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Communications and Media Law

What Do Communications Lawyers and Media Attorneys Do? | What Law Governs Communications and Media Law? | When You Might Need a Communications Attorney or Media Lawyer

Media LawThere are a number of situations where you might need to retain the services of a communications lawyer or a media attorney. Here are some examples:

  • You own a radio station and wish to expand your audience base through a merger or acquisition with another provider.
  • You’re on-air talent and want advice regarding a proposed contract for your services.
  • You’ve been notified by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that you are under investigation for violating laws governing content.

What’s the difference between the two specialties of communications law and media law? How do you know which type of attorney you need?

What Is Communications Law and What Do Communications Lawyers Do?

Communications law addresses issues related to the exchange of information through technological means, including radio, television, cable TV, and the internet. These technologies tend to be heavily regulated, and communications lawyers are well-versed in those regulations and how they affect individuals and companies involved in technology-related communications. Among the issues communications attorneys handle are the following:

  • Licensing and regulation of radio and television transmissions—Though radio and television have been largely replaced by online audio and video options, they are still popular and accessible media. Communications attorneys help secure licensing for the use of specific radio and TV signals and frequencies, as well as details about type and strength of signal transmission.
  • Regulation of broadcast content—Communications lawyers advise clients regarding any mandatory content, as well as any content that may be prohibited, such as obscenity or hate speech.
  • Antitrust and ownership issues—There are restrictions on how much presence a particular communications company can have in any given market. Communications attorneys advocate for companies who seek to increase their market share without violating anti-competition laws or regulations. As a part of this practice, a communications attorney may advise clients regarding mergers or acquisitions and may be involved in facilitating the sale or purchase of licenses or other assets.
  • Day-to-day legal matters involved in the communications business—Communications attorneys may get involved in a wide range of general legal matters, from the negotiation of contracts for talent to responding to consumer complaints or FCC requests. They may occasionally be involved in personal injury claims, may advise communications companies on business and tax matters, and may work as advocates with governmental bodies, lobbying to protect their clients’ interests.

The FCC has oversight of all communications laws, regulations, licensing, and content, so communications lawyers typically have regular interactions with the FCC.

What Laws Govern Communications?

As a general rule, communications laws are federal in nature and scope. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 provides most federal statutory guidance in the area of communications law. The Act seeks to make telecommunications access available to all Americans at a reasonable cost. It also establishes broad regulation of internet and broadband transmissions.

What Is Media Law?

Media law generally provides for the regulation of the production and use of any type of media, including internet, television, radio and print media. As a general rule, media that is broadcast and accessible to the public in general is subject to a high level of regulation.

What Are the Typical Responsibilities of a Media Lawyer

A media attorney may handle a wide range of legal issues related to the production and use of radio, television, internet, and print. The most common legal issues handled by media lawyers include:

  • Intellectual property—A common legal challenge with all types of media is the protection of certain types of intellectual property, primarily copyrights and trademarks. Media lawyers often consult clients about the potential for infringement or take legal measures to help clients protect their intellectual property.
  • Licensing issues—Media lawyers help companies license intellectual property, including copyrights, trademarks, and even software. For example, when a popular song is used in a television show or movie, a licensing agreement may be required.
  • Free speech issues—Media lawyers counsel clients regarding the impact of state and federal regulations on the free speech rights set forth in the First Amendment. Often, this involves limitations on content perceived to be obscene or defamatory. In many cases, a media lawyer will advocate for clients in proceedings before the FCC.
  • Other matters—Media lawyers often find themselves providing counsel on a wide range of legal issues that affect businesses and individuals involved in television, print, radio, or online media. Such issues include bankruptcy, employment controversies and contracts, labor disputes, and personal injury claims (e.g., for defamation).

Do You Need a Communications Attorney or a Media Lawyer?

Though there is some overlap between the roles of a communications lawyer and a media attorney, there are some legal issues that are primarily or exclusively the purview of one or the other:

  • When to hire a communications attorney—If you are seeking to secure broadcast licenses for television or radio, you want the services of a communications attorney. If you are under investigation for or concerned about potential antitrust or anti-competitive actions related to radio or television market shares, a communications attorney can help. If you are considering a merger or acquisition involving a communications company, you’ll want a proven communications attorney.
  • When to retain a media lawyer—If you are engaged in disputes regarding the use of print media, those are typically handled by a media attorney. Furthermore, if your controversy involves potential infringement of your First Amendment free speech rights, you need a media lawyer. Other issues that are most effectively handled by a media attorney include the licensing and protection of intellectual property, as well as any attempt by state or federal government agencies or officials to censor or limit content.

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