Comment: Legal-proofing summer festivals an event in itself

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WITH a record-breaking Rock Ness over, and T in the Park, Glastonbury, and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe just round the corner, festival season is well under way.

It is perhaps no great surprise that the focus of these events is the headline attractions, not on logistical, legal or regulatory challenges. However, serious planning and risk management goes into delivering the entertainment at such mass participation events.

Every major festival or event needs to tie down its arrangements for use of venues well in advance. This will generally involve venue use agreements governing period of use, commissioning and decommissioning of equipment, branding and any licensing arrangements for the sale of alcohol. There will also be provisions apportioning risk and liability between the parties, for example, in relation to health and safety and property damage. Additional issues, such as environmental considerations, may arise where agricultural land is used.

Ticketing has also become more complex in the internet/smartphone era. More traditional risks of printed counterfeit tickets and ticket touting have been exacerbated by unofficial websites selling both genuine and counterfeit tickets and, more recently, the availability of e-ticketing mobile technologies (although such technologies can of course present potential solutions to aid in the fight against counterfeiting, such as RFID tagging and encryption). Event organisers often work closely with Trading Standards to identify counterfeiters.

Contracts will also regulate the rights of performers/agents and individual festival-goers.

In the case of the latter, this will likely take the form of the terms and conditions which apply to the purchase of the ticket. Among other things these Ts&Cs are likely to dictate circumstances whereby the purchaser may be due a refund. These can vary by event but would typically include event cancellation – weather-related or otherwise – and performer “no-shows”, though often one “no show” in a multi-set festival may not be enough. Other conditions may be attached to admission allowing the organisers to eject individuals for, for example, substance abuse or ambush marketing.

As event organisers will be dealing with festival-goers in their capacity as consumers, the law will provide additional protection for the individual. It is important for organisers to ensure that conditions are accessible, clearly expressed and reasonable, and contain certain specific minimum protections for the consumer.

A range of insurance cover is also likely to be in place: from public liability cover applying in instances of personal injury to full event cancellation insurance, although the latter can be prohibitively expensive for organisers to carry.

Most major festivals now have commercial sponsors so consideration must be given to concluding sponsorship agreements which set out the sponsorship fee and clarify the corresponding sponsorship rights. This might include venue branding and complimentary ticketing packages.

Although a greater risk for major sporting events, “ambush marketing” (infamous examples include Linford Christie’s Puma contact lenses at the 1996 Olympics) can also be a risk for organisers of other types of events, including music and arts festivals.

On the theme of intellectual property, event organisers – particularly for larger events – will be mindful of the need to protect and exploit their rights, which might include registering trademarks relating to the event name or theme, and securing copyright in event photographs, footage, programmes and other materials. Exploitation may include entering into merchandising agreements and licence agreements for the broadcasting of footage on TV.

These are just some of the legal challenges facing festival organisers in the modern live entertainment era, and that is before you factor in compliance with advertising standards, collecting society licensing (PRS and PPL), staff and support contracts (and associated employment law issues), data protection compliance, and dealings with concessions, to name but a few other areas.

Thorough legal preparation is almost an event in itself – but it’s hardly rock and roll!

• Callum Sinclair is a partner in the IP and Technology practice at DLA Piper.