The World of Entertainment Law: A Conversation with Santiago Sanmiguel.
By Martín Acuña
I sat down with Santiago Sanmiguel to chat about Entertainment Law. He is a man of many talents, which I have come to discover after quite some time….
When I met him, he entered a classroom I was in on a sunny January evening back in 2019. When I first saw him, I could have sworn he could have been a classmate: he was wearing jeans, sneakers, a t-shirt and skull printed scarf. Not the traditional attire for a lawyer, right? As soon as he closed the classroom’s door, he said: “Welcome to Entertainment Law or how I like to call it ‘A Survival Guide for Artists’.” From that moment on I knew it was going to be a fun ride until the end of term.
But before we dive into the basics of what every artist should know regarding law, let’s figure out who Santiago Sanmiguel is:
Santiago is a lawyer from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, and he has spent his career working in the entertainment industry – advising and working with actors, musicians and live shows event production–, teaching and of course, writing/singing his own music. He advises several cultural projects and artists through Derecho Rocks and he does private consulting sessions too.
He is one of the few lawyers in Bogotá that works only in the Colombian Entertainment Industry, as he says: “there were honestly a handful of us working around Theatre issues. There was the lawyer that advises the Teatro Colón and the one that works with the Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo and me. Theatre production dynamics and the licensing processes are very peculiar, almost every colleague was concentrated in music, live events or music events; there were very few of us that knew about theatre and dance specifically.”
With another law firm (Hemisferio Derecho), Santiago started a podcast called Dr. Rocks* with the intention of giving information they would have wanted to hear when starting in the industry. By the hand of María Camila Renza and Mónica Zuluaga, the three of them share different experiences of their work with entertainment. Focused mainly on the music industry their objective is to give new artists tools that they can use and have in mind when starting their own projects. One of the things I have loved about their conversations has been transporting their knowledge to performing arts and my own career. The basics of law are the same and it is when specificity comes in when the dynamics of each industry must be taken into account.
*Only available in Spanish.
Let’s get to the meat and bone: why is it important that artists must know about law? Social and business interactions are regulated from the start and as a creative you need to know about them and how to play your cards in the game. Creative people sometimes only care for their art thinking that law discussions don’t apply to them, but sorry my friends, they do apply to us. From my conversation with Santiago, here are those things we must know about Entertainment Law:
1. Entertainment Law is a big container.
Intellectual Property, likeness and rights of publicity – who is similar to Intellectual Property but has variations – and Commercial Law applied to creative industries fit into this container to source the legal side of our work.
2. Everything must be written.
Verbal agreements are fragile and they are forgotten through time and sometimes might be void entirely. As an artist you may do a lot of verbal agreements with the people you work with because they are your friends, family or acquaintances. When you do these verbal agreements, everything is perfect and crystal clear, but what happens when you end that relationship, you stop being friends or something else happens? That is why Santiago’s advice is to leave everything written, this will help answer a critic question: who is the author?
3. Learn to differentiate between the material support of the product and the intellectual property rights of it.
Santiago here uses an example: When you buy a book, you are buying the material and physical support of the object, not the intellectual property rights over the novel. That is something we must learn to dissociate.
4. Who is the owner of those intellectual property rights?
In any case, someone is the owner of the intellectual property rights of the object. These are three possible scenarios: An individual may be the owner because they created it, or because they funded the project, or they paid someone else to create it; there is a difference between them. One can also be faced with the possibility of having one unique material support owned by several people, like it happens in the film and TV industry. If you don’t know who the owner is: ask.
5. Read what you are going to sign.
I know, it sounds silly but it happens a lot. It does not matter who hands you the contract, as soon as you get it read it thoroughly and sign when your interests are met. There may be some conflict of interest when your manager’s lawyer speaks with you, he is not your lawyer; there’s a slight change their interests are on board with yours, just make sure of it.
6. Get yourself a(n entertainment) lawyer!
There are a lot of branches in Law, attorneys are usual focused on a single one. Santiago likes to joke about what a friend of his said: “lawyers are like corner-architects. When you ask for help their answer will be “Sorry, I only do corners. I know about windows, frames and doors, but I only do corners.” Therefore, you must get yourself an entertainment attorney that is as close as your art as possible.
I hope you find this helpful, dear artist. Navigating through the law side of our work may be daunting however we need to care about it as much as we do for our art. Use the previous tips to save yourself from a law horror story; fingers crossed you are never in one!