production houses or agencies, your intellectual property must be managed well to protect your rights. It is essential to understand what is an entertainment lawyer to navigate your career.
Oftentimes, an entertainment attorney can help in the negotiation of contracts which can shield you from signing into bad deals, or from accidentally infringing on the rights of other stakeholders. True, you may not need to hire the services of an entertainment lawyer for every small step in the beginning of your career.
But whenever you are about to sign a contract, even with a boutique, family-run agency, it is always wise to have an expert weigh in. For more info on how to start moving your career forward, see our post, How to Step Up Your Entertainment Career.
It can be tempting to only do a quick scan over a document sent to you by a production house or collaborator and sign it as long as you don’t see any glaring red flags. But often, in a prospective contract it is the lack of mention about certain key provisions that can end up being the downfall of your rights related to an agreement for a project or partnership.
Whether this is due to the contract writer trying to take advantage or simply not knowing, you do not want to sign agreements that do not cover all the bases. An entertainment attorney knows what to look out for and how to spot a contract that is full of holes.
What to Look for in Hiring an Entertainment Attorney
How to find an Entertainment Lawyer
Now that you understand the role of the entertainment lawyer, it is good to think about what you need help with and select an entertainment attorney carefully. Entertainment lawyers can help with a variety of scenarios and provide critical advice for key moments in your career.
But at the same time, there are also things to watch out for in selecting an entertainment lawyer. As with any part of your career in the entertainment industry, who you pick for your team is paramount.
Though lawyers (of any specialty) often provide a free consultation, beyond that they usually charge for every communication. Use that free consultation wisely to get all the info possible from your prospective entertainment lawyer. You want to get a sense of whether they really have the expertise you need for your situation (and, to get a breakdown of whether they charge a different rate for text versus email or phone!). You do not want to waste your budget on trying to get information from a lawyer who cannot really help you.
WHAT TO ASK A PROSPECTIVE ENTERTAINMENT LAWYER
One thing to look out for when hiring an entertainment lawyer is that unfortunately, some may take advantage of their advisory role. Since many aspects of the industry overlap and entertainment lawyers can connect you to many opportunities, an entertainment lawyer could present themselves as a replacement for an agent or manager.
While it could be a benefit to have a member of your team who is especially versatile in a variety of situations, it can also present a conflict of interest.
For example, an unscrupulous lawyer may try to charge you for unnecessary legal vetting, a process which would actually be covered once a contract for your project is being negotiated. This is why it can actually be helpful to have a manager, agent, and entertainment lawyer be separate members of your team. It is always good to remember the basic criteria related to what is an entertainment lawyer so that you can assess what someone is offering.
When figuring out how to find an entertainment lawyer, word of mouth may be all you need to be referred to a trustworthy entertainment lawyer. But if you don’t know anyone in your discipline who already has an entertainment lawyer they recommend, an excellent resource is this article on the best law firms for the entertainment industry. You can also check out the video below for key takeaways that can help you find the best entertainment lawyer for your needs:
In addition to advice from an entertainment lawyer, for performers of all kinds it is also wise to look into finding a labor union in your part of the field. For working, established performers, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), for example, provides specific perimeters on the legal use of your image – an important element to watch out for in our heavily documented, social media-driven world.
For musical artists, it is essential to get connected to a Performing Rights Organization such as ASCAP or BMI for performance and mechanical royalties collection.
Unions can also provide resources related to casting, agents and managers, or workplace harassment claims, and they can be an excellent resource for finding an entertainment lawyer as well. Here is another great StudioBinder article to help you find all you need to know about entertainment industry labor unions, Movie Unions – A Complete Guide.
There are often pro-bono legal resources through smaller unions that you can find through word of mouth in your field or online searching.
Entertainment insurance liabilities
Legal and insurance issues are not most creatives’ favorite topic! Nonetheless they are vital to any production. In addition to realizing all the details of the creative vision for your project and managing the production tech and details, it is also good to have someone on your team looking out for liability. To continue on the topic of rights and responsibilities, check out our post, Ways to Decrease Entertainment Insurance Liabilities.