SHOW BIZ

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KSU’s Joel A. Katz Music and Entertainment Business Program kicked off with a bang this semester.

Students enrolled in the new certificate program –– a joint venture between the Coles College of Business and the College of the Arts –– got a chance to listen to Joel Katz, one of the world’s leading entertainment lawyers, during the program’s first guest lecture in February. Katz donated an undisclosed amount to KSU last fall to launch the program, one of a few such programs in the state. His longtime friend, KSU benefactor Bobbie Bailey, was in the audience.

Katz regaled the audience of about 100 people with stories of how he got started as a lawyer in the music and entertainment business by happenstance 40 years ago and how he signed his first client –– James Brown –– and went on to add a who’s-who of recording artists. Katz, chair and founding shareholder of Greenberg Traurig’s global media and entertainment practice, also talked about the challenges of new technologies and pointed out that the digital age is offering “myriad of opportunities” for students.

“This is a most interesting and exciting time for the music and entertainment business,” Katz told the students gathered at a classroom in Prillaman Hall. “Technology is not a threat, it’s an opportunity as long as there is a legal environment that protects intellectual property.”

Over the past three decades, he explained, the music recording industry has changed dramatically, as CDs, MP3 players, iPods and mobile phones have been introduced over the years. But as media, technology and content blend, it has to be clear who owns and controls content. Intellectual property, Katz insisted, has to be protected.

“Artists who create deserve to be paid for their work,” he said. “[If not] there will be no new content. Someone has to pay for its creation.”

Katz represents some of the world’s best known entertainers, music producers, record companies, concert promoters and Fortune 500 companies. His practice has represented legendary entertainers such as Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Josh Groban, Jimmy Buffett and Michael Jackson, among others. Katz said that the four decades he has spent as an entertainment lawyer “have been great years for me.”

Though the launch of the CD in the early 1980s ushered in “the golden age of music,” Katz said nowadays there are plenty of jobs and opportunities for those interested in the music and entertainment business.

“The future is yours. Go get it,” he told the audience.

KSU’s Joel A. Katz Music and Entertainment Business Program kicked off this semester. As of now, 56 students are enrolled in the certificate program and 50 are taking the introductory class focusing on the music and entertainment business, said Bruce Burch, director of the program. Students must apply to the program, and all majors are welcome.

Katz’s story of how he got started in the business offered these students some lessons. He moved to Georgia more than 40 years ago, after graduating from law school. For two years, he worked three jobs: as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, taught law at Georgia State University, and did some work for law firms during weekends. Then he decided to open his own law firm in 1971. “I had absolutely no clients,” he said.

The first few weeks he got no calls. By the third week, as he was “sitting in a panicked state,” Katz got a call from a former Georgia State student who was looking for a lawyer who knew nothing about the recording industry. “I said ‘I’m your man.’”

Little did Katz know that this would launch his career as an entertainment lawyer. The client who needed an attorney who knew nothing about entertainment law was none other than James Brown, “the Godfather of Soul,” who was about to negotiate a contract with a newly launched label. After days of negotiations in New York City in which Katz made some “crazy” demands, “making a total fool of me,” Katz was able to hash out a contract that included a leased jet for Brown’s personal use.

At a press conference to announce the deal, Brown told reporters that Katz was “the very best lawyer in the entertainment business,” Katz recalled. “I was totally in shock.” After that, his phone never stopped ringing.