The knowledge behind the scenes

The chambers at 2 Hare Court enjoy something of a reputation as the media and entertainment set, with Robert Englehart QC and Ian Mill two of its brightest stars.

Englehart says: “The classic pop case has been the artist or group that wants to get out of its recording contract, claiming unreasonable restraint of trade. Now we are seeing more disputes between members of the groups themselves, rather than between them and their record company.”

The George Michael case was something of a watershed, says Englehart, because the record company succeeded. “In most of the earlier cases, the recording contracts were struck down as too wide or too onerous so the George Michael case certainly redressed the balance,” he explains.

One area of activity is broadcasting, says Englehart. “The commercial stakes in broadcasting are becoming so high, and the regulators have been quite keen on regulating, so there has been a growth in litigation, particularly of the judicial review type.”

However, all the judicial review cases against the ITC and the Radio Authority have uniformly met with failure. This is largely because the Broadcasting Act has given the regulators such broad discretion that it is very difficult to interfere with their decisions.

Radio, so long the poor relation of television, has become regarded an area for rich pickings. There is intense competition between operators.

Englehart comments: “They can become very disgruntled if they do not get a licence and some one else does. A lot of money is at stake.”

The Broadcasting Act has helped do away with cross-media ownership restrictions. “It is a very detailed and complicated area,” says englehart. “Increasingly, the lawyer is going to need knowledge not only of the legal principles behind the Act but the technology as well. The legislation actually incorporates technical jargon.”

Englehart's colleague Ian Mill probably spends more time exclusively on media and entertainment law than any other barrister. “It does vary but I would say that on average I spend as much as two thirds of my time on entertainment cases,” says Mill.

He was attracted to this area of law for a number of reasons. He says: “Fascinating legal aspects crop up which you tend not to find in other fields. As a contract lawyer, there are not many occasions when you will get into arguments about restraint of trade or undue influence. It just does not tend to happen in the commercial world, unlike in media and entertainment. Copyright is an equally fascinating area.”

He finds the subject matter of his cases interesting and the client base amusing. “I cannot think of another area of law where one could derive such obvious enjoyment,” he says.

He thinks that there are quite a few people at the Bar who would like to do more entertainment work than they do, but instructing solicitors tend to be somewhat conservative.

“Once they have found people they are comfortable with, they tend to stick with them,” says Mill.

“The topics that arise tend to be ones that only you only find in this area, so once you have someone who is familiar with them, you can be confident that that person will be able to deal with the points that arise.”

Equally important, he says, is that solicitors like to work with barristers who know something of the industry: “There is a mystique that attaches to the way the media sector operates. Once you are familiar with the jargon, you can communicate more efficiently with the solicitors, who are so much closer to the industry.”