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 2020

  • Social media and digital marketing make up a larger portion of advertising than ever before. Web-based interactive and data-driven targeted advertising is throwing up all kinds of data protection, privacy and commercial concerns, especially as regulators continue to adjust to the specific issues raised by digital marketing. After damning evidence emerged surrounding Facebook’s involvement with Cambridge Analytica – a third-party data-mining company which covertly harvested users’ data for electoral purposes – the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ordered Zuckerberg’s company to pay a staggering $5 billion fine for deception of its users in July 2019.
  • With the upcoming 2020 US presidential election, social media policies relating to political advertising will once again be in the limelight. Controversially, Facebook’s current policy sees that politicians are exempt from the platform’s third-party fact-checking programme. Other platforms have banned political advertising altogether, and Twitter took the first step in flagging several of Donald Trump’s tweets for “violating Twitter Rules about civic and election integrity” but kept them up as “it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet(s) to remain accessible.”
  • In both traditional and social media, calls for the ASA to crack down on adverts deemed harmful or misleading have increased in recent years. This has resulted in the ASA banning adverts deemed to objectify the body – such as Protein World's 'beach body ready' ad – or to reinforce gender stereotypes, like Gap's little scholar/social butterfly ad.
  • 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. It is, however, likely that the UK will implement laws that reflect existing EU legislation, as maintaining compatible systems comes with commercial advantages.
  • In a deal of unparalleled size and impact in TV and film history, 2019 saw Disney close its $71 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Sparking international concern surrounding potential antitrust infringements, the Department of Justice cleared the vertical merger, leaving Disney with an estimated 40% control over the pre-Covid-19 global theatrical box office.
  • The US National Women’s Soccer Team has been embroiled in a long-running legal battle over equitable pay. Despite being a far more decorated outfit that their male counterparts – ranked first in the world, with four World Cup trophies under their belt – the debate concerning equable pay continues. In part due to sponsorship and advertising deals, the team reportedly earn six times less in bonuses than the men’s side, prompting the USWNT to file a lawsuit against US Soccer seeking to remedy the monetary chasm.
  • Another seminal sporting decision emerged recently when the IAAF ruled that Caster Semenya, South African 800m Olympic champion, will be required to medically reduce her testosterone levels in order to continue competing on the world stage. Semenya lost her appeal against the IAAF after challenging what she believed to be “discriminatory” new regulations that required female athletes with DSDs (differences in sexual development) to chemically alter levels of testosterone through the use of hormones.
  • Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures had an unprecedented impact on the sports sector. The English Premier League, Football League and Scottish FA each decided to suspend matches, and with that comes the question as to whether these circumstances release an organisation from its various contractual obligations. Deloitte predicted that the impact on the Premier League’s revenues would amount to around £1 billion.
  • 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.
  • Many film and production companies were forced to suspend production as a result of Covid-19. Eventually, the UK government pledged £500 million to a scheme aimed at restarting film and TV production, which will be available to films spending 50% or more of their budget in the UK.