Disc Jockey to Juris Doctor, Spotlight Interview

By: Rivver Cox* | Summer Guest Writer

COE RAMSEY practices entertainment and communications law at Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, LLP in Raleigh, North Carolina. His music and entertainment law practice includes representing major recording artists and producers, songwriters, and other artists. Coe advises his clients on copyright and other intellectual property disputes, music licensing, record contracts, publishing agreements, and live performance contracts. His communication law practice emphasizes FCC regulations, corporate transactions, and intellectual property matters where he advises his television and radio clientele. Coe’s passion for music and broadcasting arose from his young career as a disc jockey for 102 JAMZ of Greensboro while he was in high school. In addition, Coe is an Adjunct Professor at his alma mater, Wake Forest University School of Law, where he lectures on Entertainment Law.

What was the path from DJ to JD? To me the coolest person at my church dances was the DJ. Through high school I was the introvert, geeky kid, however, the summer leading up to my senior year I became a radio station mix show disc jockey. All of my classmates played my radio station all summer so when I came back to school in the fall I was ‘Mr. Popular’ with all the cliques. I went to college thinking I was nothing other than a DJ. I majored in communications studies at UNC Chapel Hill and realized I had achieved a lot as a DJ, but it would be difficult trying to rise to the next level. I needed to find something a bit more practical. Enrolling in law school, my goal was to come out and to have some connection to broadcasting and music because I was familiar with the system and enjoyed the people. Opting to practice entertainment law in Raleigh over Los Angeles or New York was for personal reasons with my family and love for my home state.

How does North Carolina fit in with the big market music entertainment industry? North Carolina is interesting and growing with ample opportunity for musicians. Just look at American Idol. In the past few years, North Carolina has been among the top states for having the highest number of contestants participate. The main struggle with North Carolina is its lack of organization and cooperation among its artists and studios. It needs to be tailored for the industry and more structured like bigger cities. We are currently working on revamping the structure to help our artists and make North Carolina a more prominent figure in the music world.

How does entertainment law deal with intellectual property issues? Mostly copyright issues with film and music works. A big issue is the “right of publicity,” which is the individual having control over the commercial use of their likeliness. At the state level, I deal with “idea protection” to ensure that an individual’s idea for a film or other work is legally and practically protected. On the music side of things, music licensing is so complex that I battle several issues with its constant changes. Copyright law is always evolving so I must stay sharp on all of the changes.

How is the field of entertainment law changing? TECHNOLOGY. Technology is always evolving and thus changes the business. A tip for future entertainment lawyers is to be the person ready for the next big change in the law. I found myself working on the Equal Employment Opportunity within the FCC when it was brand new. Without realizing it, I had become an expert in that field before anyone else. This opened several doors early on in my career.

What are the most challenging aspects of practicing entertainment law? Balancing the need to solve problems for artists who cannot afford my services or advice. There is no middle class in music. It’s either those trying to make it and those who have. It is difficult to address the needs of the up-and-comers without it becoming purely pro bono work. Music groups and bands create unnecessary burdens on themselves. Bands are like marriages, all is well until one partner comes into some money and the item breaks up. Lawsuits arise when one successful band member uses the joint band’s songs to make millions. Other challenges I face with musicians is they sometimes don’t understand what it is I provide for them. I have had some clients try to use me as advertisement, but I tell them that is not my job and is their agent’s job.

Describe the lifestyle of an attorney, professor, and disc jockey. Very busy at times, but it is what I love to do. As an attorney, I first needed to excel in communication law by handling radio and TV issues before I could try to incorporate my passion for music with the entertainment law business. Brooks Pierce sold me on their National Broadcast practice, which allowed me to practice big law in Raleigh, but also allows me to travel to big cities when it’s necessary. As for teaching at my alma mater, I find that some students enroll in the Entertainment Law survey class their 3L year for fun, but some students show a genuine interest in the subjects areas. Being a disc jockey might be in my past, but I’m still tempted to get behind the tables at times. My last high school reunion, everyone was trying to get me to DJ for the celebration because that is how they remember me.

Any advice for the journal readers and those interested in your line of work? Entertainment lawyers CAN be successful in North Carolina. If you want to fish a bigger market, then you will need to live in a bigger city. If you have flexibility, then I recommend exploring the big city market. At the end of the day, all graduating law students need to learn to be a lawyer in an area that compliments what you are passionate about.

*Rivver Cox is a second year law student at Wake Forest. He earned a dual Bachelors of Science degrees in Biology and Psychology from Virginia Tech. He would like to thank Coe Ramsey for his time and participation.