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Do I need an entertainment lawyer? What would be the cost to oversee a theater production?

New York, NY |

I am a not a US citizen and foreign based playwright. The world premier of my "Musical" was held recently. There is a interest for the "Musical" to be presented in the USA. Please let me know how I should go about protecting my rights. As a foreigner will it be possible for me to get actively involved in the production and get paid for it?

Attorney Answers 7

Posted

You can get paid, but there are many complex legal issues, requiring retention of a full service law firm with experience in entertainment law, corporate law, intellectual property law and, perhaps most importantly here, immigration law.

Also, you need to be practical from the beginning about economics. Bringing a musical to the United States can be an expensive proposition if it is intended for a commercial (broadway or off-broadway) audience. On the other hand, if your musical is a production on a relatively modest scale, and if you intend to stage a small U.S. production that is either non-commercial or a work-shop for a future commercial production, there can be relatively inexpensive ways to produce it in the United States---perhaps in coordination with a local non-profit theatre organization. Without knowing the details concerning your musical, its scope, length, number of performers and commercial ambitions, it is hard to guide you, However, if you eventually want to produce this musical as a commercial, profit-making venture, you definitively need an experienced intellectual property lawyer with theatrical experience. The law in the U.S. regarding theatrical productions has some vestiges of historical events that are not intuitive (for example, often the theatre owner is a producer and/or is responsible for paying the salaries of actors and musicians as well as theatre staff). The music licensing issues, alone are complex in U.S. theatre deals, much less the documentation of financial arrangements and ownership and protection of intellectual property rights. Thus, it is quite essential that you work with experienced entertainment/intellectual property/business counsel if you expert turn this into a profit-making enterprise. This usually means retaining a law firm that will provide you with a team of lawyers with expertise in the disciplines that you need. As Sondheim wrote: "Any One Can Whistle---easy" (but it's not really so simple).

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Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick

Posted

And a US agent with industry contacts is customary, and they work on commission and the good ones earn you more than you pay them. The agent and attorney will compliment each other and, if you do it right, they will help keep each other honest and informed and that will better protect you. You really need both skill sets to be properly represented and to do it most efficiently and effectively.

Asker

Posted

Maurice, I liked the "Anyone can whistle..." line. At the same time not everyone can write a "Musical"...so I agree with you that one has to be competent enough to not only protect his work but get paid for it. Thank you for your insight into the American Theatre scene.

Maurice N Ross

Maurice N Ross

Posted

When you get to New York, I hope you come visit me on a Sunday night where I regularly play standards and broadway showtunes at a great cabaret/bar in New York where the owner and many friends tolerate musical skills

Posted

You should get an entertainment attorney to not only negotiate on your behalf, but also to make sure that your intellectual property is adequately protected. As for getting paid, you certainly can but the question is will it be US income for which you will pay US tax. It is thus also important to hire an attorney with access to tax expertise to assist you.

Feel free to contact me offline should you desire further assistance.

The foregoing is not legal advice nor is it in any manner whatsoever meant to create or impute an attorney/client relationship.

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Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick

Posted

To give you a better US presence, you should consider a US agent/rep. A good entertainment lawyer can do much of that, but you will pay a premium for using an attorney rather than an agent, and the agent will be more motivated since they work on commission.

Posted

Yes retain an entertainment lawyer. Discuss the fees with the attorney. Having an attorney represent you and assist you should protect your rights. You can be paid depending on the deal you negotiate.

If this answer is helpful, then please mark the helpful button. If this is the best answer, then please indicate it. Thanks. For further information you should see an attorney and discuss the matter completely. If you are in the New York City area, then you can reach me during normal business hours at 718 329 9500 or www.mynewyorkcitylawyer.com.

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Posted

The entertainment businesss is a tough one in the U.S. I strongly advise you to hire a very good entertainment lawyer if you are planning to do a play here. Don't be penny wise and pound foolish.

I am a former federal and State prosecutor and now handle criminal defense and personal injury/civil rights cases. Feel free to check out my web site and contact me at (212) 577-9797 or via email at Eric@RothsteinLawNY.com. I was named to the Super Lawyers list as one of the top attorneys in New York for 2012. No more than 5 percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by Super Lawyers. The above answer is for informational purposes only and not meant as legal advice.

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Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick

Posted

And a US agent is customary and they work on commission.

Posted

If you are not a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident and you plan on coming to the U.S. and getting involved in the actual production, you will mostly likely want to speak with an immigration attorney as well. U.S. immigration laws are some of the most complex in the world, and your ability to come here and the extent to which you will be able to get involved in the presentation, will depend on your eligibility for a visa and which type of visa you want to utilize.

No information contained in this message, unless expressly denoted therefor, is intended to establish any attorney client relationship. No attorney-client relationship exists between us (Peter Acker and his associates and you) unless a written retainer or fee agreement has been signed and issued to you.

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Posted

The theater business is unique, so when you retain counsel, make sure that they have experience in the industry and can answer questions regarding a collaboration agreement (if you have co-authors), the economics of off-Broadway vs. Broadway, royalty structures, including royalty pools, stock + amateur rights, any many other issues. Best of luck to you.

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Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick

Posted

Consider hiring a US agent in addition to an attorney.

Asker

Posted

Thank you, Erach, for taking time to respond to my query!

Posted

You drew a lot of interest from NY entertainment lawyers, so you have a good selection from which to choose. I recommend you also get an agent or rep working on commission and get the best one you can. Industry contacts can make all the difference to a foreigner trying to break into the US industry. If you are good, your agent is good and your attorney is good, you have a leg up on your competition. You were very smart to come to Avvo and ask and you asked well without tipping your identity. That tells me you have the smarts to make it if you get the right help. Good Luck.

I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.

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Asker

Posted

Thank you for the guidance, Bruce. All answers were important, very informative and at the same time quiet nerve-racking!

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