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Being a lawyer for pop music entertainers in South Florida conjures up visions of partying with Mick, lunching with Gloria, and dancing with Ricky. And it’s sometimes like that for the handful of established entertainment lawyers, like Jorge Hernandez-Torano, a partner at Holland & Knight in Miami, whose firm represents the Rolling Stones on a stand-by basis when the “world’s greatest” — and oldest — rock ‘n’ roll band tours the Southeast. “You get terrific seats at the concert,” boasts Hernandez-Torano, who also has represented Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Arturo Sandoval, Jon Secada and Edward James Olmos, plus corporate giants BMG Entertainment, Radio Unica and Univision. “I party a lot,” brags Richard Wolfe, a partner and chairman of the entertainment law group at Zack Kosnitzky, a 16-lawyer Miami firm. His clients include Latin Grammy winner Rudy Perez, Guns & Roses guitarist Slash, the Doobie Brothers, and prominent rappers such as Peter Jones, whom Wolfe represented in a royalties dispute with 2 Live Crew star Luther Campbell. Florida is fertile territory for Wolfe and others in the burgeoning field of entertainment law. The Florida Bar’s entertainment and sports law section currently has 900 members. But most big firms don’t focus on entertainment law too seriously, Wolfe says, because, to get established, a firm must take a risk first on lesser-known acts who may not be able to afford to pay full fees. In addition, he notes, some artists feel uncomfortable with the corporate environment at many firms. “Your clients are more likely to come see you in jeans rather than a three-piece suit,” Wolfe says. Still, Florida attorneys are showing a growing interest in representing musical talent. Four of the five major recording labels, Time Warner/AOL, EMI, BMG and Sony, all have Latin American headquarters in Miami. In September, the Latin Grammy Awards will be held in Miami; the Latin Billboard Awards show recently was in town. But it’s a tough field to enter, and an increasingly complex one to master. Most attorneys in the entertainment law field primarily represent struggling musicians and other types of artists, not chart-toppers like N’Sync. Such clients often can’t afford to pay big legal fees. And the legal issues are getting more complicated. The growing use of the Internet to promote artists and distribute music, highlighted in the litigation against Napster for free song-swapping, raises major intellectual property issues for artists. Even entertainment law experts like Wolfe admit that they don’t yet know the full ramifications of the Napster case on their clients and practices. FINE PRINT AND EGOS Wolfe spends much of his time protecting artists’ cut of royalties and ensuring that their intellectual property is not used in ways that violate copyright law. He says he doesn’t want his musicians facing the same problem as the Backstreet Boys, who sued their former managers at Trans Continental in 1998 on the grounds that the managers kept $10 million in recording and touring revenues since 1993. The Boys allegedly received only $300,000. “You have to be careful when crafting these recording contracts,” Wolfe says. “There are multiplatinum artists walking around without a dime in their pocket.” Entertainment lawyers also must learn how to deal with artists who have inflated egos and little business know-how. Recently, Wolfe says, the members of one relatively well-known rhythm and blues group asked him to represent them. They were rude and belligerent, he says, and insisted that he get them a $1 million advance as part of their recording contract. Wolfe says he showed them the door because they didn’t understand that, at their level, they would be better off negotiating to have the record company spend more on production, marketing, and promotion for them rather than paying them a big advance. “Some artists have trouble understanding that this is a business,” Wolfe says. Wolfe also represents a number of record companies in the Miami area, including Pyramid Records, Lil’ Joe Records, Paperchasers and Latinium Records. But he says he refuses to represent a musical act in negotiations with a record company he previously has represented, in order to avoid potential conflict of interest. He says he generally doesn’t pick his clients based on who he thinks is good. But once in a while, he will agree to take on a struggling musical group, which he calls a “baby act.” He recently signed a 16-year-old musical artist he heard play at a show who is both a songwriter and a fledgling record producer. Wolfe speaks to the boy regularly, often meeting him for chats at his bus stop after school. “He’s an unbelievable talent, but Daddy still writes the checks,” Wolfe says with a laugh. BOTCHING DEALS Wolfe says while he tries not to have his clients sign contracts that are tilted to the recording companies, new artists have to accept that the companies hold most of the bargaining chips, at least initially. Out of every 100 songwriters, he says, perhaps one or two will be offered a contract. And even fewer ever become stars. After the record company signs an artist, it has to spend thousands of dollars on studio time, marketing and other expenses. Therefore, newly signed artists can’t expect a very big piece of the pie. Inexperienced and incompetent lawyers, he says, ask for too much money up front and end up hurting the artist’s chances of getting signed. “You just have to keep it up and go after that bargaining power,” Wolfe says. “You need to know what to ask for and when to hold back.” But if the artist is successful, there is a time for renegotiation, when the artist can redraw the terms of his or her record deal. One artist Wolfe represents has renegotiated his contract five times over the last three years — once at the beginning, once after the record came out, and again when the record hit gold status. These days, Wolfe has to pay particular attention to international intellectual property treaties and try to protect his artists’ copyrights and trademarks all over the world. POVERTY CLIENTS Julee Milham, a St. Petersburg Beach sole entertainment lawyer and current president of the Florida Bar’s Entertainment and Sports Law Section (EASL), is a more typical entertainment lawyer. She represents mostly unsigned acts, whom she calls her “poverty clients.” To keep her law firm in the black, she also takes nonentertainment work as a hearing officer and arbitrator. Milham says struggling artists often have difficulty paying legal bills, but that family or friends will chip in to help them out. She says she has learned to demand a retainer upfront to weed out those who are serious about the music business. Despite the financial issues, she says she takes pleasure in helping these artists. Another lawyer who focuses primarily on “baby acts” is Carolyn Herman, a Jacksonville Beach, Fla., attorney and immediate past president of the Bar’s EASL. Like Milham, she represents largely unsigned acts and supplements her business by practicing commercial litigation, wills and probate and condominium law. “There are so many misconceptions that the next Gloria Estefan will walk into your office,” she says. “People think that it’s completely glamorous, when it’s really a lot of nuts and bolts like any other practice.” MUSIC FOR FREE Technological advances are an increasing concern for entertainment lawyers. In April, federal Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued an injunction requiring Napster Inc. to remove copyrighted works from its Internet site after record companies claimed the Redwood City, Calif.-based company was distributing copyrighted music without paying royalties. Then, on June 5, Napster reached an agreement with MusicNet, the music licensing venture formed by BMG Entertainment, Warner Music Group, EMI Group and RealNetworks. The next day, the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco filed suit in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J., on behalf of Princeton University professor Edward Felten and his colleagues. The plaintiffs seek an order that they be allowed to publish their research on cracking the recording industry’s antipiracy technology for compact discs. The suit named as defendants the Recording Industry Association of America, the Secure Digital Music Foundation, Verance Corp. and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Felten was planning to publish his findings at a scientific conference in April but pulled his paper out of fears of litigation. The RIAA had sent a letter to Felten warning that he could face enforcement action under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and other federal laws if he presented his research. Both Wolfe and Milham say they now pay more attention to addressing Internet and other high-tech distribution issues when negotiating royalty agreements for their artists. Wolfe sees no immediate impact from the Napster decision, but he and other attorneys are still grappling with the fact that recordings now can be digitized and distributed over the Internet in violation of copyright laws. “It’s a new territory out there, and the question is how to protect yourself,” Wolfe says. Milham, however, says most of her musician clients aren’t disturbed by the idea of their music being distributed without their approval and without their receiving compensation. Many see the Internet as a new way to reach an audience. Even if clients are concerned about Internet copyright violations, many musicians can’t afford the legal work needed to go after violators. On top of that, when artists do put up a fight, they often face a backlash among fans who insist on the right to receive music for free. “A lot of fans believe that what an artist creates should belong to the world, and copyright laws be damned,” she says. “Most of my clients simply aren’t interested or zealous enough to raise a huff.” In the future, Milham sees a new line of work for entertainment lawyers. She currently is representing a musical artist who is distributing his music through his Internet site for a small subscription fee. He hired Milham to draft the subscriber agreement for downloading his music. “I’ll definitely be paying more attention to those opportunities,” Milham says. “In this field, you have to constantly have your eye on the future.” Marianne Armishaw is a Weston, Fla.-based free-lance writer.

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