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Lawyers. Wait... Even in the Arts?

April 2, 2019

 

 

Especially in the Arts!

 

Yes! Lawyers are integral to the success of all organizations, corporations, and businesses, and arts organizations (even non-profit arts organizations) are no exception. When we think of arts organizations, even those of us keenly aware of all of the behind the scenes characters that keep the machine running, we often fall into the trap of forgetting crucial components. Think of one of your local theatre organizations. It doesn’t have to be the biggest or even the best, but consider for a moment, all of the various legal hoops that such an organization has to jump through just to put on a single production. Getting rights to the show and the marketing material, contracting performers and crew members, liability for injuries, properly crediting donations and taxable income, and handling any “legal action” that may come up in the course of the production. That’s a lot of work for a team of interns, or even a team of managers with no legal expertise. Starting to understand? Without a team of good lawyers, your favorite performances and shows would never have crossed your local stage.

 

What about at the smallest level?

What about the smallest forms of arts organizations? In fact, what about individual performers themselves? Surely every ensemble member in Newsies didn’t have their own individual attorney!

 

Well you’re right, not every artist or performer needs to staff an expert in contracts, liabilities, or negotiations. That being said, these individuals would be remiss without at least thinking to contact some sort of agent, manager, or consultant trained in contract negotiations. After all, navigating unions, arts organizations, and performance opportunities as a budding artist can be enough to make one’s head spin. Many young artists make the great decision to contact friends or family who are connected in the industry or have relevant business experience for help negotiating with those early opportunities. Those that aren’t lucky enough to have those connections often turn to agencies or managers for professional help navigating the struggles of being an young artist. The trap that some fall into is partnering with an agent or a manager with little to no experience reading contracts, negotiating for a client, representing a client’s interests, or identifying trustworthy employers. So the short answer is this: a single artist doesn’t ​need​ a lawyer for the day to day struggles of being a professional, but having someone in your corner with legal expertise never hurts.

 

And at the top?

What kind of legal work goes into an arts organization at the very top? What does it take to operate a top shelf orchestra or Broadway theatre from the legal perspective? A quick Google search of ‘arts organization staff attorney’ reveals that the process of retaining legal counsel at the top is rarely as simple as hiring a lawyer to work on behalf of the entire organization. Instead what you’ll see is links to other organizations, such as ‘Lawyers for the Creative Arts’ and ‘Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts’ which are massive non-profit organizations dedicated to - you guessed it - providing legal guidance on the organizational level. If a person is planning on practicing law solely for the benefit of arts organizations, they aren’t getting into the legal profession for the money since their best bet is to partner with a nonprofit organization and expect a mountain of p​ro bono work.

 

Pro bono​ refers to professional services that are provided to a client without the standard charge. It literally means “for good” because the idea is to provide service as a good deed to those in need. The American Bar Association (ABA) is the organization that licenses attorneys to practice in certain jurisdictions through divisions of the association that are divided up at the state, city, and circuit levels. In certain states, like Florida and Illinois, barred attorneys are required by the ABA to report a minimum amount of ​pro bono​ hours, or otherwise face fines and the possibility of being suspended or disbarred. It’s important to talk about p​ro bono ​work in the context of the arts environment because this is how many arts organizations are able to afford and utilize legal experts to their advantage.That all being said, there are some exceptions to the rule.

 

Take the Los Angeles Philharmonic for example, consistently rated one of the top ten full symphony orchestras in the world by G​ramophone,​ a particularly well regarded classical music publication. The LA Phil has the largest budget of any orchestra in the United States, reigning in over $30 million from individual donations annually (not to mention ticket revenue from selling out the Walt Disney Concert Hall regularly.) All of the orchestra’s success is owed to a thriving arts community, progressive programming, generous donors, and intelligent administration consisting of a small army of managers, producers, and developers. And a single staff attorney named Aly Zacharias. Mr. Zacharias is relatively new to the position, having been brought on only in May of 2018, but his resume speaks to his worthiness, having worked in contract review positions for various LA firms for the better part of the last 20 years. While advertising the search, the orchestra stated that it was searching for someone certified by the California Bar Association with specialties in contract, human resources, negotiation, copyright, and entertainment law with at least 6 years relevant experience.

 

This isn’t to say that Aly Zacharias is the only attorney who works for the entirety of the LA Philharmonic orchestra organization. For one attorney to handle the hundreds of contracts, countless copyrights, and any other claims that might concern the orchestra, would be an undertaking that no single attorney could ever promise (and no single organization could afford). Even an organization with the pocketbook and the stature that the LA Phil can boast relies on non-profit organizations and charitable ​pro bono work from groups like ‘California Lawyers for the Arts'

 

What is Entertainment Law?

‘Entertainment aw’ is the common name for the legal sphere that surrounds any individual or conglomerate that operates in the public eye for the purposes of entertainment, everything from the Museum of Modern Art in NYC to LeBron James falls under that umbrella. More and more law schools around the country are beginning to offer specializations in entertainment law, just as they offer specializations in litigation, probate, criminal defense, and countless other sectors. But what does an entertainment lawyer study?

 

At the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Ziffren Center for Media, Entertainment, Technology, and Sports Law students explore the nuances of the aforementioned legal subsets. Only the best and the brightest minds have access to the resources offered by the Ziffren Center, though, but with good reason. UCLA boasts the number one program in the nation for entertainment law according to various sources and has partnerships with major networks, producers, and organizations like the Screen Actors Guild, NBCUniversal, and Warner Interactive Entertainment. At UCLA Law students are given the choice to schedule rigorous coursework that focuses on the niche areas of law where the student’s interests lie. A first year law student anywhere in the country may take classes like ​Evidence 1, Constitutional Law 1, Contracts, a​ nd the ever dreaded ​Torts.​ But at UCLA a first year law student in the Ziffren Center might be taking a class entitled A​ rt and Cultural Property Law​ or even ​Music Industry Law and Motion Picture Distribution​. These classes focus on the intersection of legality, production, possession, and distribution of art or artistic ideas, which is an ever growing legal discussion in the digital age.

 

Entertainment law isn’t all as sexy as music and film copyright law or other forms of intellectual property. In fact every subset of law that could ever come into contact with media falls within the domain of entertainment law, which is an expansive list. Things like employment law, contract law, torts, labor law, bankruptcy law, immigration, securities law, security interests, agency, right of privacy, defamation, advertising, criminal law, tax law, international law (especially private international law), and insurance law are all well within the scope of an entertainment lawyer’s expertise.

 

What all of this boils down to is one key idea: that all organizations, no matter their sector or size, benefit from consulting legally literate individuals, such as attorneys. For nonprofit arts organizations this is especially true given the body of legislation that an organization can come into contact with in the course of a year. Fortunately there are individuals who not only specialize in providing legal aid to arts organizations, but also seek to do so purely so that the public can access as much good art as possible.

 

 Spencer Davis Campbell is a fourth-year student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Throughout his time at Miami, Spencer has been fortunate enough to make many friends and meet many mentors, both in and out of the Arts Management program. Associate Justice of the Student Court, Brother of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and President of Miami Mock Trial, he has been involved in a number of on campus organizations throughout his time at Miami. In March of 2019, Spencer joined a cohort of Miami Students on a trip to Washington D.C. to take part in National Arts Advocacy Day. While there he, and his fellow students, spoke to legislators about the importance of supporting the arts and humanities, the NEA, and education through empowering legislation. After graduating in May of 2019 with a B.A. in Music and Arts Management and a Minor in Business Legal Studies, Spencer plans on pursuing his J.D. at a school that is yet to be decided.

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