Finding Entertainment Law Resources Online: From Scholarship to Scandal

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Type “entertainment” into the Google search engine, and "about 680,000,000" results appear, led by E! Online. Type “entertainment law” into the Google search engine, and about 339,000,000 results are listed, with Beverly Hills entertainment attorney Mark Litwak's site listed first, and the Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal (COMM/ENT) not far behind. From the lowbrow to the highbrow, these searches offer an excellent summary of the range of online sources that entertainment attorneys use to stay informed. More specific questions can be addressed by refining one’s search techniques.

To begin researching an entertainment law question, a good approach is to locate and peruse law review articles, because they provide an overview of the area of law and cite to leading cases and laws. The Hastings COMM/ENT site lists articles ranging from communications, entertainment, and intellectual property to Internet, telecommunications, biotechnology, multimedia, broadcasting, and constitutional law. While the journal does not offer its articles online with full text, its does offer a free searchable index of articles from 1978 to 1994. For articles from 1995-2000, you can browse the volume's table of contents (the most current issues are not indexed online). Citations and abstracts of each article are provided.

If an attorney is seeking background information about entertainment in general, especially its people, the best places to start may be consumer entertainment sites. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish E! Online’s news from its gossip, but this site offers full-text searching of its extensive Hollywood coverage. It also boasts a useful hyperlink feature. Users reading an article can click on a celebrity’s name to retrieve a biography or a career chronology, a credit list, links to related E! Online stories, and links to multimedia clips and fan clubs.

"The Trades"
Reading entertainment trade publications in print is a morning ritual for most entertainment attorneys. The online versions, however, are useful for their archives of past stories and their currency. The Hollywood Reporter and Variety update their sites continually, and they may also post stories that are longer than those found in the print versions. The Hollywood Reporter’s subscriber site includes continually updated news, in addition to a digital version of its weekly print publication. Selected current news articles, from the site's homepage are available free, while access to most other stories require a paid subscription. The publication's archival content is no longer readily accessible via the site's search box. Combination print/Web site subscriptions begin at $199/year with Web-only access priced at $19.95 monthly.

Variety.com has resources similar to those of the Hollywood Reporter, but it makes the publication's archive of stories archive—back to 1906—readily avaiable (full text of the archival articles is limited to subscribers). Variety.com subscribers can register for various free e-newsletters, with topics ranging from film news to box office numbers. All users can search Variety's help wanted ads for free, as well as job change announcments, obituaries, and photos. Nonsubscribers can also read the headlines and abstracts of articles for free, as well as Variety columnists such as Brian Lowry, Steven Chagollan, and Peter Bart. Access to Variety’s site is free to print subscribers. The cost of an annual subscription is $329 per year, or $24.95 per month. (Variety even offer a separate subscription to access its archive at VarietyUltimate.com—$60/month or $600/year.) 

Attorneys with clients in the television or radio industry may also subscribe to Television Week (formerly Electronic Media) and/or Broadcasting & Cable. Both cover broadcast and cable television, but Broadcasting & Cable also covers the radio industry, while Television Week also covers the interactive media industry. Like the Hollywood Reporter and Variety, both host sites (www.tvweek.com and www.broadcastingcable.com, respectively). Every Monday, top stories from Television Week’s weekly print edition are added to TVWeek.com. The site is also updated every day with breaking news. 

Broadcasting & Cable’s site offers nonsubscribers abstracts of the print publication’s news and feature stories, as well as blog posts by writers and editors like Jon Lafayette, Melissa Grego, and John Eggerton, among others. Full online access is free only to subscribers of the print edition (at $199 per year). The site also offers a free daily e-mail newsletter of top headlines.

Other Specialty Sources
Law librarians at entertainment law firms are often asked to obtain contact and background information about companies or people in the entertainment industry. The firms may be conducting background research on a potential client or an opposing party, or they may simply need an address to serve a complaint. For contact information and biographical data, entertainment law librarians favor two subscription sites: Baseline Studio System and the Internet Movie Database (IMDB, www.imdb.com), which offers a professional subscription that gives subscribers access to 80,000 people and 30,000 companies in the entertainment industry and box office statistics for 18 countries (including weekly and daily tallies for the United States). IMDbPro subscriptions are $15.95 per month, with a 14-day free trial available. Nonsubscribers can access some information for free, assuming they are able to wade through the continual pop-up advertising. Free information at IMDb includes searchable archives (in some cases back to 1970; see the Advanced Search page at http://www.imdb.com/search), celebrity news, box office information, reviews, a picture gallery, and a film glossary. Nonsubscribers can view more detailed information (but not as much as subscribers) if they register, which costs nothing.

Baseline’s databases contain 1.5 million records, including 10,000 biographies; credits of 1,100,000 actors, producers, directors, and crews; and contact information for companies, executives, and talent. Baseline also includes archives of Kagan movie data, the Hollywood Reporter, and Variety. Updates about films and television programs in development and production, as well as current entertainment news, can be viewed in a daily e-mail message. Other information and statistics, including the Star Salary Report, are also available. A free trial subscription is available.

What Two Attorneys Use
When I asked Susan Kaiser, an attorney who has represented network-owned radio and television stations and negotiates and drafts agreements and contracts, which resources she uses in her entertainment law practice, she responded: “Probably the resource I use most is Google—to search opposing counsel, talent names, potential clients, and law firms.” Searching Google makes sense when an attorney is trolling for any and all information, because Google, which indexes more of the Web than any other engine, casts a wide net. It is not surprising that her first line of research is a general search engine instead of an entertainment-related site.

Similarly, the vice president of legal and business affairs and general counsel at a major cable television network informed me that a non-entertainment site is his first line of research: findlaw.com and its search engine, lawcrawler.findlaw.com. Digging into Findlaw, one can discover that it has a rather large entertainment law and news component at its Entertainment and Sports page (found at www.findlaw.com/01topics/12entertainsport). Attorneys can also subscribe to free weekly entertainment and sports law newsletters, which are delivered via e-mail by signing up at http://newsletters.findlaw.com/samples/elegal.html and http://newsletters.findlaw.com/samples/sports.html).

The Guilds
Transactional entertainment lawyers spend a lot of time drafting agreements and forms. Finding a good source of sample forms can speed the process. For general business forms, the ‘Lectric Law Library (found at http://lectlaw.com/form.html), a site with forms that can be accessed for free and according to a fee structure, is favored by the network vice president. For entertainment- specific forms and agreements, the sites of the major Hollywood creative guilds should be consulted. The Directors Guild, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Writers Guild offer their agreements and signatory agency lists online. The DGA and WGA also make their minimum pay scale available. The WGA and SAG offer searchable databases to determine whether a production was produced under a contract from the respective guild (although the results do not include the name of the guild signatory that produced the work). The DGA also offers a variety of forms, such as deal memos, signatory compliance forms, and residual reporting forms. Additionally, the site offers a searchable database of guild members.

Trademark & Copyright Searching
Intellectual property law, especially in copyrights and trademarks, is a large component of entertainment law. For a basic trademark search, Kaiser searches the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office site (www.uspto.gov). Although she would not file a trademark application after searching only this site, a preliminary search at the trademark office gives her a sense of whether it is a good idea to conduct a full search at a pay site such as Thompson & Thompson (http://www.t-tlaw.com/trademarks.htm). Those delving into copyright issues, such as registrations and ownership documents, have a Web-based alternative to the dreaded dial-up LOCIS search system. The Web-based system, found at http://www.copyright.gov/records/, now consists of one integrated database (instead of what had perviously been three separate databases) covering over 20 million registered works back to January 1, 1978. It includes registrations and preregistrations for books, music, films, sound recordings, maps, software, photographs, art, multimedia, periodicals, magazines, journals, newspapers, and other types of works. It may take recent registrations several months to appear. Records are searchable by title, and claimant or registrant's name, among other categories. For further inquiries, users can send e-mail or chat with the library’s virtual librarian at www.loc.gov/rr/askalib.

Performing Rights Organizations
Attorneys in the music industry can bookmark the following sites to link to countless music publishing, U.S. copyright and licensing, and songwriting and music rights resources: the National Music Publisher’s Association’s links page (www.nmpa.org/links), Kohn on Music Licensing (http://www.kohnmusic.com), and Worldwide Internet Music Resources at the Indiana University School of Music (at http://www.music.indiana.edu/music_resources).

The sites of performing rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI have databases of licensed song titles that can be searched for free. The ASCAP site (www.ascap.com) offers its ACE database that can be searched by title, performers, or writers, and it will display the contact data of the appropriate publishers. BMI’s site offers a similar online tool (www.bmi.com) that may be found by clicking on the "Search" link on the top of the site's homepage.

Government Sites & Trade Associations
Government Web sites and trade association sites are useful sources for uncovering laws and regulations. For example, Kaiser recommends the FCC Web site for links to basic broadcast regulations (www.fcc.gov/oet/info/rules). A search of the agency’s site (rather than the entire Code of Federal Regulations) is a more targeted and efficient manner of searching for regulations. Most of the legal documents on the site of the National Association of Broadcasters are for members only. However, the Association's press releases (http://www.nab.org/news/default.asp) can be useful in tracking regulatory issues and selected actions by the FCC.  

Litigators who need to keep abreast of rulings, motions, new filings, and appellate decisions affecting the entertainment industry can subscribe to the Entertainment Law Digest site (www.entlawdigest.com) for $500 annually (lower cost student and sole practitioner rates and discount trial subscriptions are available by clicking the subscription links on the right-hand side of the home page). This site is based in Los Angeles.

Entertainment attorneys who regularly make phone calls to people outside the United States should bookmark timeanddate.com/worldclock. The cable network vice president calls offices worldwide, and he touts this site because it saves him the embarrassment of calling in the middle of the night. Mere embarrassment is not the worst that can happen; people have been fired for calling a celebrity in the middle of the night.

Related Diversions
For those looking for some entertainment rather than news of the entertainment industry, users can visit Mugshots.org for postings of celebrity mug shots (http://mugshots.org), and the infamous Smoking Gun site (www.thesmokinggun.com), which “brings you exclusive documents—cool, con-fidential, quirky—that can’t be found elsewhere on the Web.” For example, read the contract riders of various performers: Kansas demands prune juice; Janet Jackson must have an arrangement of tulips, roses, gardenias, and lilies.

Another popular site of interest had been Ifcome.com. It offered information about business and legal affairs job openings in the entertainment business, as well as occassional news related to this area of "the business." Like so many things in the entertainment industry however, the site's reign appears to have been fleeting. It has not been updated since November 2009.

 

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