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P&C Podcast: If a Robot Writes a Song, Who Owns That Song?

By Alliant / October 13, 2023

Disruptive technologies such as AI and other innovations continue to expand the creative horizons of music and entertainment production. However, this technological leap has also brought forth complex questions regarding AI and copyright ownership. Who owns the content? Is AI itself a creative entity? Join Joe Charles, Alliant Sports and Entertainment as he welcomes Peter Fields, Partner, Ritholz Levy Fields LLP. Peter discusses intellectual property and the intersection of technology and entertainment, international brand strategies and the overarching legal challenges many artists are facing today.

Intro (00:00):
You're listening to the Alliant Insurance Podcast dedicated to insurance and risk management solutions and trends shaping the market today.

Joe Charles (00:08):
Welcome back to the Alliant Podcast. I'm Joe Charles, Senior Vice President of Alliant Sports and Entertainment, and today I'm joined by my good friend Peter Fields, who's a Partner at Ritholz Levy Fields and he represents clients in all facets of entertainment: film, television, music, fashion, sports and gaming to name a few. Well, why don't we start from your background, Peter, tell me a little bit about yourself, how'd you get into this profession?

Peter Fields (00:40):
So, I decided I wanted to pursue entertainment law. It started in my college years and I am a combination of the two greatest influences in my life, which are my parents. My dad, a successful executive in the textile business and my mother was a fantastic artist and she later on went to manage the NoHo Business Improvement District in New York City. So, I had these two great influences, the business side and the art side. In the college years I was focusing more on the art side of things and I was a performer involved in college musicals, plays, all sorts of performing arts. And I realized that I wasn't talented enough, I wasn't shy so I would perform, but I wasn't talented enough to make it into a profession. So, I wanted to combine the business from my dad with the creativity of my mother and I found entertainment law and decided to go into law school for that very reason. So, that's how I got into it.

Joe Charles (01:43):
So, there are so many things that I want to ask you. Your background is amazing, I know you've done so many different things. Are there any interesting cases you can tell us about? Some interesting experiences that you've had?

Peter Fields (01:56):
Lots of lawyers have interesting stories, interesting things that have happened to them in their career. When you're in the entertainment area, maybe there's a greater chance that something funny will happen or weird will happen just because we're dealing with a lot of our clientele are creative. So, there's all sorts of interesting things, funny things, heartwarming things that have happened throughout my career. Some come to mind early in my career I represented Eartha Kitt , who some people may remember, she was an incredible performer and her big hit in the fifties or early sixties was Santa Baby. She was also Cat Woman on the Batman show. Some of our listeners here may be too young for even that. And I was a young lawyer trying to be diligent and I called her and she was on speaker in her car with some other people and I had to confirm that she had read and understood a contract that she was about to sign. And she sang me the answer. She sang me a song, impromptu lyrics calling me Peter, her lawyer, and how glad she was that I was like watching her and protecting her interests. And she signed the contract knowing what it was and glad she signed it. So, that was a big thrill. I wish I could have recorded it because it was like an incredible song. So, you have like little tidbits like that here and there. I will say this Joe, that there's a little bit of a misconception about entertainment lawyers, but most of the time we're representing corporations and businesses in dealing with general counsel who are representing our clients or sometimes we're the general counsel. So, a majority of the time it's institutional clients representing those who finance projects and media entertainment, those who distribute them, those who develop them. So, on the talent side, yes there's talent, but most of the time the talent is just regular people trying to do good deals and who need good lawyers like us. It's not crazy and wacky so much of the time. Every now and then you'll get a crazy incident, but most of the time it's just people trying to do good business deals and that's what we help them do.

Joe Charles (04:13):
Right. Peter, what are some of the potential issues for a client that's entering into an agreement with a manager, agent, producer and other industry professionals?

Peter Fields (04:28):
So, here's the obvious, the obvious advice is enter into a written agreement with anyone you're going to work with. Get that agreement properly reviewed by an attorney who has expertise in that type of an agreement. That's what you should do. A lot of times you can't, you may not have the negotiating leverage, it may be early in your career when you're signing with an agent or manager, and you don't want to ruffle feathers and sometimes clients just sign whatever's given to them. So, of course my advice is going to be don't just sign anything or there may be long-term implications to what you're signing. So, you really do need to get good legal counsel. If you can't afford legal counsel, there's some good groups out there, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, organizations like that, that can help a young artist. If you're an artist that has leverage, has negotiating power, it's much easier to get the type of an agreement you need to get from an agent or a manager. So, it becomes an easier process because the client there has negotiating leverage to get provisions that benefit them. It depends where you come out on that spectrum.

Joe Charles (05:47):
That's actually very good advice. What suggestions would you offer to a client that's looking for protection against intellectual property rights, copyright infringement, trademark infringement in the entertainment industry?

Peter Fields (06:04):
In determining what to protect and how to protect it, there's a cost benefit analysis that we do. Even major corporations that we represent don't register their brand names as trademarks all over the world and don't file copyright registrations for all the works that they put out. So, you have to do a cost benefit analysis to see what's valuable to the client, what has long-term value, and then come up with a budget and work within that budget. But I think a common mistake or an oversight by people, especially the brands. So, we represent a lot of famous brands, could be an individual, could be an athlete, could be a famous rock band fashion brand. Very important to clear that brand name especially, and this happens a lot when you have a foreign based client coming to the US, and they may be using their brand name in a European territory, and they come to the US assuming that everything's fine and it's not necessarily fine. So, before you launch a product in the US market, research that brand name, see whether or not, or what the likelihood of it of getting it registered as a trademark, get an idea if there are any other parties out there using a similar brand name that can get in the way. And it's not very expensive to search brand names in the beginning. That's a key oversight by people who use their brand names to sell products, get them searched if possible, get them registered. You'll save yourself a lot of headaches. A headache being you could sell products here in the US and somebody comes along, sends you a cease and desist letter that you are using their brand name or something, what we call confusingly similar to their brand name, and it could really interfere with your business.

Joe Charles (08:00):
Wow, that's a really good nugget you just dropped just now. Are you guys face with situations where an international artist comes over and kind of what you described, where their brand is here in the states and then they're called after they find out someone's kind of using their image and you guys are policing the situation, you have to try to get the person or the company is using their brand to cease and desist. Do you have many situations like that, that you guys are engaged in?

Peter Fields (08:32):
That's a common part of the practice. There are things that you do to protect your intellectual property and then there are things you do to enforce your rights in the intellectual property. So, the brand name, that's trademark law, the music that you put out, that's copyright law. Those are the two main areas. If you're an individual, your name, image, voice and likeness, that's your rights to your own persona. Sometimes it's called rights of publicity, that's the other area. So, we are commonly enforcing our client's rights. Other parties are using our client's name, image, voice or likeness are using our client's works, are using our client's brand names. That's a common thing that we do for our clients who are individuals and for our clients who are Fortune 500 companies.

Joe Charles (09:27):
This is really, really good information. Peter, what's the current landscape of the entertainment industry with regards to legal issues and how it could affect the client, their career, or upcoming projects?

Peter Fields (09:43):
The thing that's most impactful about the entertainment business today, is not anything that's new and has been going on at least since the mid nineties. And it's the intersection of technology and entertainment, right? Content and technology. So, when I got my start back in the nineties and this thing comes along called the internet, hard to believe that there was a time when we didn't have that. It's a new paradigm, a new technology is now distributing content and when there's a disruption like that, the law has to catch up to it. In the early nineties, there wasn't a lot of law, which would give you meaning legislation, court cases that would give us lawyers guidance that we can use to help our clients navigate this new landscape. So, sometimes it takes a few years for the law to catch up. You're seeing that right now with AI artificial intelligence, where the law needs to catch up on a robot creates a song, who's the owner of the song? Interesting issues like that. This disruption with technology is it continues and technology just keeps developing, innovations keep coming out, which affect how we produce content, and how we consume content, and how we look at a brand and how we buy a branded product. So, I'm not going to say this is anything new, but as lawyers, we have to help our clients navigate the landscape when we don't have a lot of legal guidance. And then once the legal guidance comes in, again meaning legislation, court cases, helping our clients understand what they can do and what they can't do. So, I think it's just an ongoing disruption that's happening due to technology. I'll add to that, the importance and use of data. I sometimes look at data is like, it's like a new subset of intellectual property law. A couple of years ago we, in transactions, we weren't talking about data and who owned the data generated from the project. Now, that's front and center. We do a lot of work in the podcast area, we represent a lot of podcasters, and podcast production companies and data is now very important. Who owns the data generated by that podcast? Does the distributor who's distributing your podcast own it? Do you own it? So, that's an increasingly important material part of transactions. So, that came from the technology, which now we could record, capture, produce data. So, that's something that is a, I don't want to call it a trend, but it's something of greater and greater importance now.

Joe Charles (12:31):
You know what, you're bringing up some really good points and I was just thinking in terms of AI sometimes I'm driving, I have my son in the car, he's 17, and he'll say, "Dad, listen to this song." And he'll say, "Who do you think the artist is?" And then I'll throw out a name and he's like, "No, it's from a robot" or it's just so many different ways with this AI phenomenon and technology, it's kind of really hard to monitor and to navigate, you know? So, from a legal standpoint and what you guys do, you guys must be extremely busy as a lot of this technology evolves.

Peter Fields (13:09):
Yes and it becomes a generational thing too. So, when you and I were kids, how did we listen to music, right? We had a stereo, we had vinyl, we had a needle on the vinyl and obviously look what happened from there. So, our children today, I mean if they're young, they may not care five years from now if their favorite group is an AI generated group, they may not care. "It's music Dad, it's good." We may care because it's not how we grew up and we may reject it and say, "I'm only listening to music that's created by human beings and performed by human beings." So, it's a generational thing, but the market follows the listener. If the audience doesn't care that it's AI, the market will follow that and give them what they want. Again, none of this surprises me and it just evolves, as the technology gives us more means of distribution and different types of distribution, the market follows that. And the market will cater to our demographic who then maybe our demographic becomes a niche demographic that only likes real people to perform. So, maybe that could be a lucrative niche for companies, but the majority is listening to the AI or maybe it doesn't go that way. We just, as lawyers, and professionals and people like you who help with risk management, we have to adapt and help our clients navigate it.

Joe Charles (14:47):
Absolutely. What are some of the most challenging cases that you've ever had to deal with? Obviously, exclude any names, but I'm sure you've probably faced with some challenges.

Peter Fields (14:57):
Well, there's always challenges. What I sometimes say to clients and other people is that the law is the easy part. When you've been practicing for as long as I, it's not the law that becomes challenging. We know the law. If we don't know the law, we know how to find out what the law is on a given topic. It's not the legal part that's challenging. The challenging part is managing a client's expectations as to what the client can achieve in a transaction or not achieve or managing a client's expectations on whether they should initiate a litigation or not. So, that's an ongoing challenge that we as lawyers have. It comes down to some of the most important things of being a lawyer and the same in your profession is communication and how to convey maybe a complex topic to a client so they understand it. And that's something that I think we're very good at in my firm and we teach our young lawyers about effective communication. Sometimes we write these beautiful emails that could be a couple of screenshots long, which lays something out for a client, but if that client doesn't like to read a long email, we have to be aware of that and we have to cater to what the client likes. Some clients want to hear it on the phone, some clients like to text. So, it's being able to adapt and change to according to what's in your client's best interest and how they like you to communicate. One of the things that I like working about with you, Joe and Joe does a lot of insurance work for a lot of my clients, it's effective communication. It's not a hard sell. It's telling my clients what their risk exposure is, how to handle that risk, what are products that they can use for same. And that to me is effective communication and helps a client make a decision. That's the ongoing challenge and a challenge that I love working on every day.

Joe Charles (16:55):
That's a very good approach to it. With a lot of my clients I'm dealing with the business managers, I'm dealing with the lawyers, they just want to know in a nutshell, how is the client protected, and what is it going to cost and what do you recommend? So, I kind of lay it out, this is what the coverage is, this is the cost, this is my recommendation and I don't want to oversell. That's not what I'm in it for. It's about making sure that the client is properly protected. I think if I apply those principles, the end of the day I can sleep at night because I've laid out a game plan for the client from a coverage standpoint, I gave them the best pricing and that usually works for everyone at the end of the day. Going back to intellectual property, you mentioned that you have artists that are on podcasts. Do you recommend copyright for the artists that are shooting their own podcasts?

Peter Fields (17:50):
Well, yeah. So, we represent a lot of podcast companies, those who produce podcasts, distribute them. Certain clients I can mention publicly, a lot of clients we don't mention who we represent because maybe they don't want us to, it's up to the client. But one client I can mention in the podcast space is Freakonomics Radio. So, I've been representing that company for many, many years, headed up by Stephen Dubner and they produce a wide array of just fantastic content. Got it start from the Freakonomics book and super Freakonomics. So, there's all sorts of things that we are helping them with to protect that intellectual property. I particularly like working on client matters like Freakonomics because it's all sorts of IP, it's a book and that book gets turned into a radio show, and then that radio show might become a documentary might be made based on that radio show, and book content and then it becomes a podcast. And so, love that type of representation where the IP starts out in one form and then it adapts and derivative works are created from it in other mediums. Again, I don't like to use the word trend, but that's a big part of the entertainment business today. It's about touching all the different aspects. And our clients in the music business, a lot of them are interested in television, they're interested in movies. Our clients in the movie business are interested in the music business. Our fashion clients are interested in music and television and movies. And I love that cycle. It makes it fun when you practice law and what I'll call the creative economy.

Joe Charles (19:35):
Love it. Sounds like there's always opportunities for the client to make money, especially when they use all those different vehicles. With regards to podcasts, are many of your clients, are they involved in how their podcasts are distributed or is that something that you guys handle?

Peter Fields (19:51):
Yeah, all aspects of, and podcasting became very active in the last three or four years. And now it's a just a very active type of transaction and IP protection work that we do. It's a great medium, it really is. And more and more people are listening to them because it's convenient. We're tethered to our phones all day long, so it's easy to listen to a podcast. The array of content and topics is immense. So, it doesn't surprise me why it's such a popular medium today. And you, Joe Charles, are an emerging podcast star. We're going to have to talk about your own IP protection offline because now you're becoming big time.

Joe Charles (20:34):
Oh, that's pretty funny. No, I definitely want to talk to you, I'm going to pick your brain a little bit about this. This is fun stuff. I have a chance to talk to some very interesting people and hearing some of the ideas and hearing some of the things that that they're involved with, it's just very, very enjoyable. It's very enlightening. I'm having a good time doing it. What are some of the common myths about being a lawyer that you hear?

Peter Fields (20:58):
Well, some of the myths are a lot of it's perpetrated by the very content that we as lawyers work on. But you'll see TV shows about law firms and lawyers, and these shows give you the impression that every day you as a lawyer are working on some incredibly important matter that affects society or affects people. You watch these legal shows and each lawyer there is discussing something fascinating like global implications or regional implications so that there's a misconception there. In my practice, I get to work on a great variety of matters and sometimes they are far reaching in global, in nature, but not at the frequency or interval that you'll see on one of these TV shows. A good example of this, I spoke to a police officer many years ago and we were talking about police shows that are on TV and we were talking about one in particular. And that policeman said to me, "You know, in that police show every episode someone is taking out their gun and there's a gunfight." And he said, "I've been in the force for 20 plus years, I've taken my gun out one time, maybe two times." So, it's that same analogy as lawyers, we work on fascinating stuff but not as much and the craziness is not as frequent as the TV shows show. So, people that are in the legal profession know this, of course, and people who use lawyers and work with lawyers actively know this. But that's the misconception. Those who don't have a lot of touchpoints with lawyers think that. Or when I tell somebody I'm a lawyer, they go, "Oh, who are you suing? Do you go to court?" Well, we do a lot of litigation work at my firm, but I don't go to court. I'm most of the time I'm working on transactions, buying and selling companies, raising money, complex licensing, transactions, joint ventures. That's most of the time what I'm doing. Do we go to court? Sure, we go to court. But another misconception that what lawyers do is sue people and it's an exaggeration of what we do.

Joe Charles (23:08):
So, changing gears a little bit, tell me a little bit about your experiences as a performer.

Peter Fields (23:13):
In the college years, it was a lot on the comedy side. I would do really good impressions of professors and I could mimic their lectures and it created a big sensation during my freshman year when everybody wanted to see me do the lectures of our professors. And it kind of got me into trouble a little bit because some of the professors heard what was going on and perhaps didn't like my impersonation of them. And that carried over into my early years as a lawyer at a law firm I worked at early on where I did apparently an incredible impression of the managing partner. And he didn't have such a good sense of humor, didn't like that I was doing the impression of him, but all the other partners kept on egging me on to do it. So, I decided then and there I was going to stop the impersonation game. So, I got out of the comedy side of things and just started focusing on the law.

Joe Charles (24:04):
So, I'm assuming that that was a short-lived relationship with you at that law firm?

Peter Fields (24:09):
No, I was there for a couple of years, and prior to law school I worked at TriStar Pictures and during law school I worked at Columbia Pictures, and I got those jobs just through networking, making connections. Back then networking was even more difficult because we didn't have social media. It wasn't easy to look people up, you'd actually have to go to the library and get a magazine article or a newspaper article about somebody to learn about them. So, I did that back then. Did a lot of networking and got my first job at TriStar Pictures in their legal department for the year prior to going to law school. Then during law school, worked for Columbia Pictures where Columbia and TriStar had basically merged. And then I learned an important lesson from, or not lesson, a recommendation from the attorneys that I worked with at Tristar in Columbia. They said, "If you want to learn how to be a really good lawyer, start your career out at a law firm." So, I did that. Started in the law firm world and worked my way up from there in media and entertainment, always on the corporate side. So, I'm a corporate transactional attorney and I'm primarily a deal maker, transaction maker. And most clients are and always have been in the, what I'll call the creative economy. I mean that's been consistent throughout my career.

Joe Charles (25:30):
Wow, that sounds like a pretty interesting road that you took. So, do you have any regrets about not staying in that professional, staying in that industry?

Peter Fields (25:41):
No, no regrets. I really like what I do. It's my calling so I don't have any regrets. I haven't given up the performing arts. I'll still perform but not professionally. So, at parties, at networking events, I still do some impersonations. Joe, I'm actually working on you and next time we see each other I'll do my Joe Charles impression.

Joe Charles (26:04):
I'm a little nervous about that. <laugh>. Who are three most influential people in your life?

Peter Fields (26:10):
I think the three most influential people, my parents who died a couple years ago. So, one of the reasons why I'm a happy person and a very successful lawyer is because of my parents and how they raised me. And then the third most influential person will be my wife, Elise, who works very hard at trying to make me a good person. And sometimes she succeeds. So, she's very influential. Those are the three most influential people. And then my children are great influences in my life because the joy that they give me just makes me better at what I do.

Joe Charles (26:48):
That's awesome. So last question, I know you're Jet fan like me, is this our year?

Peter Fields (26:54):
I'm a long suffering Jets fan like you, Joe. I've been going to Jets games since I was a little boy starting in Shea Stadium, now it's MetLife. And my son now, who's in his twenties, I've been taking him since he's a baby. And on paper this is the best Jets roster in my lifetime, on paper. So, we have to see what happens on the field, but we're all feeling great now. Every football team fan feels great now. Everybody's undefeated right now, so we're all feeling great. I'm going to the game Monday night, hoping for the best.

Joe Charles (27:33):
Yeah, this is very exciting and I'm looking forward to great things this year. Hopefully, I don't jinx it. But Peter, once again, thank you for your time today and if anyone wants to get in contact with you, they want to use your services, how do they reach you?

Peter Fields (27:48):
Yeah, so the best way to do that, send me an email, I'm an email guy. You can go to our website, Again, the name of the firm, Ritholz Levy Fields. On the fields, we are in New York City where my main office is. We're in Nashville and LA. But go to our website, you find my email there, shoot me an email, love to talk to you. It doesn't cost anything to have a conversation with me. The conversation's confidential, whether or not we work on anything together. So love to do it, love to talk to you, and if I can't do it, I might be able to find somebody who could help you on the matter.

Joe Charles (28:32):
Great. Peter, thank you so much for joining us today. It's been a pleasure. Really appreciate you being a part of the Alliant podcast.

Peter Fields (28:40):
Thanks, Joe. It's been fun talking and look forward to continuing our work together on clients that we work on together. So, thank you.

Joe Charles (28:49):
Take care. Everyone, enjoy your day.


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