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.
- 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.
- Business magnate Elon Musk’s purchase of social media site Twitter, which he has since renamed X, once more reignited the debate over whether or not social media companies should be treated as ‘publishers’ in law, which would mean that these companies have a greater duty to censor what is posted on their platforms. Upon buying the company for a reported $44bn, Musk stated that he wished to make the social media website a platform for free speech. He tweeted: “If the citizens want something banned, then pass a law to do so, otherwise it should be allowed.” However, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that under Musk’s ownership, 83% of censorship requests made by authoritarian governments such as India and Turkey have been ratified.
- A number of music publishers sued Twitter for $250m over hundreds of alleged copyright breaches. 17 different publishers in total have joined forces to undertake such a legal challenge, claiming that the social media platform possesses an ‘unfair advantage’ since, unlike TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, it does not hold a license permitting users to post copyrighted material.
- In May 2023, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) published its latest yearly report, which outlined its increasing focus on reforms to digital advertising. The report particularly highlighted the ASA’s intention to clamp down on ads that make false claims about the environment, about crypto assets or those falsely aimed at children. The report also announced the ASA’s plan to introduce tougher content restrictions on gambling ads.
- Multiple leading banks have been accused of ‘greenwashing’ as reported by S&P Global. The term is used to describe misleading marketing ploys used by companies to portray themselves as more environmentally friendly than they really are. According to the Financial Times, HSBC is for instance said to have produced adverts selectively vaunting its efforts to reduce global warming while failing to mention its financing of businesses with significant greenhouse gas emission levels.
- Keeping with the theme of ‘greenwashing’, the UK’s advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority, had clamped down on misleading advertising within the realm of climate change. A direct case in point, energy and petrochemical company Shell have had adverts portraying their new pipeline, refinery, and rig developments as environmentally friendly, banned.
- Musicians continue to report obstacles with regards to touring Europe in the aftermath of Brexit due to the restrictions placed on haulage of equipment between the UK and the EU. The Independent reported that, as per results of a survey conducted by the Independent Society of Musicians (ISM), roughly 47% of British artists say they’venot had as much work in Europe since the UK’s departure from the EU. With a further 28% having experienced no offers of work at all, fresh calls for new visa-free travel plans that removes barriers relating to visas, work permits, travel costs, and carnets have been duly raised.
- British Cycling - the UK’s national governing body for the sport – has followed the lead of UK Athletics and Swim England in barring transgender women from competing in female-designated events. With the women’s category of competitive cycling now reserved for those with a birth sex of female, leading transgender cyclist Emily Bridges, who had hoped to compete for Great Britain at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, has decided to quit the sport.
- In 2023, the World Anti-Doping Agency published its list of banned substances and methods that athletes cannot use while competing in professional sports. This year's list made a few alterations to the 2022 list, including a ban on Anabolic Agents, Hormone and Metabolic Modulators, and Diuretics and Masking Agents.
- 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. The Asian Games (postponed from last year) will feature esports as a medal event, with the industry expected to reach an annual revenue of $1.8bn as a result. Since esports are often consumed by young people via streaming websites, complex legal issues around intellectual property and publishing will likely increase the demand for lawyers with specialist knowledge of the sector.
- Saudi Arabia has been consistently accused of ‘sportswashing’ in recent times, with the nation’s sporting investments in the past year having exacerbated such claims. A term used to describe the use of sport to revive a tarnished reputation, critics have labelled Saudi sportswashing a conscious effort to distract from the country’s questionable human rights record. The Kingdom has spent roughly £4.9bn in sports deals since 2021, and in the summer of 2023, Saudi football clubs signed global names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Neymar. Closer to home too, pressure continues to mount on Premier League club Newcastle United after its Saudi Public Investment Fund takeover went through with assurances that the Arab state will not have control of the club, despite the fact its ownership comprises of a Sovereign Wealth Fund headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.