Stream On: Minna Taylor
Having been with Fox Broadcasting before it was even called Fox, Minna Taylor has seen the company through decades' worth of legal crises, including the latest issues arising from a shift in how viewers access, view, and discover hit shows.
Behind every good movie, television show and performer, there’s a team of equally good lawyers there to ensure that interests are protected and everyone walks away with an adequate paycheck. That’s where Minna Taylor thrives. The head of Fox Broadcasting’s legal team, Taylor and her team work with the network, production companies, and unions to ensure that all the right people get a slice of the fiscal pie generated by Fox hits like Glee, American Idol, X Factor, Family Guy and House.
Fox wasn’t Fox when Minna Taylor signed on. In the late ’80s, the network was a fledgling that only aired four nights per week and was consistently crushed by ratings of larger competitors. Taylor herself was a novice, too. A former labor relations attorney, Taylor began cutting her teeth on entertainment law just two years prior at a subsidiary Paramount Communications, operating the legal end of the company’s low-budget movies of the week. When a senior counsel position with Fox opened up in 1991, Taylor made a leap, hoping that neither she nor the network itself would fail.
Two decades later, both are powerhouses among their peers. Fox Broadcasting has gone from shaky start-up to media goliath, landing a spot as one of the top networks in the country, while Taylor has climbed the corporate ranks to Senior Vice-President of Legal Affairs where she currently battles questions regarding who owns Internet, social media and publicity rights for shows. With traditional media outlets waging a borderline desperate war to keep the attention of the American viewer, Taylor is on the cusp of defining how broadcasting networks will evolve with changes in technology and tastes.
Get In Media: One of the major issues networks are currently facing is who has Internet and streaming rights to creative content. How has that issue changed what you do?
Minna Taylor: When television first started, people watched reruns. There was no other place to get that entertainment other than on the network. The network was very careful about keeping its rights for a long period of time, but now with the Internet, people want everything right away. They don’t want to wait. They want to be able to watch it on VOD [video on demand] or download it and take it with them; so it’s become a very different universe … Networks basically don’t own their programming. They license their programming from other people, and so figuring out what that license gives you, what kinds of rights that license gives you, that’s been the real battle for the last few years. The way I think the world is evolving, it’s not quite there yet but close, is that networks will have the right to exploit the series pretty much in any streaming kinds of ways during [the current season] so you’ll be able to see the current season wherever you are, and then after that, the studio that produces the show will probably be the ones that have the right to exploit it. It kind of opens up the rights to be able to see TV shows on the Internet and wherever else we can figure out how to get them there.
GIM: What other legal issues do you deal with?
MT: Basically contract interpretation, contract language drafting, what rights do we have and what rights don’t we have because that says what we can do and what we can’t do. Issues that involve rights of publicity and privacy, copyright. People would call me up and say, “Well we want to use something or other to promote this series. Can we do that?” and you have to look at the union issues that arise as well as the legal issues. Do we have the right to use so-and-so’s name or something like that. We have a lot of unions and guilds here so you always have to be cognizant of what’s involved there.
GIM: With piracy now being a thing that anyone can do …
MT: And everybody does.
GIM: How does that factor into your job?
MT: … [The network] just has a license on the programs. We don’t have a copyright on the programs, so while we want to stop people from pirating because we want them to watch our network, we don’t have quite the same legal rights to stop a pirate that the studio would have.
GIM: I understand that while you were working at Paramount, you oversaw the production of 20 movies in two years. That’s an insane workload, especially for someone new to the field.
MT: It was challenging, particularly the first couple of weeks when I wondered if I had made a horrible mistake by doing this. It turned out to be actually a good thing, and I really learned a lot by just doing it. I probably made lots of mistakes, but it was fun … I did that, and then I went from there to Fox, and I have to say, this is the most interesting job I’ve ever had because it always changes … I’ve never really done the same thing. Even though I’ve always had the same job title, I’ve never had the same problem set for more than a year or two
GIM: What’s the best and worst part of your job?
MT: It’s really interesting, it’s always changing, that’s probably the best part of my job, and the worst part is if you don’t like working with crises, then that would be the worst part of the job. If you’re kind of an adrenaline junkie, then it’s fine.
GIM: What counts as a crisis?
MT: Oh, this agreement has to go out immediately. That’s probably the most typical one, or so-and-so called up and said they’re not delivering X or they’re not going to do this or that. Then it becomes, well what can we do to stop it? How are we going to get our rights back? How are we going to protect ourselves legally? That’s probably the most typical kind of crisis that we have, I have.
GIM: Law jobs have taken a pretty big hit with the recession. What’s your advice for those looking to break into entertainment law?
MT: The entertainment industry, just generally, is kind of a small town, so if you really want to break in, you need to get to know people who are in the field. If you want to be in entertainment law per se, most studios won’t hire you until you’ve had two to three years of legal experience, but what they’re looking for, generally, is people who are good drafters, very analytical and can get along with people who have sizable egos.
GIM: That’s very honest. Most people dance around the ego issue.
MT: … Lawyers along with accountants, they’re kind of at the bottom of the totem pole. There are some big lawyers who do some amazing deals, but most of the lawyers are just there. They’re not the movers and shakers. It’s the creative people who are the movers and shakers, so you’re basically in a service position.
GIM: With so much changing in the media landscape right now, where do you see the job evolving in the next five to 10 years?
MT: Oh, I was never good at that question. They asked me that question when I applied for the job in the first place, and I didn’t know it then, and I still don’t know the answer … I’m waiting to find out.
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