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Introduction to Australian Entertainment Law

Reading time: 23 mins

Entertainment law is a wide range of laws that apply to various aspects of the entertainment industry. Several laws, sometimes collectively referred to as media law, are relevant.

Entertainment law is the legal framework that governs the creation, distribution, and consumption of various forms of entertainment. These include films, television, music, theatre, and others. An area of law that addresses contracts, copyright, trademarks, defamation, and more, within entertainment.

This article provides a high-level overview of entertainment law in Australia, written by Prosper Law’s entertainment lawyer.

Key Takeaways

  • Entertainment law is a complex field that governs the creation, distribution, and consumption of various forms of entertainment. It requires knowledge of copyright, trade mark, contract, employment, and privacy law, all within the context of entertainment.
 
  • Entertainment law helps creators balance their artistic vision with the business realities of the industry. It ensures fair compensation while protecting creative control.
 
  • Entertainment lawyers can provide expert legal guidance, including contract negotiation, intellectual property protection, litigation, business strategy, and risk management. This can help clients make informed decisions about their careers and businesses.
Entertainment law in Australia

What law governs the entertainment sector?

Several laws govern the entertainment sector in Australia. These laws address specific types of creative work and I will explain them below.

Copyright law in entertainment

Copyright protects original works of creativity, such as songs, novels, and movies, from unauthorised copying or use. Creators determine how to share and distribute their work.

Under the Copyright Act, the author of an artistic or other work is the owner of the work upon its creation. However, this automatic right of ownership can change:

 
  • if an artist, musician or comedian (for example) is getting paid for the work and there is an implied IP licence
 

Creating and distributing copyright internationally makes things more complex. Some countries have not signed the Berne Convention or the Universal Copyright Convention. Some countries have different copyright laws than Australia because they have not signed the same Conventions on copyright.

Trademark law in entertainment

Trademark law safeguards logos, names, and symbols that distinguish products or services in the entertainment industry. It prevents others from using similar marks in a way that could confuse consumers.

Here are some examples of how trademarks become a hot topic in entertainment law:

  • if movie titles contain a trademark that is protected under the relevant classification
 
  • a trade mark is portrayed in a way that may damage the reputation of the brand

Contract law in entertainment

This law governs agreements between parties creating and distributing entertainment, such as artists, producers, authors, and publishers. It ensures everyone understands their rights and obligations, from royalties to distribution rights.

Contracts usually set the foundation for entertainment law. For example:

  • by describing when and how intellectual property is licensed
 
  • setting out the terms of employment for staff hired in the entertainment industry
 
  • describing how production companies can raise funds and obtain investment
 
  • how disputes are managed through dispute resolution and other methods

Employment law in entertainment

Just like in any other industry, workers in the entertainment sector have rights and protections. Employment law addresses issues such as:

  • fair wages
 
  • working conditions
 
  • union membership for actors, crew members, and other professionals in the industry

Privacy law in entertainment

Privacy laws protect personal information. In the entertainment industry, this may involve safeguarding the private details of celebrities. Those personal details may include their personal lives, images, and sensitive information.

In Australia, there is no legal right to privacy. The Privacy Act is the only protection against misuse of personal information. Privacy laws ensure that people respect privacy rights, even for people in the public eye.

Businesses in the entertainment industry must ensure they abide by the Privacy Act. It is also important to understand when and how personal information can be collected, used, and stored.

Defamation law in entertainment

Defamation laws protect a person from false and harmful statements that damage their reputation. Defamation laws in entertainment protect famous people from false information or rumours that damage their reputation.

But the Defamation Act in each State and Territory doesn’t just protect famous people. It applies to people who have a reputation to protect. The Defamation Act may protect someone if a movie falsely portrays them with harmful lies.

Many people are debating the portrayal of Fiona Harvey in the Netflix show “Baby Reindeer”. Fiona recently appeared on the Piers Morgan show and alleged that her portrayal was defamatory and reasonably identified her.

Carlynn is a Senior Paralegal at Prosper Law and is finishing a JD in Law in the Philippines

Entertainment law Australia in the entertainment industry

Entertainment law focuses on different sectors of the entertainment industry. An overview is provided below.

Film and Television

Entertainment law helps filmmakers and TV producers legally create their projects.

Here are some examples of how entertainment law applies to film and television:

  • copyright protects scripts for movies and TV shows
  • a contract can manage distribution rights.

Copyright protection for both compositions and recordings is important in the music industry. Music has value because it gives its owner the right to make money from and distribute the music.

The music industry often requires negotiating contracts with record labels and managing agreements for live performances.

In the publishing world, entertainment law addresses copyright issues related to written works. Written works include:

  • eBooks and written books
  • blog articles
  • short stories
  • magazine articles and other print media

Publishing agreements are key to publishing and distributing content in Australia.

Theatrical Production

Various laws apply to the theatre industry. For example:

  • managing rights to stage performances
  • obtaining performance licenses
  • negotiating agreements with actors, directors, and producers

Social media is often used to market movies, music, books and other forms of entertainment. It is important that social media posts do not contain any content that is misleading or deceptive. They should be factual.

A social media post can be misleading if it gives wrong information about a movie rating or awards. This is just one example of how entertainment law can apply to social media.

Video games occasionally take inspiration from movies, books, or content originally created in a different entertainment format. To use someone else’s story, music, or characters in a video game, you need permission from the copyright owner.

The copyright owner controls how others use their works. Users must ask for permission before using someone else’s content in a game. It is important to get permission to avoid any legal issues. This applies to any content that the video game producer did not create.

The key here, however, is that the video game must not be a substantial reproduction. This can be difficult to determine and often requires legal advice.

Case Discussion

Universal Music Publishing Pty Ltd v Palmer

The facts of this case are:

  • In 2019, Clive Palmer used the 1984 hit song “We’re Not Gonna Take It”
 
  • Palmer used the song for his United Australia Party rallies and advertising campaigns
 
  • Twisted Sister recorded this song
 
  • Palmer altered the words of “Aussies Not Gonna Cop It” to avoid asking the American heavy metal band for permission
 
  • Universal Music, representing Twisted Sister, sued Palmer for copyright infringement
 

The central issue was whether Clive Palmer’s use of the song constituted copyright infringement under the Copyright Act 1968. The court had to determine whether Palmer’s argument was valid. He said he used the song as satire and that would protect him from being responsible under the “fair dealing” rules.

The Federal Court ruled in favour of Universal Music. The Court found that Clive Palmer had indeed infringed copyright by using the song without permission. The court determined that it did not meet the criteria for fair dealing under the Copyright Act.

Palmer had to pay $1.5 million to Universal Music plus their legal fees as a consequence of the court ruling.

The facts of this case are:

  • Mr Cooper owned a website called MP3s4FREE
  • The website allowed users to access and download copyrighted sound recordings without permission
  • The website contained hyperlinks to MP3 recording
  • Mr Cooper was found to have infringed copyright at the first court case
  • The court held Mr Cooper legally responsible because he let people download copyrighted recordings from his website.

Mr Cooper appealed the first decision. The main issue before the Full Court was the interpretation of the term “authorise” in section 13(2) of the Copyright Act.

In particular, did providing hyperlinks on a website constitute authorisation of copyright infringement?

The Full Court rejected Mr Cooper’s appeal. The Court said Mr Cooper could stop people from getting copyrighted music on his website. Despite the automatic operation of the website, Mr Cooper deliberately chose its structure.

The website allowed for the unauthorised copying of copyrighted material. Therefore, they found that he authorised copyright infringement.

The internet service provider failed to take reasonable steps to prevent or avoid copyright infringement. E-Talk kept making money from ads on Mr Cooper’s website instead of shutting it down.

The ISP employee’s appeal was approved. This was because there wasn’t enough evidence to prove he could prevent Mr Cooper from breaking the rules.

Respect for Intellectual Property

Both cases highlight the importance of respecting intellectual property rights, particularly concerning creative works such as music recordings. Regardless of the context or intention behind their use, individuals and entities must uphold the rights of copyright holders.

Need for Permission from the copyright owner

A key takeaway from both cases is the critical requirement for obtaining proper authorisation before using copyrighted material. Whether it is for commercial, political, or personal purposes, seeking permission from copyright owners is essential to avoid infringement.

Understanding Fair Use and Fair Dealing

The cases underscore the significance of understanding the provisions of copyright law. These rules allow certain uses of copyrighted material, but it’s important to understand and consider the limits.

Responsibility of Content Providers

Website operators, ISPs, and other content providers must ensure compliance with copyright laws on their platforms. They need to take action to stop copyright infringement, like removing illegal content or limiting access to it.

Consequences of Infringement

Both cases demonstrate the severe consequences of copyright infringement, including significant financial damages, legal costs, and reputational harm. These consequences serve as a deterrent for future unauthorised use of copyrighted material.

Latest News Update

Recent reports have shed light on the unfair compensation faced by Australian musicians.

According to the report, Musicians face challenges in securing fair compensation for their work and protecting their rights.

Musicians and people in entertainment need to get help from an entertainment lawyer. A lawyer can ensure fair treatment and secure the right amount of money for your work.

Entertainment lawyers have experience in handling complicated legal matters. They know how to handle tricky situations and advocate for their clients.

When you hire a lawyer, they make sure your contracts are fair. This ensures that no one takes advantage of the author, and the author receives fair payment for their work.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is entertainment law different in different countries?

The different laws that makeup entertainment as an area of law do change from country to country.

For example, the United States has laws that specifically protect characters. Australia does not have such a law, but copying characters may fall within copyright infringement in some circumstances.

A law firm that practices entertainment law can help identify issues and take steps to protect their clients’ interests. This often involves reviewing the relevant content, and scripts and discussing any legal risks associated with the content.

Lawyers can also develop and review contracts to ensure that:

  • royalties are correctly recorded in the agreement
  • the intellectual property rights of each party is clearly spelled out
  • the consequences of not fulfilling the agreement

As I mentioned previously in this article, entertainment law consists of many different laws. Publishing a book may involve the Copyright Act, Defamation Act and other laws. What is key for authors is that they don’t give away all of their rights without assurance that they will get something in return.

About the Author

Farrah Motley
Director of Prosper Law. Farrah founded Prosper online law firm in 2021. She wanted to create a better way of doing legal work and a better experience for customers of legal services.

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