by Mollee D. Harper, Senior Editor
Georgia Film News met with Alan S. Clarke, Esq., Managing Partner of The Entertainment Law Group in Atlanta, Georgia. During our interview, Clarke shares how his firm was founded and expanded over the years to meet the growing demands of Georgia’s entertainment industry needs in the area of law. Clarke offers valuable insights into the importance of legal representation for individuals and businesses in the arts.
Clarke described, “I was a prosecutor for a few years before moving into entertainment law. “When I was thinking about the area of entertainment law, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. I had always had a strong interest in entertainment of all varieties – music, film, theatre, literature and all of the arts. A native of Atlanta, and having attended law school locally, I decided I wanted to stay in town. However, at the time there was really only one major firm practicing in the area of entertainment in Atlanta. I went to Nashville and met with some attorneys there to ascertain whether it would be better to work in “Music City” instead of Atlanta. One of them wisely told me that if I moved to Nashville I would be a dime a dozen. In Atlanta, I would be more unique in the entertainment field. I decided to take a big leap and hang that first shingle and get into the industry. There was some education for me from the clients at the time.” The music came in the 90s with the studios and producers and artists. Over the last several years, the film and television side has really grown with the introduction of the Georgia tax credits,” he said.
The Entertainment Law Group, Alan S. Clarke & Associates, LLC is a full-service law firm specializing in legal services for the entertainment industry based out of Atlanta, Georgia. Clarke and his associates represent recording artists, writers, performers, actors, crew, musicians, filmmakers, record labels, producers, managers, authors, publishers, and others in all facets of the entertainment industry. The firm engages in contract drafting and negotiations, copyright, rights acquisitions, licensing, trademark, infringement and litigation. It also provides valuable services in producer, co-writer, record label and band member agreements, as well as publishing company set-up and agreements, incorporations, film financing agreements and business plans.
Clarke offered, “We have four practice areas that are pretty much equal in terms of clients and amount of time spent. We set up and maintain business entities. We provide a lot in the area of intellectual property work. We also do a lot in contracts – drafting and negotiating agreements of all kinds for individuals and businesses. And, we also handle litigation for our clients. Because we handle litigation, we are well equipped to help clients set up their business correctly. We see how terribly bad things can go on the back end which enables us to provide the right protection for our clients on the front end. When a business relationship is beginning, the parties are happy and excited, and don’t contemplate the fact that at some point that relationship or that business will end. I remind them that it could end well, or it could end badly, but at some point it will most likely end. Therefore, we plan for the end at the beginning with our clients.”
“Planning ahead with our entertainment industry clients is hugely important. We see a lot of issues arise from handshake agreements in this industry. For example, if I were to say I was going to split net profits with you on a project, you may think that amount is completely different than how I am calculating that number. It’s best to put all agreements in writing with clear expectations up front to avoid litigation once the project is under way. If our clients are concerned about their business associate’s reaction to being presented with a contract [as opposed to working without one], I tell them to blame me, the lawyer, for requiring it, but make sure you have everything in writing.”
“I always recommend that an individual who is a recipient of a document have an attorney. For example, talent may receive an agreement with small pay. Often they won’t have an attorney review it before signing away their rights because they are happy to have someone interested in them – and in their minds, they are not making enough money to justify retaining a lawyer. However, it’s always a good idea to get representation.”
Clarke shared, “A big part of what I do is education. I enjoy the collaborations with our clients. Most of our business savvy clients understand the need for a lawyer. We are not just here for the most experienced or business savvy clients, though. It is also important for those less experienced to have representation. We are that bridge between the business and the creative so people know what they are obligating themselves to when they sign a contract.”
He continued, “The lawyers aren’t always in on initial meetings when business deals are first discussed. Therefore, I always ask my client, ‘What is your understanding of what the contract is supposed to say? What do you believe that you are obligating yourself to do by entering into this agreement?’ I am then able to translate the “legalese” so they understand what the agreement really says compared to what they expect. I talk to our clients about what the contract should say and can advise them on the industry norms. We help decipher those contracts to ensure clarity on issues such as who owns the intellectual property rights and who has control.”
“Our intellectual property work includes both trademarks and copyrights. We can handle registration of those. Copyright work is a big part of what we do, including copyright infringement lawsuits. With copyright infringement you have to show two things. First, you have to show that the two works are substantially similar and then you have to show access. Access can be pretty tricky, meaning how someone actually got it. With the Internet, claims of copyright infringement have really increased.”
Clarke shared, “We currently have a couple of trademark cases where individuals started using trademarks that did not belong to them and then registered them. That’s another intellectual property infringement that we get involved with.”
“It’s very interesting to me that when people outside of our industry think ‘entertainment lawyer’ they think of celebrity representation only. There are many, many aspects of this industry. Entertainment law is more defined by the client than the specific type of work that we do. I may help a graphic design company protect a logo, and then represent a trucking company that carries sets negotiate its contracts with film production companies. I enjoy being involved at all stages with all types of clients to write and negotiate agreements and protect them as they grow. Clients view their creative works as their “babies.” We provide protection for the creative works of our clients. We work to protect our clients’ rights, and that gets into drafting and negotiating non-disclosure agreements as well.”
Clarke concluded, “Because the industry has grown so significantly in Atlanta, there are a lot of attorneys out there who call themselves entertainment attorneys now even though they may have only one or two entertainment clients and limited experience. While you may want to spend less for an attorney on something which is less complex, I would encourage anyone who is looking to hire an attorney to discuss their experience and shop around. One of the things people value about me and our firm is confidentiality. Of course that’s part of being a lawyer and it is an especially important part of entertainment law,” he added. “Atlanta is a small town in that regards. Your attorney is going to be representing you in the deal. They need to be articulate and know the industry standards and have high ethics themselves. Hopefully you will find someone that you can partner with who will be on your team for a long time. You don’t want to have to change attorneys in the middle of a deal. It’s great to have someone there for the crazy and unexpected and someone who doesn’t take things personally. Having a stable attorney at your side can really help you get through the difficult times and protect you and your creative work long-term.”
Alan S. Clarke founded The Entertainment Law Group in 1994 and has served as its Managing Partner for the past 22 years. Clarke is a former Assistant District Attorney for the Rockdale Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. He graduated from Duke University Cum Laude with his B.A. degree and received his J.D. from Emory University School of Law.
Clarke received the Georgia Lawyers for the Arts 2014 Attorney of the Year Award for providing more pro bono hours to artists and arts organizations through GLA than any other attorney. In 2008, Clark received GLA’s Ben White Distinguished Service Award for his “outstanding commitment and dedication to the arts community in Georgia,” awarded fewer than five times in the last 34 years.
For more information on Alan S. Clarke, Esq. and The Entertainment Law Group visit their website at: http://theentertainmentlawgroup.com/.