That's entertainment: Attorney shares the world of showbiz with law classes

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Students in Howard Hertz's Entertainment Law classes might be forgiven for getting stars in their eyes -- their professor counts Eminem, Marilyn Manson, Jack White formerly of the White Stripes, George Clinton, Sippie Wallace, The Romantics, recently passed crime novelist Elmore Leonard, The Bass Brothers, Russell Simmons, O-Town, Pantera, Marcus Belgrave, Mike Posner, and Atlantic Records among his many past and present clients.

Hertz, an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University law schools, will bring his students down to earth with a bump.

"It's a great field but hard to break in," he says. "The biggest challenge is you have to be knowledgeable in many areas of entertainment -- music, film, books, television and radio. Some of the major upcoming issues relate to the rights reversions pursuant to the 1976 Copyright Act."

His own road to this highly specialized field was sheer serendipity. After studying psychology at WSU, Hertz earned his law degree from Wayne Law. Interested in working with troubled youngsters, he joined the Juvenile Defender's Office -- then fate took a hand when a musician friend asked a favor.

"My interest in entertainment law started when I was asked to negotiate a music publishing agreement," Hertz says. "Since then I've focused my energy on building my practice in entertainment law."

After transferring to the State Defender's Office to gain more courtroom experience defending adults, Hertz and former prosecutor Brad Schram in 1979 launched the Bloomfield Hills law firm of Hertz Schram, a firm now consisting of 30 lawyers practicing in many fields of law, where Hertz is lead attorney of the Entertainment Practice Group. His services to the stars range from contract negotiation and litigation to entity formation and estate/tax planning -- and occasionally having to defend his high profile clients in criminal matters.

It's a perfect blend of two passions that have driven his life from childhood, and has earned Hertz kudos amongst the "Best Lawyers in America" and "Super Lawyers."

"I originally was told by elementary school teachers that I should be a lawyer because of my ability to win arguments," Hertz says.

Hooked on rock music from a tender age -- and a budding Elvis wannabe at age 6 -- Hertz has always been heavily involved in music. A guitarist and harmonica player, he once sang in a blues band with two other lawyers and an advertising exec; and he founded an independent record label SuperString Records.

Hertz, who is as likely to have his nose in a copy of Billboard as in a legal brief, manages the band The GO through his management and publishing company, Hertzrentatune, LLC; and has had recent success placing the band's songs in commercials for Mercedes Australia; Subaru Canada; and a worldwide Peugeot campaign, in addition to placements in TV shows such as "Entourage," and movies, including "The Hills Have Eyes."

He can share fascinating cases with students, including a copyright infringement case against Apple for having used Eminem's "Lose Yourself" in an iTunes commercial without permission, and a lawsuit to block five companies from selling Eminem ring tones on the Internet.

"The series of cases involving my clients, FBT Productions and Eight Mile Style Music, which I co-counseled in Michigan against Apple and was also litigated in California against Universal, were challenging," he says. "The case against Universal went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which denied cert, favorable to my clients. That issue had to do with whether sales on iTunes are considered licensed works or normal retail sales channels, which, depending on the language in the recording agreement, can have a significant impact on royalties for digital downloads."

A recipient of the John Hensel Award for significant contributions to the arts community, Hertz makes an annual pilgrimage to MIDEM, the International Music Festival in Cannes, France, on behalf of his clients.

He is a member of the Board of Directors and president of the Detroit Music Awards Foundation, and has been a member of and an adviser to the Board of Governors of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (Chicago Chapter) that presents the Grammy Awards. He also serves as vice chair of the Board of the Sphinx Organization, on the board of the Uptown Film Festival in Birmingham, and previously participated on a panel at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. In addition, he has served on the Michigan Film Advisory Commission, and has been chairman of the Arts, Communications, Entertainment and Sports Section (ACES) of the State Bar of Michigan.

He's pleased to see that moviemaking may be making a resurgence in Michigan, after the first round of tax incentives was repealed.

"The current tax incentives for films aren't as strong as before and are limited to $25 million per year, but there are discussions about raising the limit," Hertz says.

Hertz, who also has participated on panels and lectured for the Michigan Institute of Continuing Legal Education and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, enjoys sharing his experiences with the next generation of legal eagles.

"It keeps me in touch with young prospective lawyers and because I teach a survey course it helps me to come up with new ideas for my current clients and cases," Hertz says.

Hertz's wife, Wendy, recently retired after 30 years of teaching special education and is now pursuing her passion in art. Son Adam is an artist/manager in the jazz field in New York, where he manages McCoy Tyner, among others, and travels the world. Hertz's son, Ryan, named Alumnus of the Year by Wayne State Social Work School, is executive director of the South Oakland Shelter.

In his leisure time, Hertz enjoys scuba diving, world travel, photography, and -- you guessed it -- music. He also continues his work with adolescents by administering the Marshall Mathers Foundation -- bearing Eminem's real name -- that donates funds to organizations working with at-risk youth.

"It's a foundation that is helping disadvantaged youth throughout the Detroit area, providing funds for basic daily and educational needs," Hertz says. "I'm proud to lend a hand."

Published: Wed, Sep 4, 2013