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VOL. 123 | NO. 208 | Thursday, October 23, 2008

Butler in Middle of Entertainment Biz Through Law Practice

By Rebekah Hearn

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()
Position:    Member
Firm:    Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs LLP
Basics:    Butler is a member of the firm’s Intellectual Property Protection & Litigation Service Team. She concentrates her practice on music and entertainment law.
“The entertainment business is not what I do, it’s who I am.”
– Tonya D. Butler

Tonya D. Butler is a member of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs LLP’s Intellectual Property Protection & Litigation Service Team. She concentrates her practice on music and entertainment law.

Butler has served on the legal affairs team for MGM Music Inc., Pioneer Entertainment and Rhino Records. She is a member of the American Bar Association (Entertainment and Sports Law Forum), Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association, and is a faculty adviser for the Student Membership Division of The Recording Academy-Memphis Chapter, among other memberships.

She sits on the board of directors for the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and is a commissioner on both the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission and the Memphis and Shelby County Film and Television Commission.

Butler also is the coordinator of the music business program and a professor of music business at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

Q: What attracted you to the specific areas of entertainment and music law?

A: Well, I was born and raised in the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles. I didn’t choose entertainment as much as it chose me. I started off with my undergraduate degree in theater, so I have worked in the entertainment business my whole life, and started off as a starving actress. I actually worked for “The Newlywed Game,” “The Dating Game,” “The Love Connection,” that kind of stuff. I was also a tour guide at Universal Studios for three years, and all of this while pursuing a career in acting.

Q: What made you decide to go to law school?

A: I didn’t become a famous actress. No, really, I just had a knack for helping people get out of trouble, I was just naturally good at reviewing contracts and negotiating and the business side of the business. So when I decided to go to law school, I did the research, and I discovered there was entertainment law, so when I went into law school that was my sole intention, was to practice entertainment law.

Q: What will be the benefits or drawbacks of the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act, which President Bush recently signed?

A: Not only do I think it’s a good idea, and not only did I foresee the need for such a position, but I intend to have that job someday myself. Literally. I would always tell people I was going to be the intellectual property ambassador to the United Nations, I swear, so when I saw that, I’m like, ‘Oh, well, that’s my job.’ I think it’s important to have somebody representing intellectual property at a national level; I foresaw a need for that position.

Q: What has been one of the most fun or interesting cases you’ve worked on?

A: Well, I really enjoyed a project I did with Ray Charles; we did him live at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. That was definitely one of the highlights of my career. That was exciting, just because I got to meet the legendary Ray Charles. Second would be working on the James Bond movie, “Die Another Day.” In film music, they have licensing where they license in songs that other people have written, and then they have the original music – the songwriter agreements, publishing contracts, that’s the work I did. Of course, now, my biggest privilege is getting to work with the Rev. Al Green.

Q: Memphis really has drawn more attention from the public entertainment-wise, especially on the film side, would you agree with that?

A: You know what I think? It’s really been that way for a while, it’s just recently started to be promoted and people are starting to recognize that. … We have a lot of activity in film, in music and even in television, that not everybody knows, and that’s our responsibility, is to get the word out. We’ve got a lot going on.

Q: What sets music and entertainment law aside the most from other areas of the law?

A: Entertainment law is different from just about every other type of law, because we’re dealing with entertainers. So we’re dealing with people who are very creative; we deal with a lot of egos, we’re in a business where image is everything, and an entertainment lawyer has to be versatile. They have to be able to go where their clients go. With entertainment law, if they’re in the studio, I may have to be in the studio. If they’re on a plane, I may have to be on the plane.

Q: When you have time to yourself, how do you like to spend it?

A: That’s an interesting question, because I’m always seeking balance and harmony in my life, and I still spend all of my waking hours in this business. I think that’s not just because I love it, but for me, the entertainment business is not what I do, it’s who I am. It really is. Really, it’s my calling, and I can’t even think of anything I do that’s not related to the industry somehow. It’s where my friends are, it’s everything.

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