Learning About the Link Between Publicity and Intellectual Property With John Branca Harvard

When you hear a song from your favorite artist on the radio or catch a movie from your favorite director, you think about the melody and beat or actors and visuals. What you probably don’t think about is the fact that you’re consuming someone else’s intellectual property. Here are the answers to your top questions about intellectual property and its legal ramifications.

What Is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is anything developed by people’s creativity. Because people must invest their time, energy, and skills into creating intellectual property, the use or promotion of these works is usually governed by laws. For example, if you become a movie director and create a feature-length film, there are laws in place to prevent people from showing that film without giving you credit and financial compensation.

As creators’ fame increases, so do concerns about managing publicity. The more popular someone’s work is, the more likely his or her work is to be stolen. John Branca, a leader in entertainment law who has represented groups such as The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys, notes that it takes a team of dedicated publicity experts to manage celebrities’ public images.

What Is Copyright Law?

When creators have problems with other people disrespecting their intellectual property, they can appeal to copyright law. Copyright law is composed of a series of protections for artists that also stipulate when new creators can draw on previously published materials. Different regulations apply to different forms of intellectual property, including movies, songs, works of art, and dances.

For example, if an up-and-coming singer wants to record a song by his or her favorite band, whoever holds the copyright for the original recording must grant a compulsory license to the new singer. The entire group may hold the copyright, or perhaps just the songwriter, but if they have already officially released the song, they cannot refuse the new singer’s request. Still, they receive compensation from licensed recordings of their song and control how it is distributed.

What Are Trademarks?

Trademarks are a subset of entertainment copyright law that help control creators’ publicity. Once someone’s intellectual property has become famous, that person’s brand name carries a certain weight within his or her creative community. For example, John Williams’ many Oscar-winning soundtracks give him more clout than a composer who has scored one independent film. To prevent fraud and preserve their brands, some creators like to trademark their pseudonyms, group names, or works’ titles. In some cases, trademarks are even available for personal names.

To receive a trademark, you must apply for one through the Patent and Trademark Office, which is run by the federal government. If you receive approval, new groups cannot use the same names or titles as yours when they apply for trademarks. Similarly, you may be able to sue a creator for trademark infringement if he or she uses a trademarked term without permission.

Intellectual property and its related legal field are complicated subjects, but they’re incredibly important for protecting artists’ work and profits.