What The General Counsel Role Is Like In The Entertainment Industry?

Lavish limousines, movie premiers, album launches, wrap-up parties, catchy 90s jingles that we still hear people humming. This is what our mind drifts to when we think of the entertainment industry. 

Nobody on this planet is alien to the fact that entertainment is growing by leaps and bounds every second. Content is getting created as you read this, whether in audio, video, or print.

And as this mammoth of industry grows larger and larger, the need for a legal construct or framework gets even bigger.

What The General Counsel Role Is Like In The Entertainment Industry

What Is Entertainment Law?

Think about the various times you called out plagiarism when you heard two similar sounding songs. 

You judged the makers for the lack of originality in the song. Thus, there need to be rules and regulations that administer this industry.

Entertainment law, also known as media law, covers the whole spectrum – TV, radio, film, advertising, theatre, music, publishing, internet, and news media, etc. 

These are the usual basic groups we categorize entertainment into. The law expands over several legal fields as well, including finance, corporate, publicity and privacy, etc. 

Entertainment law many times overlaps with the intellectual property law.

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What Is A General Counsel In The Entertainment Industry?

Imagine Walt Disney Pictures realizes that a short film produced by a new film studio on the block has plagiarized Finding Nemo. Walt Disney then loops in its general counsel to get into the nitty-gritty of the case. 

A general counsel is usually a competent attorney, who can either be a full-time employee or a consultant to the company. The general counsel then offers legal advice to the management. 

The general counsel job description basically involves representing the company in every legal situation that the company faces. 

What Are Some Typical Tasks A General Counsel Does In The Entertainment Industry?

Help Companies With Copywriting

Imagine Walt Disney Pictures wants to make an American adaptation of the South Korean movie, Parasite. It cannot just go out and start filming. 

It first needs to go through the whole legal procedure of getting the Japanese movie’s rights before any other process starts. This is where its general counsel steps in and takes care of the proceeding. 

Similarly, if a Japanese film studio wants to create a South Korean adaptation of Joker, the general counsel would represent Walt Disney in this case too. 

Negotiate With Artists

When a music label is signing a singer for an album or two, the singer’s attorney would always negotiate better terms. 

You, the music label’s general counsel, would be the face of the label and conduct the negotiations with the artist’s attorney. 

Both legal experts would be determining what is fair or unfair in the contract and come to a mutual understanding that benefits both parties, i.e. the singer and the music label. 

Ensure Compliance With The Law

The management of Walt Disney Pictures is buried deep in the day-to-day operations of the company. 

Therefore, it is your job as a general counsel to ensure that the company is compliant with all rules and regulations governing the country, state, and industry it does business in. 

For example, the CEO of Walt Disney would not be directly looking into being tax compliant as he/she has a gazillion other tasks at hand. 

However, as a general counsel who also heads the legal department, you would be responsible for overseeing such functions in the organization.

Manage That Risk

Legal trouble could come out of anywhere, not necessarily related to the core business of the company. 

For example, Walt Disney purchases a piece of land to build an office. But disputes arise on the sale of the land between Walt Disney and the seller. 

Thus, the general counsel always needs to be on his/her toes to look out for any situation arising in the near future or perhaps 15 years later. 

A good practice would be to carve out a risk framework. 

If an unforeseeable risk pops up, the general counsel can immediately assign the actionable items to be executed by various department heads to expedite the process.

Communicate Actively 

With all the legal responsibilities in your hands as a general counsel, you would be required to communicate the law to other departments whenever needed. 

You would also be reporting to the CEO, who most probably would not understand matters as well as you do. Hence, your communication needs to be crisp and effective enough to make a layman understand the law. 

The upper management may also require you to provide legal status updates on a periodic basis. 

Keep Up With The Law

The law is not constant; it keeps changing. Newer Bills and Acts are passed all the time and must be mandatorily adopted by the companies that it will be applicable to. 

Thus, you would need to keep researching any laws applicable to the entertainment industry and your company in particular. 

It would also be advisable to come up with contingencies to combat any legal issues arising in the future.

What Are Some Skills Needed By The General Counsel?

As the head of the legal department, a general counsel naturally needs to be in a good position to offer legal advice. As an aspiring GC lawyer, you need to be a seasoned professional with some prior legal experience. 

Being careless is where the whole argument falls apart for GCs in entertainment. The legal counsel must be cautious at all times and quick at decision making, especially as legal matters can be very critical. 

The senior management would not be able to attend to legal matters due to bandwidth constraints. This also implies that leadership skills would also be a requirement for general counsel.

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In Closing

All this being said, these are very generic duties and requirements of a general counsel. This position is quite dynamic, especially in entertainment. 

As a result, the general counsel’s employer would decide the exact details of the job so that the new hire adds significant value to the company.

Regardless, the job is definitely hugely demanding, and thus, the general counsel’s salary is just as rewarding. 

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