The Key Issues in Entertainment and Sports Law

The legal issues affecting athletes, artists and entertainers have similarities and differences. Contract issues loom large for all, and labor issues can also present problems. There are, nonetheless, some legal issues that have a greater impact on one or the other of these professions.

Contract Issues

With professional athletes, artists and entertainers, most contracts are high dollar transactions, and may involve complex terms. Athletes may have option clauses, which allow them to extend the terms of a contract or seek free agency. Artists and entertainers may have concerns about licensing agreements or intellectual property. However, in all instances, these professionals need experienced legal counsel to negotiate, review and prepare all agreements, so that all financial interests are protected.

Labor Disputes

Most professional athletes and entertainers belong to some type of union. The respective professional sports each have their own bargaining unit, and entertainers typically belong to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors (AFTRA), or Actors’ Equity.

The National Labor Relations Board recognized nearly 50 years ago that athletes have the right to negotiate collective bargaining agreements. Under federal statutes, there are mandatory issues that both sides must negotiate in good faith, including hours, wages and working conditions. The federal laws governing collective bargaining and the rights of unions all apply to the various entertainment unions.

Special Issues in Sports Law

Historically, sports franchises included provisions in their contracts that prevented their players from entering into a contract with a competing franchise. Such clauses were known as reserve clauses. For all practical purposes, those clauses are no longer in place or effective. Professional athletes customarily have rights of “free agency” once their contracts expire.

Until recently, a professional athlete who was injured in the course of play could not file a personal injury claim, as players were considered to “assume the risk” of injury. The same principles generally applied to fans at a sporting event. However, some courts have allowed injured parties to recover compensation where it can be shown that a player engaged in “deliberate, willful or reckless disregard for the safety of another person.”

Special Issues in Entertainment Law

Many entertainers also have significant concerns about protecting their creative efforts. Accordingly, copyright issues are of significant importance.

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