Sports, media and entertainment

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.

Sports, Media and Entertainment

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.

Music

  • 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.

Sports

  • 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.
  • Defend sportspeople accused of doping offences or other unsporting behaviour.
  • 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.

Current issues

October 2021

  • Concerns have been raised around the way search engines display digital advertising. As consumers, the ads we see are usually selected by a process called ‘search advertising,’ where companies bid to have their ads displayed when certain key words appear in a search. The ads that appear are then ranked on the basis of these bids, and according to considerations like the ad’s relevance to the search. The problem this creates is that dominant search engines may be able to manipulate ad rankings to benefit companies that share close ties with the search engine itself.
  • In June 2021, the UK government implemented new rules regarding TV advertising for food products high in sugar, salt, and fat. The new regulations have placed a blanket ban on adverts for products such as chocolate, soft drinks, sweets, chips, and burgers before 9pm. The changes come as part of the government’s plans to tackle obesity in the UK and will also have implications for the way in which websites are able to advertise similar products. The changes will not apply to the apps or social media channels of the companies themselves.
  • When then US Capitol building was stormed in January, there were calls to take action against former US President Donald Trump after it was claimed that social media posts had played a part in inciting the violence. These claims led to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook all banning Trump from their platforms. The action taken by these companies reignited the debate around whether or not social media companies should be treated as ‘publishers’ in law, which would ensure that these companies have a greater responsibility to censor what is posted on their platforms.
  • The ongoing effects of COVID-19 on travel will have significant implications for the music industry. As restrictions are lifted in the UK, venues will be able to reopen at full capacity once again, but ongoing restrictions on international travel will make things difficult for artists planning on international tours or UK festivals. According to current restrictions, people travelling into the UK from ‘amber’ listed countries are required to quarantine for ten days upon arrival and take an additional test eight days after first arriving.
  • The pandemic also resulted in significant growth in subscriptions to streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and NOW TV. According to Ofcom, an estimated 12 million users acquired access to a new streaming subscription during lockdown. Due to the timing of the launch of Disney+ (coinciding with the start of UK lockdown), there was an increased take-up in it, making it the third most subscribed service behind Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The demand for news broadcasters also increased, making up 58.8% of TV broadcast viewing.
  • As Esports (electronic sports) continue to demonstrate enormous commercial potential, it is likely that the legal sector will have to adapt to meet the needs of a new client base. In 2016, West Ham United became the first Premier League club to sign an Esports player, and it is reported that the 2022 Asian Games will feature Esports as a medal event. Of course, familiar legal issues around things like player contracts and sponsorships will inevitably pop up, but since Esports is often consumed by young people via streaming websites, complex legal issues around intellectual property and publishing will likely increase demand for lawyers with specialised knowledge of the sector.  
  • The rules surrounding athletes classified as having a Difference of Sexual Development (DSD) continue to spark controversy. In April, two young 400-meter runners from Namibia, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, were ranked second and third in the world respectively. However, as DSD athletes, they are required to take medication to reduce their naturally high testosterone levels in order to compete in events between 400m and the mile. Both instead elected to run in the 200m at the Tokyo Olympic Games, with Mboma winning the silver medal.
  • In July 2021, US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson announced that she would not be competing at the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for marijuana. As marijuana is classified as a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Richardson was served a one-month ban. Calls to remove marijuana from the list of banned substances have increased in recent years, and opponents of the ban have pointed to the fact that the recreational use of marijuana is legal in the state of Oregon, where Richardson was tested.