Hudson Valley Entertainment Lawyer

Entertainment law involves numerous legal issues impacting actors, writers, musicians, artists, athletes and other creators and performers, as well as producers, record labels, distributors, agents and other parties involved in the entertainment industry.

Copyright ownership is typically at the heart of any negotiation in the entertainment industry. Copyright ownership begins upon the creation of the work – when the song, painting, performance, text or other work is written down, typed into a computer or recorded. While copyright ownership does not require registration with the United States Copyright Office, there are a number of benefits that come with registration. This includes the right to seek attorneys’ fees and certain statutory damages if copyright infringement is proven in a lawsuit. Copyright registration is typically a prerequisite to filing a federal lawsuit alleging infringement.

It is important to understand how ownership of a creative work – whether a book, screenplay, graphic design, musical composition or sound recording – is established. While works created by employees in the ordinary course of business (or using an employers’ tools and resources) are automatically owned by the employer, an independent contractor retains the rights to his or her works unless he or she signs a work for hire agreement transferring the rights to a third party.

A contract for rights has important implications, including exclusivity to distribute, sell or market the creative work and the share of profits that will be split between the creator, distributor and others. A license is the means by which the copyright owner of a work allows others to financially or otherwise exploit the creative work, typically for a cut of the profits. A license agreement should address (i) the fee or royalty payment for use of the creative work, (ii) the scope of publication, distribution or other use, and (iii) the time period that the licensee will be authorized to exploit the creative work.

Contracts often include complex royalty payment calculations that mandate compensation based upon the net profits derived from a creative work. While the percentage of the royalty payment to the author may be high, often production costs, advances to artists, and other fees must be recouped before the author or other creator of the work is ever compensated. It is important to spell out the definition of net profits – in the contract – to understand the specific costs that will be covered before profits will be paid to the author of the work. Protective provisions, such as pre-approved budgeted expenses, can often be negotiated.

Options are another important component of contracts in the entertainment industry. Options provide a prospective purchaser or licensee of a creative work time to decide whether or not they wish to proceed with the purchase or license of the work. Often a producer signs an option with the author of a screenplay or other literary work to allow time to shop the work to financiers and networks, film or theatre production companies. The value of the option can be set as a percentage of the price of the work itself. The fair market value of the work will depend on the popularity of the author, the age of the work, the medium for exploitation of the work (such as online or on a TV network), the budget of the production and the term of the option.

Trademarks and trade names associated with a creative work, such as a film or television show, are protected under federal and state law. Drawings, names, logos, symbols and other marks used in commerce acquire trademark rights, including the right to control the use of the mark. Trademark rights arise when they are used in the ordinary course of business for the sale of goods or services. In the entertainment industry, merchandising deals enable the producers of various products to use a trademark or trade name, whether a show or film title, logo or character on their products. The owner of the trademark has the right to control the time period, types of products, and percentage of revenues that will be earned under the merchandising deal. These terms should be clearly spelled out in a written agreement that protects the parties.

Attorney Claudia Pollak represents producers, artists, authors, actors, and other performers to aggressively protect their legal interests -- while maintaining a friendly and enthusiastic atmosphere to further her clients’ creative endeavors. Call Claudia Pollak today for a free telephone consultation.

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75 South Broadway, 4th Floor, White Plains, NY 10601
| Phone: 914-908-6220

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