Whether you're a performer, investor, producer, or other entertainment industry professional, drafting proper entertainment contracts is key to reducing legal exposure, protecting your intellectual property, and avoiding misunderstandings.

The entertainment industry employs and involves a variety of contracts including, among others, music recording contracts, distribution agreements, management contracts, and performance agreements. In an industry that transacts heavily on intellectual property and artist rights, artists, producers, and others in entertainment must retain competent counsel to protect important rights and avoid costly disputes.

While each contract in entertainment differs in terms, conditions, and overall purpose, there are certain key aspects and common elements that artists and entertainers should be intimately familiar with to protect important rights.

Below are a few examples of contract provisions that often play a central role in entertainment contracts:

  • Intellectual Property Rights and Ownership: Among the most important rights an entertainer can protect are intellectual property rights including, among many others, copyright in music and band and associated trademarks. Common mistakes concerning intellectual property include, for example, the improper assignment or grant of rights by an artist to a third party. Errors concerning copyright assignment of music, for example, could potentially strip an artist of ownership of his or her music and forfeiture of royalties and other monies. A thorough understanding of entertainment and music law is paramount for any artist or entertainer.
  • Payment and Royalties: While entertainment agreements may include standard commercial payment terms, such as lump sum payments or timed installments, they typically include far more complex arrangements that include, among other things, royalties, licensing revenue, and related compensation structures. Artists negotiating a licensing, recording, or other entertainment agreement should be mindful of industry standards and norms to protect important rights and maximize earning potential.
  • Use of Intellectual Property: Band agreements, for example, will address, among other things, many important issues including the bandmates' use of the group's name and trademark. Of the many contested issues, one recurring issue concerns a band member's right to continue to use a band's name and trademark once a member leaves the group. Failure to address issues such as trademark use will lead to litigation and disputes down the line.

As noted, entertainment law concerns many important rights and the agreements are often complex, which is why teaming up with an experienced entertainment attorney is an important step towards protecting your rights as an artist, producer, filmmaker, or record label.

As noted, entertainment contracts involve important rights, so below are a few tips for those negotiating such agreements:

  • Do Your Research: Whether you are new to the entertainment industry, or a seasoned professional, avoid the temptation of signing any agreement simply because you "want a deal." Instead, collaborate with an entertainment professional to ensure that you understand the terms and conditions of the particular agreement to avoid squandering critical rights to third parties. Always conduct due diligence on the counterparty to assess whether or not the party can further your career or honor its obligations under the agreement.
  • Protect Your IP Rights: Most entertainment contracts include provisions addressing how the intellectual property rights of the parties will, or will not, be exploited and for how long. Common issues that will arise include, among others, assignments, royalties, distribution rights, and licensing agreements. Because entertainment projects often involve numerous intellectual properties, careful attention should be paid to the ownership and transfer provisions of any entertainment agreement to not only protect your rights but to maximize your revenue.
  • Don't Overlook Dispute Resolution Provisions: Another important aspect of entertainment contracts concerns dispute resolution provisions. For example, is a third party permitted to enjoin (or block) the release of your film, music, or project based on an alleged breach of contract? Such a remedy could doom a project before its release. Whether to resolve the dispute in court or via arbitration or mediation is another important aspect to consider carefully.

Entertainment agreements are complex and deal with a variety of complicated terms, provisions, and negotiations. As such, it is important to collaborate with an experienced entertainment attorney who will, among other things, protect your rights and make sure that the agreement you are signing is proper, fair, and accurately reflects the spirit of what you, as an entertainment profession, is looking to achieve. At Scarinci Hollenbeck, the attorneys of our Entertainment and Media Law Group are skilled legal strategists and industry insiders with decades of experience. Whether you are an emerging artist or industry veteran, we are ready to assist and help advance your career.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.