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.
- 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. This has resulted in the ASA banning adverts deemed to objectify the body – such as Protein World's beach body ready ad – and reinforce gender stereotypes, like Gap's little scholar/social butterfly ad.
- 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 (ad sales among national and regional brands is expected to drop by 7.9% and 8.6% respectively). Digital advertising (especially on mobile devices) is a growth area, with mobile advertising alone breaking £5 billion in 2017. 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.
- Web-based interactive and viral advertising is throwing up all kinds of data protection, privacy and commercial issues, especially as regulators continue to adjust to the specific concerns raised by digital advertising. The ASA reprimanded a number of YouTubers for secretly promoting products in their videos in November 2016. YouTube also found itself in hot water recently when big name advertisers – such as Verizon, AT&T and Enterprise – discovered that their adverts were being displayed alongside extremist content; they subsequently pulled their adverts (and money) in March 2017. Several popular YouTube stars including PewDiePie and Logan Paul have hit headlines for posting objectionable content, and had advertisement revenue and promotion pulled as a result.
- Despite its growing omnipresence, digital advertising remains a difficult way to make money: YouTube and Twitter both consistently struggle to turn a profit. Tumblr's future is uncertain, with some viewing the website as commercially unviable due to its largely teenage audience lacking the disposable income that advertisers typically target. Snapchat has also struggled after its landmark $3.4 billion IPO, the largest of 2017, dropped from $17 a share to $14 by the start of 2018. In a demonstration of how volatile this sector can be, negative tweets by Rihanna subsequently knocked $1 billion off the value of parent company Snap.
- Social media is now at the centre of many libel and defamation claims. A recent high profile example saw the food blogger Jack Monroe bring a successful claim against newspaper columnist Katie Hopkins over a Twitter exchange. In addition, Germany passed a new law in 2017 which will impose a fine of up to €50 million on companies that consistently fail to remove illegal content (read hate speech and fake news) from their sites. Given the challenge that social media platforms face in screening all posted content, this could well result in future disputes.
- 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.
- The music industry is going through a period of change: sales of physical products continue to slide, and on the digital side illegal downloading and piracy remain concerns, but the success of streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music gave the industry a 9.6% boost in 2017. Many listeners stream the majority of their music through YouTube, which launched a specific YouTube Music service in 2018. Conversely, artists have attacked streaming companies for not paying out sufficient royalties, a controversy that may damage profitability in future.
- 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. Recent issues include allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia, which caused the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to ban Russian track and field athletes from competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics (this ban was subsequently extended to the London World Athletics Championships 2017); and a case brought against cyclist Chris Froome by the Union Cycliste Internationale which was dropped in July 2018. Moreover, the many doping revelations of late have led people to question how 'legitimate' record wins of the past were; as a result all Athletic World and European records achieved before 2005 will be wiped.
- Among the most controversial privacy disputes of the last few years was litigation brought against the BBC over its coverage of the Metropolitan Police's search of Cliff Richard's apartment as part of Operation Yewtree. The High Court ruling found that Richard's right to privacy had been infringed and awarded the singer £210,000 in damages. Some commentators considered this fair compensation and attacked the BBC for its approach to the coverage; others argued that the ruling set a dangerous precedent against journalism in the public interest.