MyFondia VirtualLawyer
September 9, 2020

The work of a lawyer and the creative industries

After graduating, I worked for twelve years in the commercial creative industry, including at an advertising agency. About a year ago, I returned home as a full-time lawyer (I still do not give any guarantees about being fully sane). In my blog posts, I make general and specific observations from a lawyer’s perspective, mainly on the issues surrounding the creative and entertainment industries.

Social media and training courses are full of different types of legal advice and checklists, written by lawyers, for creative workers. I am sure that I will also publish and continue to teach these myself. This time, however, I decided to change the perspective by listing a few top-level ideas that I have accumulated along the way about working as a lawyer in creative matters. As is customary to note, this list is not exhaustive.

Creative industries are a business

The creative industries and the industries associated with them are not just copyright issues or a subdivision of the IPR team. Not only do the questions that you are faced with cross several areas of law, but in these, as in other business expert activities, it is vital to know the mechanics, actors and customs of the field being consulted. Humility, and especially the possibility to ask and utilise other experts in your own work, is often a critical factor. Despite the rhetoric of social media and annual reports, lawyers, as a rule, still have a long way to go to genuine client-serving teamwork, where clients benefit (cost-effectively) from multidisciplinary teams.

However, a word about copyright in particular: I learned at an early stage as a lawyer in the “creative world” that in the creative phase, copyright exclusivity is the greatest crime against the artist’s freedom of expression and creation. However, once the work is completed, exclusivity produced by copyright becomes the most sacred legal good in the world – especially economically. Making art is a journey and so is the attitude towards copyright. Perspectives and opinions change.

The creative and entertainment industries are not legal farm leagues, where you can practice and go for a refreshing break. For example, if the day job involves dealing with compliance or insurance law matters, it is worth considering whether the representation you are providing would be good enough for a younger family member if they were to sign an artist contract with a multinational entertainment giant. As in other areas of law, close enough is not good enough. On the other hand, a persistent myth exists in the creative industry that there are no qualified lawyers in Finland, in law firms or elsewhere, working in the entertainment and creative industries, which is simply incorrect and dangerous because it is unnecessarily polarising.

The spotlights are dazzling

There is something magical about a famous movie star or musician and the industry and media that surrounds them. It is worth remembering your expert role and the context. The desire to please or the overly strong desire to get into the spotlight yourself can be an existential mistake for the client, potentially causing a promising career as an artist to stall due to poor representation. This is not to say that you should not vocalise your expertise or be your own brand. The right things at the right place and time.

It is good to love art, entertainment, or video games, or whatever else you see belonging in this very broad and fascinating category. But do the job because you want to be a lawyer, not because your own demo did not lead to a contract or auditions into a film role in the past. Of course, there are also qualified lawyer-artists.

Stereotypes lead to prejudice and bad legal practice

Forget classic stereotypes and the polarised positions associated with them. Big and international does not unequivocally mean bad. Big entertainment and media companies do not hunt for the souls of individual artists and other creative people that they then refine into gold bars for their owners. Of course, they are for-profit companies – that is the purpose of a limited company. These bodies, often perceived as evil monsters, obey the law, take a social stand etc. In fact, many of these monsters act almost as financial institutions, allowing individual artists and smaller companies to operate.

On the other hand, artists and musicians are also not peddlers who rely on grants, but professionals with commercial vision, who have a legitimate interest in making a profit. Stereotypes and maintaining them does not serve anyone. We lawyers have a great opportunity to make a difference here and do our part to make the creative and entertainment industries that we work in even more professional.

The work of a lawyer also requires genuine multidisciplinary cooperation

Law is a very precise science and profession. However, as a buyer of legal services, I also experienced the biggest challenge here. This precise professionalism and professional identity are linked to an inherent need to put things under a certain heading. However, real-world phenomena are less likely to go neatly under a particular heading. The creative process and the people in it often consciously try to get out from under these headings.

I think that this is the most difficult thing for us lawyers to learn in the face of legal challenges in the creative field and in other fields – in the modern world, solving complex phenomena requires the cooperation of many different experts.

Tämer Mohsen works as a Senior Legal Counsel at Fondia. He specialises in legal issues in the entertainment and creative industries.

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Media, Entertainment and Creative Industries