Learn the role of an entertainment and music attorney, when and why you need to hire one, and what are the risks in not hiring an entertainment lawyer.
November 21, 2019
Entertainment lawyers or music attorneys advise and represent music artists, bands, songwriters, record producers, and other music creators. Entertainment or music attorneys provide expertise and legal advice and representation primarily pertaining to their intellectual property, like copyrights, and trademarks, and careers or business interests. In addition however, music or entertainment lawyers will also often provide music acts or creators with advice and representation on other legal matters or concerns, including estate planning, family law, and privacy issues.
Entertainment & music lawyers protect copyrights & trademarks and get songwriters, music artists, record producers and music creators paid.
Entertainment attorneys or music lawyers regularly help music artists, bands, record producers, and music creators, publishers, or record labels with protecting their intellectual property, including copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. This often includes advising, representing, and assisting with the successful registration of musical copyrights of songs and masters with the U.S. Copyright Office, terminations of copyright assignments to music publishers, and trademark searches, analysis, and registration with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, and more.
Additionally, entertainment lawyers often pursue necessary and defend against potential claims of copyright and trademark infringement or unfair competition. This includes issuing copyright take-down notices or cease and desist letters, negotiating potential settlements, and pursuing or defending against any copyright infringement litigation.
Music attorneys or entertainment lawyers also help to ensure that songwriters, music producers, and music creators or artists are paid for sales or uses of their songs and masters. Advising songwriters, record producers, and music artists and creators on the various different types of music royalties, and who collects and distributes the various types of royalties is one of the ways entertainment and music attorneys help to ensure that music creators are paid for the use of their songs and masters. In addition, by representing music creators and artists, songwriters, and record producers in registering or applying with the appropriate and necessary performing rights organizations, and drafting or issuing the needed letters of direction to labels, publishers, or performing rights organizations, music and entertainment lawyers make sure that their client's royalties are tracked and paid.
Entertainment or music attorneys protect the career and business interests of songwriters, music artists, creators, and record producers.
In addition to protecting copyrights, trademarks, and other intellectual property, an entertainment attorney or law firm can help you to protect your other career or business interests. This includes advising on or representing you in regard to any potential or existing contracts. Whether you have or are being offered a label recording agreement or 360 deal, a music publishing contract or songwriter agreement, co-publishing deal, or single-song publishing contract, a record producer or production agreement, artist or band management contract, a sync license, a sponsorship or endorsement deal, or anything else, these agreements are usually confusing, complex, and have long-lasting impacts on a music artists, songwriters, producers, or music creators career.
You may think that you don't need an attorney to help you with any agreements or contracts or that you can just Google everything you need to know. While it's true that you could Google and learn a lot about what some of the contractual language may mean, unfortunately in reality you still won't have the knowledge and experience that an entertainment lawyer will.
For example, is your contract actually valid or enforceable under the law simply because you signed or agreed to it, or is it a type of agreement that is required to be in writing? Ddo you know what a controlled composition clause or an indemnification clause is? Are the advances and royalty rates fair or reasonable given your level of success, your genre, etc.? A music or entertainment attorney can help you with those and other issues involving contracts pertaining to your career or business interests as a music artist, band, songwriter, music producer or creator.
Entertainment lawyers or music attorneys also advise and represent music artists, bands, songwriters, record producers, music creators, publishers, and entrepreneurs, with forming any necessary business entities or "loan-out" companies. Entertainment and music business attorneys regularly advise clients in the potential risks or liabilities, and advantages of forming or not forming various types of business entities. This often includes completing the successful formation and maintenance of LLCs or limited liability companies, partnerships, and corporations, and the drafting, negotiation, and execution of any potential operating agreements. In doing so, entertainment attorneys ensure that the personal assets, money, or property of music artists, band or band members, songwriters, record producers, and music creators, publishers, and entrepreneurs is adequately protected, limiting their personal liability from any debts or liabilities from their career or business activities.
In addition to limiting the personal liability for individual band or group members or business partners for the actions of the band, group, or business, and any other members or partners, entertainment attorneys also help to ensure who will own, profit from, and control any band, group, or business names, logos, and trademarks in the event a member or partner leaves, is kicked out, or if the business, band, or music group disbands.
Another way attorneys help protect the careers or business aspects of their music artist, band, songwriter, or record producer clients, is by doing due diligence on potential opportunities. This often includes vetting, researching, or analyzing and advising on potential new business opportunities or offers, including record deals, publishing deals, sponsorship or endorsement deals, concert promotion deals, and more. Entertainment or music attorneys also help and advise when a music artist, act, or band is considering hiring or employing team members, including vetting or advising on employment or hiring of potential booking or talent agents, publicists, personal or artist managers, tour managers, business managers, accountants, financial or investment advisors, and more.
Music or entertainment lawyers advise and represent songwriters, music creators and artists in estate planning, family, property and privacy matters.
When not protecting and assisting with the career or business needs or issues for music creators, artists, bands, songwriters, and record producers, entertainment attorneys also often help to protect or help with these client's personal matters. This can include estate planning, family law matters, and property and privacy issues.
Entertainment or music lawyers will regularly help with estate planning matters, including drafting, executing, probating and advising on wills and trusts, powers of attorney, and healthcare, end of life, or incapacity documents. This is especially useful for protecting and providing for any heirs, spouses, or children. In addition, entertainment attorneys also ensure that proper estate planning documents provide that the music artists, songwriters, music producers or creators client's copyrights in songs and masters are protected and inherited by the proper heirs based on the client's wishes. In addition, any wishes of a music artist client regarding holographic concerts or tours after their death is often addressed in estate planning and probate documents.
Music or entertainment attorneys will also often handle family law matters for songwriters, music artists, band members, record producers and music creators. This often involves advising and representing entertainment or music clients in drafting and executing prenup or post-nuptial agreements, and representing and advising these client in the event of a legal separation or divorce. In addition to handling alimony, child support, custody, and visitation, and division of property acquired or created during the marriage, including ensuring that the music creator client's copyrights and trademarks are protected from the other spouse as much as possible.
Entertainment and music lawyers will often handle asset and privacy protection. This will often include protecting the ownership and privacy of the real estate or homes and personal property, vehicles, heirlooms, and money, of clients who are successful and famous or well known celebrity music creators, artists, songwriters, and record producers.
A quality entertainment attorney will have music industry expertise and malpractice insurance to protect their music creator, artist & songwriter clients.
A lot of music creators, producers, artists, and songwriters, especially when they're just starting out or money is tight, will think that they can't afford an entertainment attorney, that they can use their uncle or friend who is a family, personal injury, or business lawyer, or that they don't need one and can instead Google everything they need to know. As a result, they often either hire or rely on the wrong attorney or go without one altogether.
Money and cost can be a legitimate reason in choosing to hire or not hire an entertainment or music attorney. However, spending what seems like a large amount of money now, can often guarantee the client saves or avoids spending an even much larger amount of money on a lawyer later when things go wrong or litigation is needed. In addition, sometimes entertainment attorneys will work on commission or a contingency of your gross earnings. In the event that an entertainment or music lawyer requires an hourly fee or flat rate to advise or represent a songwriter, music artist, or band in negotiating a contract with a record label or music publishing company, most record labels or music publishers will pay the attorney's invoices or fees as an advance recoupable against the artist's, band's or songwriter's future royalties for the artist, band, or songwriter.
Sometimes, a music producer, creator, artist, band, or songwriter will hire a friend or family member who is an attorney to advise or represent them in their entertainment or music careers, but not one who is a practicing entertainment or music lawyer. Unfortunately, the non-entertainment attorney will not have a thorough enough understanding of the complexities of how the music industry works. As a result, the music creator or artist is taking a risk because it is very likely they will not get the necessary advice and representation needed from the non-entertainment attorney. A music or entertainment lawyer will have the industry knowledge to fully inform and adequately advise and represent the music artist or creator.
Even still, sometimes music artists, creators, producers, and songwriters will believe they can rely on Google, books, or a non-lawyer friend or family member to adequately educate themselves enough to be able to avoid hiring an entertainment attorney. In choosing to not hire an entertainment attorney, no matter the reason or alternative chosen, the music creator is taking a risk. Not only do these music creators, artists, and songwriters risk getting poor advice or representation due to a lack of industry and legal knowledge, but there's no real recourse for them should they refuse to hire an entertainment or music lawyer and receive inadequate advice or information resulting in any financial or legal harm. By hiring a quality music or entertainment attorney, the songwriter, producer, music artist, or creator, will not only be less likely to receive in adequate industry or legal advice or representation, but if their entertainment or music lawyer does improperly advise or represent them, they have the recourse of potentially suing the attorney for malpractice and recovering money damages. A quality entertainment lawyer or music attorney will have malpractice insurance to protect themselves and their music creator and songwriter clients in the event the attorney commits malpractice.
So, when should you hire an entertainment or music attorney?
Ideally, the earlier you can hire an entertainment or music attorney the better off you will likely be. It's almost always cheaper and easier to hire an attorney, especially prior to having any success as a songwriter, music artist or creator, or record producer, earlier than later or after the fact.
Certainly hiring an attorney before you sign any contracts or agreements is a must. Whether they're recording artist 360 label or record deals, music publishing, co-publishing, or admin agreements, artist management or booking agent contracts, or sync licenses, concert, touring, personal appearance, or sponsorship or endorsement contracts, you should hire a music or entertainment lawyer to advise and represent you because of the complexities, and the long-term risk and consequences these deals can and often impose.
In addition, before recording or releasing any music you didn't solely create by yourself, hiring an entertainment or music attorney can be important, especially if you're looking into recording or releasing songs that have been written by others, or never been released or recorded before, or if you're sampling or using another person's masters, sound recordings, beats, or loops. Ensuring that you have the licenses and necessary legal permissions and other paperwork prior to recording, and especially release for sales or streaming, can save you a ton of hassle, stress, and money, in the long run.
If you want any additional information whether or how an entertainment or music lawyer can help you, including if you need legal assistance or advice and representation involving your intellectual property business, career, or personal matters as a songwriter, record producer, music artist or creator, please contact us at The Fruitful Firm anytime.
Zach Scott Gainous is an entertainment lawyer or music attorney and artist manager in Nashville, and the founder, principal artist manager, and managing attorney of Nashville music and entertainment law firm and artist management company The Fruitful Firm. Zach regularly provides legal expertise, advice and representation to songwriters, record producers, music artists, music creators, small and independent music publishers and record labels, and more.
Disclaimer: This article or post is not and should not be considered or used as a substitute for legal advice or the hiring of an attorney. You should always carefully seek out legal advice and representation from a qualified attorney to assist you with your legal matters and issues.