The Law Practice of Christopher Schiller
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Areas of Practice - Entertainment Law

Entertainment Law

Entertainment Law encompasses a vast array of fields of entertainment, each requiring a little bit different legal perspective. Some fields have special dispensation in the law specific to that particular genre (such as film-making, an audio-visual endeavor, and the allowance of "work made for hire" contracts with otherwise independent contractors.) Regardless of any particular legal peculiarities an understanding of the unique character of each field of entertainment provides a sense of how pursuit of that field will impact the legal landscape.

Typical Fields of Entertainment

There are a myriad number of fields of expression that could be umbrellaed under the label of Entertainment Law. The short list here is a mere sampling of the more common ones and the unique legal problems that can arise within them.


The creative and highly collaborative arena of film production combines the talents of a multitude of specialized individuals and companies. Each of these relationships requires a particular legal approach. Because of the significant expense and potential world impact of a film, it is essential to form a thorough understanding of the legal ramifications of tasks such as Screenwriting, Producing, Directing, Art Direction, Stunts, Choreography, Music Acquisition, Actors, Unions, Financial, Advertising, Distribution and all the rest of the bits of magic that combine to form what we collectively call a movie. The task of pointing out the idiosyncrasies of each of these tasks in a legal sense would take up too much space here.

Television, Satellite, Cable, Radio

Creating programming for television, satellite, cable and radio is similar in some respects to creating theatrical releases but because the distribution channels are unique, there are unique legal considerations for these media. Examples include: the retransmission rights inherent in the sending of signals to be broadcast from remote locations. These secondary transmissions necessary to facility the spread of regional and nationwide programming have their own statutory constraints and procedures since they are special cases of the duplication and public performance copyrights. The unique nature of television "re-runs" bring another legal element to the fore in the name of residuals. These are the payments for performances for secondary and following exhibitions of an original transmission. These payments are negotiated and regulated often by collective bargaining agreements, but, are complex and differ greatly depending on which medium the re-transmission will be sent upon. These are just a couple of legal quirks that pop up when pursuing these forms of entertainment distribution.


Besides the common Entertainment Law aspects shared with other genres, theater and live stage performances bring their own unique legal issues into the footlights with them. Examples of these include issues of Unique Talent performances, where the exact talent booked is necessary in order to accomplish fulfillment of the contract and no substitute similar act will do. This situation places particular burdens on the talents abilities to fulfill the contract weighed against the talent's right not to be forced into performing personal service against her will. Care in contract formation is necessary for full fairness to both sides. Another example is the legal issue of improvisation on a live stage. Spur of the moment creative efforts cannot usually be protected in the United States by copyright because they lack the essential element of being fixed in an expressive medium. Unless the performances are recorded, there is no way to use copyright to prevent a copy-cat act from stealing a particularly good improv performance. The same problem of recordation hangs over choreography for stage work. Unless the choreographer uses a notation method with which the choreography can be replicated there is no way to prevent a rival choreographer from dancing off with identical moves.


Music is an area of Entertainment Law that is particularly complex and deals with a multitude of issues unique or unusual in the course of practice. One such unique differentiation is the difference between two forms of copyrightable protection with regard to recorded musical works. These are Musical Composition and Sound Recording. As discussed in the Copyright section of this site a musical composition is the copyright granted to the composer and lyricist for the work they did to create a piece. A sound recording is the captured performance of a musical composition. Both of these copyrights must be dealt with when procuring music for distribution or transmission. For example, when a movie wants to use a prerecorded track in its sound track the producers has to get clearances for both the reproduction of the musical composition as well as the "sync license" for the reproduction of the sound recording. Great care need be taken when using music to make sure that all rights holders are compensated properly.

Another differentiation from other works is that a musical composition, once publicly performed is subject to a compulsory license. This is a means for another artist to re-record the musical composition regardless of the desires of the rights holder as long as the new artist agrees to pay a statutorily set fee. The rights holder cannot object to such "cover" tunes being made of their work as long as the new work does not significantly alter the original intent of the piece to the extent where a derivative work is created.

Literary Publishing

Publishing brings its own unique perspectives and concerns. When dealing with non-fiction there is always the concern of invasion of privacy, and the rights of privacy and/or publicity that vary from state to state. Then there is the problem of defamation if the statements turn out to be false. Even in non-fiction there is the claims of copyright infringement of other's works as well as the specter of plagiarism, while not technically illegal can be grounds for a claim of fraud if blatant and deliberate.

Comic Books and Graphic Novels

The particularly interesting arena of comic books joins the talents of graphic artists and writers in a unique, collateral partnership. This brings up a number of joint authorship issues some of which have set case precedent.

Web Sites, Blogs, Internet Distribution

The emerging and evolving areas and opportunities of the Internet are creating their own unique Entertainment Law quirks as well. Among the many twists of law that may befall such forays are whether a blogger would qualify for the right of reporter's privilege available in some state courts. There's the whole deep linking issue, use of copyrighted elements from other people's sites and the statutory regulations specific to posting messages and information through Internet Service Providers. And currently every other entertainment medium is considering attempting further distribution of their products through the Internet, bringing along with them all the legal concerns inherent in them.

My Interests

I have gone the least in depth in the descriptions in this section because the fields of Entertainment Law are so diverse and particularity would only serve to confuse rather than inform the general public. Suffice to say that when a specific problem or issue comes to me for discussion I will provide the depth of detail and application necessary for understanding the nature of elements involved. The fields of entertainment listed above as well as many others are intriguing to me for reasons of my own participation in them or keen interests therefore I try to stay on top of the latest developments in nearly all the areas of Entertainment Law.