Entertainment Law Overview

Entertainment law is a broad legal area that encompasses a wide variety of issues, including intellectual property protection, endorsements, licensing and personal service agreements. Legal disputes can develop involving actors, musicians, athletes, filmmakers, composers, screenwriters and production companies.

Entertainment law can also come into play when negotiating contracts, establishing protections against piracy of artistic works and resolving issues involving copyrights.

Copyrights

Whether a work is published or not, its creator can choose to pursue a copyright. This protection grants the creator the exclusive right to reproduce, display and distribute the work. When an author obtains a copyright, the protection starts on the date that the work was created and extends throughout the author’s life and in most cases for 70 years after the author’s death.

A common example of copyright protection would be the proposed use of all or part of a song in a television commercial. In such an instance, the makers of the commercial would need to get permission from the composer.

While registration with the United States Copyright Office is no longer required to obtain protection, there are some advantages in doing so. In addition to establishing a public record, registration of works that were created in the U.S. is necessary before a copyright infringement lawsuit can be filed. The process of registration can be initiated at any time within the life of the copyright.

Fair use is a significant exception worth noting that bypasses the permission requirement. In general, fair use allows the use of copyrighted material for a limited and transformative purpose, such as to comment upon, review or parody. Examples could be the quoting of lyrics in a music review or the use by Weird Al Yankovic of another artist’s music in a parody.

Contract Negotiations

Contracts in the entertainment industry often involve agency representation, recording industry labels, licensing, proposed endorsement deals, royalties and payment provisions and employment terms, among other issues. In many cases, aspiring actors and actresses run the risk of being exploited by television or motion picture production companies by unreasonable contract provisions. They should therefore have their contracts reviewed by an entertainment law attorney before signing.

In the event that an entertainer’s contract is breached by another party, an entertainment law attorney can attempt to settle the dispute through negotiations. If an accord cannot be reached, such an attorney who also has litigation experience can prepare and file a breach of contract lawsuit in the appropriate state or federal court.

Employment

Not all people who work in the entertainment industry are in the public eye. The industry employs numerous people behind the scenes. These workers may or may not be paid for their efforts, but most are protected by employment laws that guarantee their rights to pursue better working conditions, organize in bodies such as unions or work independently. In some cases, underage artists are protected by employment laws restricting the kind of tasks they can perform and the hours they can work.

As is the case with people in other occupations, workers in the entertainment industry may be eligible to file claims with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or applicable state agency in response to workplace discrimination, sexual harassment and other forms of unlawful behavior.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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