Whats it all about?
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. It involves making money out of the content you might come across in film, television, music and magazines. Take a picture of Brad Pitt that appears on a magazine cover. The magazine will have paid Pitts agent for the right to publish his 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 trade marks, eg the Coca-Cola brand that appears on a soft drink can), 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 niche, smaller firms. 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 include: broadcasters (eg Sky), rights holders (eg BBC Worldwide, a photographer or a design agency); sports governing bodies (eg FA, Fifa or the RFU); publishers (eg The Daily Telegraph), pop stars; computer games (eg Nintendo) and record companies (eg EMI).
The working culture
In comparison to working for a big City firm which 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 is the area for you. However, be aware. Media clients often work to tight deadlines (eg a publishing deadline) and are very demanding.
You will need to have a good grasp of commercial 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. You 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 Robbie Williams latest record deal. Also, dont expect to talk on the phone everyday to Keira Knightley. 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.
Traditional media such as terrestrial television and radio are now converging with new media such as satellite television, internet, computers, iPods and mobile phones. For example, you can now watch your favourite TV shows on your computer and even on your mobile as and when you want. Distributing content on new media platforms often requires re-negotiation 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.