Dina LaPolt, Esq. is an attorney at LaPolt Law, P.C., a boutique transactional entertainment law firm in West Hollywood, California that specializes in representing creators, including recording artists, songwriters, producers, musicians, authors, writers, photographers, actors, and others. She is an expert at strategizing and solving complex and sophisticated legal and business issues relating to contracts, copyrights, trademarks, rights of publicity, and litigation.
In addition to practicing law, Dina serves as an activist for creators and celebrities in the areas of privacy, copyright, and fairness in radio, often becoming involved in legislative matters that affect the rights of her clients and advocating on their behalf. Dina has taught a course entitled "Legal and Practical Aspects of the Music Business" at the UCLA Extension Program since 2001 and served as the editor of Building Your Artist's Brand as a Business, published by the International Association of Entertainment Lawyers in 2012.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My experience has given me the ability to handle life on life's terms. In every nerve-racking situation, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. When I was a musician, I was very focused on being able to support myself with my music. I never chose another path even when others tried to convince me to have a backup plan I could "fall back on". I never paid attention to anyone's doubts and I threw all my eggs in one basket, pursuing my career as a musician and even majoring in music in college.
Thank God I did that! Had I not focused solely on music, I would never been exposed to the music business and that is where I had my epiphany! When I started out as a musician, it never dawned on me that the business side of music was a viable career--as soon as I understood this, I started focusing on the business rather than trying to make it as a musician. I would have never gotten into music law if I hadn't had the life experience of being a musician and an artist.
As a lawyer, my life experience has built my brand and enhanced my business reputation in enumerable ways, some of which I cannot even describe. Anyone can memorize the law but going through stressful negotiations and litigations are experiences you just cannot learn in books.
Real life experience is what builds character.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at LaPolt Law?
Before becoming a lawyer, I was a personal manager, club promoter and a musician. LaPolt Law is a boutique talent-based transactional law firm. We specialize in representing music creators such as songwriters, recording artists, and producers. My prior experiences have allowed me to approach my work with a thorough understanding of the creator's perspective which has been essential to my practice.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at LaPolt Law?
I represented the Estate of Tupac Shakur for 13 years. During that time we released 9 posthumous albums which sold over 40 million records worldwide, and I co-produced the documentary feature film Tupac Resurrection, which was nominated for an Academy Award. This was a special time--I am very proud of the work I did on the Tupac estate. Another highlight was co-producing and handling all the legal work for the documentary Becoming Chaz which chronicles Chaz Bono's transition from female to male. Becoming Chaz was nominated for multiple Emmy Awards.
One of the biggest challenges I have faced relates to my representation of Steven Tyler. I helped him get out of a toxic management agreement. The manger ended up suing me in retaliation, as a bullying tactic. But I fought back--the litigation is still ongoing--and through the process I have learned that I can handle anything. I used to be afraid of litigation, but lawsuits are inevitable when you're a high-power player in the entertainment business, and now I know I can handle it.
A client once told me that when you're faced with a difficult situation, you have three choices: give up, give in, or give it all you got. I always give it all I've got and that's the reason I've been so successful.
What do you think are the main issues in the field of entertainment law at the current time?
There is a major battle going on in Washington, D.C. right now between creators, who are fighting to retain control over uses of their works, and tech and media companies, who want to use other people's music, art, and other intellectual property however and whenever they want while paying as little as possible.
In addition to practicing entertainment law, I am very involved in the legislative process in Washington, D.C. to make sure that our copyright laws treat music, art and other works with the respect and integrity that true art deserves. Currently, four different sections of the U.S. government are reviewing copyright laws and the other laws affecting the music industry: the Copyright Office, the House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Commerce Internet Policy Task Force.
For me, and for the creators I represent, control over the way works are used will always be paramount to the money. I've represented an artist who was a major supporter of women's rights who would never allow her music to be used in a scene or a commercial that denigrated women. I've represented artists who are sober who would turn down all the money in the world before allowing their music to be used in a beer commercial. But if the tech companies have their way, creators will lose their right to say no, which would have a serious chilling effect on the creation of art and music.
In America, unlike other countries such as France and Japan, artists do not have strong moral rights in their works. In those countries, art is seen as an extension of creators' personalities, which must be respected and treated with dignity. Moral rights give an artist the ultimate say over how his or her art is used, altered, or displayed. So these issues of control and approval are really at the core of what's going on in the entertainment business here in America.
There are many other important issues on the table, such as the sound recording public performance right for terrestrial (FM/AM) radio. In America, songwriters, but not performers, receive royalties from terrestrial broadcasters' use of their works. This is a right enjoyed in nearly every other industrialized country in the world--the short list of countries without the right includes North Korea, Iran, China, and Rwanda. This harms our artists by denying them substantial domestic income as well as reciprocal revenues from abroad; because we do not pay this royalty to foreign artists, those countries do not pay this royalty to American artists either. Sources estimate that this costs the U.S. economy more than $100 million each year. Not to mention, this has an especially harmful effect on elder artists, some of whom, although their music is constantly played on the radio, must maintain a grueling touring lifestyle well past the age of retirement just to support themselves and their families.
Another hot topic is the consent decrees governing the United States' two main performance rights organizations ("PROs"), the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers ("ASCAP") and Broadcast Music, Inc. ("BMI"). The consent decrees mandates that rate courts must set royalty rates for performance rights licenses issued by the PROs. When making this determination, the rate courts are not allowed to consider other royalty rates as evidence, preventing them from obtaining fair market value. This is causing a major uproar in the music industry because the major music publishers are considering withdrawing entirely from the PROs so that they can directly negotiate for higher royalty rates. The DOJ announced in June 2014 that it will extensively review the consent decrees.
What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
Anyone opening their own business must have a clear sense of what their brand is going to be. Are you providing a service? Are you selling a product? Once you decide on a business model, you must be consistent and focus for years on building it. I only started earning a profit after 10 years of owning my own law firm because everything went back into the business. You have to think about your long-term goals.
In addition, the business has to be something you love doing, not something you do just for the money. There are long hours and many ups and downs. In other words, if I won the lottery today, I probably would not change much in my daily life because I love what I do. I am not doing it for the money...but it sure is nice when you start making some!
My advice specific to women is that you cannot be afraid to be aggressive and play ball with the men. Men will try to intimidate you, but you have to stand your ground. In a male-dominated industry, it is essential that they know they cannot take advantage of you. Force them to show you respect.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I make taking care of myself a priority. If I take care of myself, then I can take care of others...with ease. I work out six days a week and I eat right--my stomach is not a garbage pail. I take 4 spin classes a week at SoulCycle, 2 Pilates classes, and I do yoga regularly. I stay away from refined sugar and fried foods unless it's a special occasion.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The glass ceiling. It's a fact that the business world, including the music industry, is dominated by men. Powerful men have a hard time reporting to women, so women have a hard time climbing the corporate ladder.
In addition, men spend a lot of time bromancing each other and it's perfectly socially acceptable, which is not the case with women. Men will play golf or basketball, attend sporting events, go out gambling together, etc....these are common social and business building activities that men regularly do. Men bond and help each other in the business world.
Unfortunately, women in business do not spend enough time doing these kinds of things. The social norms are different for women, and there are different expectations. There is a stigma associated with business women getting together to bond...it's perceived as a gossip time. In addition, I think women tend to be more competitive among each other. I wish women would spend more time helping each other rather than outdoing each other.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My mentors helped me get my start by telling me the behind-the-scenes workings and industry customs for the music business--the things you can't learn in books. It is essential to have a mentor in such a small business, where one misstep can ruin an entire career.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Christine Lepera and Patricia Glaser. Both are very powerful female litigation attorneys and both work very differently. When I grow up I want to be just like them!
What do you want your firm to accomplish in the next year?
I would like to represent a prominent and successful female recording artist! A Nicki Minaj/Katy Perry/Lady Gaga/Britney-type artist. That would be incredible!