In a nutshell
Advertising and marketing lawyers offer advice to ensure a client's products or advertisements are compliant with industry standards, plus general advice on anything from contracts between clients, media and suppliers, to employment law, corporate transactions and litigation. Entertainment lawyers assist clients in the film, broadcasting, music, theatre and publishing industries with commercial legal advice or litigation. Sports lawyers represent organisations and individuals active in the industry, and can operate in a broad range of practice areas such as finance, IP, telecommunications, negligence and privacy. Reputation management lawyers advise clients on how best to protect their own 'brand', be this through a defamation suit or an objection to invasion of privacy.
What lawyers do
Advertising and marketing
- Ensure advertising campaigns comply with legislation or regulatory codes set out by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) or Ofcom.
- Advise on comparative advertising, unauthorised references to living persons and potential trade mark infringements.
- Defend claims against allegations that their work has infringed regulations or the rights of third parties.
- Bring complaints against competitors' advertising.
TV and film
- Advise production companies on every stage of the creation of programmes and films.
- Assist on the banking and lending transactions which ensure financing for a film, as well as tax exemption rules for UK films.
- Help engage performers, negotiate a multitude of ancillary contracts, and negotiate distribution and worldwide rights.
- Advise major recording companies, independent labels and talent (record producers, songwriters and artists).
- Advise on contracts, such as those between labels and bands, or between labels and third parties.
- Offer contentious and non-contentious copyright and trade mark advice relating to music, image rights and merchandising.
- Offer criminal advice when things get old-school rock 'n' roll.
- Assist with immigration issues.
Theatre and publishing
- Advise theatre and opera companies, producers, agents and actors on contracts, funding and sponsorship/merchandising.
- Advise publishing companies and newspapers on contractual, licensing, copyright and libel matters.
- Assist with immigration issues.
- Assist with contract negotiations, be they between clubs and sportspeople, agents and players, sporting institutions and sponsors, broadcasters and sports governing bodies.
- Handle varied employment and immigration issues.
- Advise on corporate or commercial matters like takeovers, public offerings, debt restructuring and bankruptcy, or the securing and structuring of credit.
- Enforce IP rights in the lucrative merchandise market and negotiate on matters affecting a sportsperson’s image rights.
- Work on regulatory compliance issues within a sport or matters relating to the friction between sports regulations and EU/national law.
- Offer reputation management and criminal advice.
Reputation management (defamation and libel)
- Claimants’ lawyers advise individuals – commonly celebrities, politicians or high-profile businessmen – on the nature of any potential libel action or breach of privacy claim, usually against broadcasters or publishers, before it either settles or goes to court.
- Defendants’ lawyers advise broadcasters or other publishers on libel claims brought against them. With the burden of proof on the defendant, the lawyers must prove that what was published caused no loss to the claimant or was not libellous.
- Help clients stay out of hot water by giving pre-publication advice to authors, editors or production companies.
Realities of the job
- Advertising lawyers must have a good knowledge of advertising regulations, defamation and IP law.
- Many advertising disputes will be settled via regulatory bodies but some, particularly IP infringements, end in litigation.
- Entertainment lawyers need to be completely immersed in their chosen media and have a good grasp of copyright and contract law.
- Reputation management lawyers need a comprehensive understanding of libel and privacy laws and an ability to think laterally. Individual claimants will be stressed and upset, so people skills, patience and resourcefulness are much needed.
- Working in media, entertainment or sports is often assumed to be a glamorous affair. However, lawyers operating in these areas are preoccupied with the legal issues arising from them, leaving little time for hobnobbing with celebrities.
- Landing a job as a media, libel, sports or entertainment lawyer is extremely tricky. While many have an interest in the field, the number of vacant positions is severely limited. Successful candidates usually have previous experience in a relevant sector, but even this will only get you so far; previous legal experience is also a must.
- Following the UK's decision to leave the EU, the media sector will have to make adjustments to the way it operates. Cross-border licensing arrangements will have to be reassessed, while the laws surrounding IP, data protection, cyber risk and e-commerce may also change as the UK disentangles itself from the body of EU legislation. However it is likely that the UK will implement laws that reflect existing EU legislation, as maintaining compatible systems comes with commercial advantages.
- Calls for the ASA to crack down on adverts deemed harmful or misleading have increased in recent years. One of the culprits was payday loans company Wonga, which stood accused of lying about its interest rates and subsequently had its TV adverts banned. Tougher restrictions on advertising alcohol are also being considered because of adverse effects on children.
- The decline of TV and print advertising means broadcasters and publishers are always seeking new ways of generating revenue to compensate for lost advertising income. Digital advertising (especially on mobile devices) is a big growth area, with spending up 16.4% in 2015. As internet usage increases (there is now an average of eight internet-enabled devices per UK household, and the ownership of connected TVs is on the rise) advertisers are migrating to the digital sphere. A record £8.61 billion was spent on UK digital advertising in 2015.
- Web-based interactive and viral advertising is throwing up all kinds of data protection, privacy and commercial issues, with twice as many internet-related cases registered in comparison to those stemming from TV. (For example, the ASA reprimanded a number of YouTubers for secretly promoting products in their videos.)
- The rise of smartphones and tablets has created an explosion in demand for services like apps, feeding a deluge of opportunities for new players in the market. It's also becoming clear which digital and audio-visual services consumers are and are not willing to pay for.
- The music industry is facing challenges: illegal downloading and piracy are the biggest concerns. Sales of physical products are declining rapidly, so deals that combine physical sales with merchandising and live appearances are now common.
- Punitive measures against downloaders of copyrighted content have been scrapped in favour of 'alert letters' which educate people about the illegality of piracy. However, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and the Digital Economy Act 2010 continue to be applicable to file sharing activity. The government, under pressure from groups that represent the film and music industries, is pushing to increase the maximum sentence for online copyright infringement from two to ten years, arguing that it would act as a significant deterrent to would-be distributors of pirated content.
- The 2010s have been heralded as a 'golden decade' of sporting events for the UK. Following on from the 2012 Olympics, 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2015 Rugby World Cup, there's still the 2017 Athletics World Championships and the 2019 Cricket World Cup to look forward to.
- Premiership Football is an increasingly lucrative affair. Enhanced TV deals are providing clubs with improved revenue streams; broadcasting rights for the Premier League's 2016 to 2019 season were sold to Sky and BT for £5.13 billion, nearly double the £3 billion paid for the 2013 to 2016 seasons.
- Doping and match fixing are ongoing issues that are never far from the headlines. As a result, they are increasingly a source of work for those practising in the sports industry. Several domestic and international bodies exist to regulate drug-testing and to investigate allegations of doping in sports. UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) has recently faced criticism for its failure to immediately inform the General Medical Council that a doctor was supplying athletes with performance enhancing drugs. In international news, allegations of state sponsored doping in Russia has led the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to ban Russian track and field athletes from competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
- Corruption accusations are plaguing football's global governing body FIFA and its (former) president Sepp Blatter. A US corruption investigation continues, while the Spanish football league has threatened to sue. No legal actions have yet been brought against FIFA in the UK.
- The 2013 Defamation Act means that claimants can only sue for defamation if they have suffered serious harm to their reputation, and if they are companies they must demonstrate financial loss. It also limits (but does not halt) 'libel tourism' by making it much harder for individuals who live outside the UK to be sued in the London courts.
- Social media is now at the centre of many libel and defamation claims. Lawyers are involved in getting libellous statements taken off the internet. In 2016, the Supreme Court upheld an injunction that prevented the UK press from revealing the identity of a celebrity reportedly involved in what we can refer to as 'extramarital activities'. The case developed as the story broke out on online blogs: this subsequently led to search engines like Google removing links under EU 'right to be forgotten' rules.