A partner in Venable’s LA office, Josh Rosenberg represents numerous entertainment industry and other clients in a wide range of complex litigation matters. In this recent Q&A, Josh discusses some of the cases that solidified his interest in entertainment law and some of the biggest challenges facing the industry today.
Q: You represent a lot of entertainment industry clients in litigation and general business matters. How did you get into that area of law?
A: I had been interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry and studied at University of Southern California film school. But when I realized I wanted a profession that had a bit more security, I transitioned to law school. Once I graduated, I joined O’Melveny & Myers, a prominent firm with a strong focus on entertainment law. While I was there, I worked on a variety of litigation matters, involving contracts, copyright, and First Amendment issues. I was also very fortunate as a young associate to get to work on the Michael Jackson wrongful death case.
Q: That must have been an arduous case to work on.
A: Yes, I was part of the defense team, in what became a six-month trial. The firm represented the concert promoter, AEG Live, which had planned Jackson’s residency in London around the time of his death. When he passed away from a propofol overdose, the doctor who administered the dose was criminally convicted. But the central issue in the case we were working on was whether the concert promoter, who had allegedly hired the doctor, was civilly liable for Jackson’s death. Ultimately, by, among other things, examining Jackson’s medical history and deposing other doctors who had treated him throughout his life, we prevailed—winning a complete jury verdict with no financial liability for our client. Later, at a different firm, Kinsella Weitzman, I ironically ended up representing the estate of Michael Jackson and worked on all sorts of matters involving big-name talent in music, film, and television. That experience really solidified my interest in the entertainment sphere.
Q: Are there other notable cases you’ve worked on in the entertainment industry?
A: One of my most significant achievements was a confidential arbitration that spanned four years at JAMS. Arbitrations are akin to trials, but without a jury, and in this case, a panel of three arbitrators, including a former judge, made the decisions. I formed part of a three-person team with Howard Weitzman, a legendary figure in the industry, representing the former manager of one of the biggest pop stars in the world in a dispute that arose when she terminated their contract. Our legal team prevailed at arbitration against significant opposition from the pop star’s Big Law legal team, and eventually secured a very favorable settlement for our client.
Q: What type of entertainment industry matters do you typically represent these days?
A: In 2018, I began representing Ariana Grande. Since then, I've been involved in various aspects of her legal matters. This entails safeguarding her intellectual property, addressing issues related to her music and music videos, and ensuring her safety through civil harassment restraining orders, given her status as a public figure. One recent high-profile case involved Ariana's cosmetics brand, R.E.M. Beauty, in a dispute with Forma Beauty Brands, which eventually filed for bankruptcy. I worked with our bankruptcy and litigation teams on this incredibly complex matter, navigating issues of bankruptcy and corporate law, and ultimately enabling Ariana to regain control of her brand. I also represent several major figures in the music industry, including Jason Derulo, The-Dream, Lana Del Rey, and Love Renaissance, among others. The work I do for these clients runs the gamut from contract disputes to matters involving copyright, employment, right of publicity, and personal and financial issues.
Q: You joined Venable just under two years ago. How has your practice evolved since being part of this firm?
A: My former firm was a 20-lawyer outfit focused on entertainment, intellectual property, and general litigation. But here at Venable, where there are nearly 900 lawyers with different specialties across various jurisdictions, I’ve really been able to expand the scope of the work I take on. Being able to tap into such a deep bench of lawyers across the firm has been hugely advantageous and crucial in achieving our clients’ objectives. Joining Venable also allowed me to continue representing talent in the entertainment industry, although I am also now handling company and studio side matters. Working alongside lawyers like Lee Brenner, who chairs the firm’s Entertainment and Media Litigation Group, has been a really rewarding experience. I’m currently working with Lee on a high-profile lawsuit involving Showtime Networks and Paramount Global, related to the 2015 Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight, with the trial set for August 2024, which is keeping us very busy.
Q: What would you say are the biggest challenges facing entertainment industry clients at the moment?
A: Harassment, both on- and offline, has intensified. For instance, there’s a website that publishes home addresses and other information about celebrities, which has obvious safety implications. But, of course, the biggest challenge for everyone in the creative industry right now is generative AI, and its potential impact on intellectual property rights. Right now, even the U.S. Copyright Office isn’t quite sure how to handle this issue. With a few prompts, AI has the capacity to generate an entire screenplay in a couple of seconds. A group of prominent writers recently filed a lawsuit against AI generators over copyright infringement. The chief concern is that AI is using their work or mimicking their style to generate new content without their consent. This is a huge challenge for all kinds of artists who are suddenly facing a competitor that’s not human.
Q: The Writers Guild recently ended its 5-month strike. Do you think the deal they reached with the studios will help mitigate some of the concerns around copyright and AI?
A: Not really. The WGA strike arose primarily from the migration of episodic television to streaming platforms, a shift that hurt actors and writers by reducing episode counts and effectively eliminating back-end and profit participation from syndication and other secondary markets. Traditional revenue models for creative talent relied on syndication, with residual payments being a significant source of income. But with streaming, the format has shifted to shorter seasons, which eliminates a lot of syndication opportunities. The disappearance of the syndication market raises all sorts of challenges for the industry regarding fair distribution of profits among all parties involved in content creation. AI also played a role in the strike, in that writers and actors were concerned about being replaced by technology. But while the Writers Guild managed to force some concessions on this front, the issue is far from resolved.
Q: With all these changes in the entertainment industry, it sounds like you’re going to be kept very busy! What do you like to do when you get some downtime?
A: Well, I’m from Kansas, so I’m a passionate Kansas City Chiefs football fan. I’m also very active with my local Jewish community. But my world really revolves around my family. My wife and I have two kids, aged four and seven. We love to travel as a family. But when we’re home, spending time with them, whether it’s coaching soccer or paying visits to Halloween pumpkin patches, is really my top priority.
To learn more about Josh Rosenberg’s litigation practice, please click here.