3 December 2009
It is about rights and exploiting content. Working within media and sports law can mean dealing with stars, but the real hook is seeing the fruits of your labour in everyday life.
What’s it all about?
It involves making money out of the content you might come across in film, television, music and magazines. Take a picture of actress Megan Fox that appears on the front cover of Elle magazine. The magazine will have paid Fox’s agent for the right to publish her image. Why? Because it wants to sell magazines.
Areas of law that are particularly pertinent in this sector are: intellectual property (no, not about houses but intangible property such as copyright and trademarks, for example, the Nike brand that appears on sportswear), defamation, information technology, data protection and privacy, gambling and commercial law.
Some larger firms have media specialists, but the majority of lawyers in this field work at smaller niche practices. You can either practice as a non-contentious lawyer (ie working on and negotiating deals) or as a litigator (helping clients to resolve disputes either outside or in court). Alternatively, you could be an employment lawyer specialising in advising sports governing bodies, players or their agents. You can work in-house or for a law firm.
Clients could include: music download services (eg Apple) broadcasters (eg Sky), rights holders (eg BBC Worldwide, a photographer or a design agency); format rights owners (eg, Simon Cowell or Who Wants to be a Millionaire?), sports governing bodies (eg the FA or Fifa); publishers (eg The Daily Telegraph), pop stars (eg Cheryl Cole); computer games (eg Nintendo) and record companies (eg EMI).
The working culture
Compared with working for a big City firm that specialises, for example, in banking law, media and sports law firms are unstuffy, rarely require a suit and tie and are entrepreneurial. If you want to be the highest paid lawyer, media and sports law is not for you. If you want interesting work, to think creatively and to be the envy of your peers (and for your non-lawyer friends to actually sound interested in what you do), this could be your bag. However, be aware - media clients often work to tight deadlines (eg a publishing deadline) and can be very demanding.
Traditional media such as terrestrial television and radio are now converging with new media such as satellite television, IPTV, internet, home multimedia centres, computers, iPhone and mobile phones. For example, you can now watch your favourite TV shows on your iPhone and even on your mobile as and when you want. Distributing content on new media platforms often requires renegotiation with rights holders and a good understanding of new technologies.
Convergence means that media and sports lawyers now need to be well versed in technology law as well as traditional media law - technology and media law now go hand in hand. Technology and media law is also continually evolving. As a result, you will constantly need to keep abreast of developments and updates in the law as it relates to new media. The market for media and sports lawyers is competitive, so you will need to read around the media and be aware of recent developments to stand a chance of getting your foot in the door.
You will need to have a good grasp of contract and intellectual property law, together with an aptitude for being commercial. In other words, you need to know the law backwards, but you also need to be able to spot a bad deal from a good one and, where appropriate, suggest ways in which a deal can be improved. You will also need to be able to work well under pressure.
ou need to be prepared to be as keen to work on the boring stuff as well as the sexy deals. Until you are more experienced, you are more likely to be asked to proof documents and draft terms and conditions than negotiate X Factor runners-up JLS’s latest record deal. Also, do not expect to talk on the phone everyday to Daniel Craig. Lawyers normally deal with celebrities’ agents rather than the stars themselves. You will need excellent interpersonal skills, the ability to manage expectations and attention to detail. Above all, you must have a passion for the media and the internet.
Cliff Fluet is a partner and Phil James a senior associate at Lewis Silkin