“Over the period of years and working experience I  have realized that a person has to be evolving with the time and have a complete control and know-how of its surroundings along with current legal and technical knowledge of gadgets”- Persis Hodiwalla, Managing Partner, JP Legal Corp.

This Interview has been published by Pragya Chandni and The SuperLawyer Team

Could you please share your journey and the pivotal moments that led you to pursue a career in law, particularly in the field of entertainment and media law?

As a teenager, I possessed a skill of questioning and having healthy negotiations at home and with teachers in school towards studies and life. Parents always wanted me to become a doctor or an engineer, however due to my low maths score I couldn’t qualify in either of the fields. Whilst growing up there were property related issues in the family, thus at a very young age I had started reading the legal notices and their responses. The legal language mentioned in such notices was very intriguing for me and as such I was always curious to know the nitty-gritties involved in various types of laws which governed our country. Consequently, before I could complete my 10th grade she had decided to become a lawyer. Also, law does not require any maths or complex chemical calculations. Throughout my school life always had a good command over spoken and written English language and could memorise vast portions of her school syllabus along with general knowledge gained by reading newspapers, these basic skills were enough to have a zeal to become a lawyer and to get into a good law school. 

Thus, after completing school in 1999, I got into commerce stream and completed my basic graduation from Mumbai wherein she got to learn about business management and economics. Post that in 2004 I got admission into the 3 year Law Course from Jitendra Chauhan College of Law, Mumbai. In those 3 years I was also interning at a reputed law firm wherein I obtained hands-on experience of drafting the legal language, visiting the High Court of Bombay, meeting counsels, reviewing the agreements, drafting legal notices. Over the period of 3 years my teenage dream of drafting and executing legal documents unfolded and by the end of the internship and law college in 2007 Persis was ready to take on the legal fraternity with her skills of drafting, negotiating and executing legal documents.

On a personal front, during my childhood, my parents used to take me to watch Hindi films in the theatres at Mumbai and  thus as a child I always had this thought that someday my name should appear on that big theatre screen in the capacity of a lawyer. Unknown to  how life after 2007 would open avenues for me in the media and entertainment sector.

Thus in 2007 after completion of and LLB graduation, I was very aggressive in search of a legal job in the market. As destiny would have it, I secured a job as a Legal Executive in Adlabs Films, Filmcity Mumbai in October 2007. In her tenure of 3 years there, she got hands-on experience in drafting, negotiating and executing all the Film production, distribution agreements. Not only I worked in the legal side of the company but was also fortunate enough to learn the technical side of converting the final film footage into a digital cinema print and distributing the same worldwide. In this tenure I also got a chance of reviewing and negotiating the business conducting agreements wherein the single screen and multiplex cinema chains owners were giving their old cinemas to be refurbished and run under the brand name of Big Cinemas in India. On the other hand, the benefit of working in the entertainment sector was that I got a chance to see and meet many film actors and was also invited to a lot of film screenings and parties. Overall during the entire tenure I had a holistic approach of how the Film fraternity functions and gained the legal and commercial knowledge of each and every aspect involved in the Filmmaking business in India.

Thus by the year 2010 I was sure that I would pursue a career in my lifetime in the Media and Entertainment industry as it was very challenging and vulnerable.  Being very hard working and a person who is open to learning new things happening in the industry along with multitasking and managing numerous verticals in the company made me an all-rounder in the media and entertainment industry. All this was possible due to the support of my seniors and friends which I had made whilst working in Adlabs Films.

Given your diverse educational background, how have your experiences at Southwestern Law School, NALSAR University and Mumbai University contributed to shaping your legal career, especially in the entertainment sector?

I graduated in Law from Mumbai in the year 2007 wherein my major subject was Intellectual Property. At that time I thought that  field was much more exciting and challenging to be a part of. Back then, the Entertainment and Media Industry in India was not as structured as it is today and people worked with each other based on the relations amongst them. However, it was later that this industry evolved with the agreements and contracts and commercial deal structures. Hence there was a need to further study the market and the laws in depth to cater to this industry. Hence, I later went to pursue her Post Graduate Diploma from Nalsar University, Hyderabad. 

In this PGD Course I got a chance to study the laws governing the content which is circulated through cable and radio in India along with the advertisement codes applicable on brands. This was an in-depth study of the laws and real life examples prevailing in the media and entertainment industry. Thus, I completed the course in 2011.

However, post that when I was working for another media company in Mumbai which was dealing with Hollywood studios in Los Angeles, I realized the importance of learning the nuances of the legal framework prevailing in the US entertainment and media industry. Whilst working, I also wanted to learn about the various commercial aspects which are required in structuring the deals internationally. 

Thus in the year 2012 I came across a law school named Southwestern Law School, Los Angeles which was providing a masters level 24 credits program in filmmaking, copyright law and commercial deal structuring in the media and entertainment sector. This was an 18 months course for international students who qualify to become a part of this course after passing the TOEFL exam and seeking the requisite score. After a long struggle of another year, I got myself enrolled into the course which commenced on/from January 2014 and graduated in May 2015. 

During this course I  have learnt and mastered the art and skill of drafting and executing agreements prevailing in the international media and entertainment market along with US Copyright Law. In this course I  have learnt the nuisances of the Content Curating Industry. It was during this course that I learned to raise red flags in the script, train the production team and conduct due diligence of the underlying works of any original content and draft commercial agreements towards exploitation of each and every right which are embedded in the content. 

Hence, by 2015 I had my qualifications and skills and abilities to take on the legal and commercial work in the media and entertainment industry in Mumbai. In the year 2016 India was also shaping up to acquire a lot of content to make films and/or web-series based on books, remake films into Hindi languages, commercially exploit and earn revenues through sale of theatrical and non-theatrical rights of the Film in India and worldwide. I had not only acquired all the knowledge through my education but also had hands-on experience by working as an In House lawyer for many companies, more particularly studios which were primarily into film making and distribution.

You’ve held key legal positions at prominent entertainment companies such as Eros International, Reliance Big Entertainment, and Phantom Films. Could you highlight some of the unique challenges you faced in negotiating and executing agreements in the dynamic world of film production, distribution, and intellectual property rights?

As an In House Counsel working for the Media & Entertainment Studios it is mandatory to firstly acquire all the intellectual property in the form of copyright embedded in the literary, musical, sound recordings and dance works from the original author of the work. The structuring of the deals are done in such a way that each and every person working on the content is engaged by the producer on work made for hire basis and in lieu thereof the producers have to pay off the monies to these cast and crew people. 

On an average we as lawyers have to draft, review and execute more than 100 agreements and contracts on one film or web-series. Most of the crew i.e. the below the line agreements consisting of secondary cast, production artists are templatised and are on automated mode, thus executing them is always a fast track process. On the other hand writer, director and actor agreements are extremely critical to draft and execute as there are numerous clauses to be drafted in the same. The clause needs to ensure that all the intellectual property in terms of copyright and trademark are firstly acquired by the producer and then safeguarded in a diligent manner. Whilst drafting these agreements we as the lawyers representing the producer ensure that the intellectual property existing not only now but in future is also acquired for exploitation. These agreements are more than 15 pages which capture clauses like name, recitals, obligations, consideration, credits, termination, consequences of termination, representation and warranties, indemnity, miscellaneous etc. along with the annexures. 

The unique challenges to close these agreements are to get all the lawyers representing the respective talents on the same page and align with the business understandings of the project. Most of the clauses are not acceptable by the producers as the demands from the talents are much more which are beyond the given approved budgets. Hence we either get on con-calls or sit across the table with the lawyers of the actors, writers, directors and musicians to arrive at a consensus wherein all the parties can amicably agree with each other and get the clauses drafted accordingly. Once all the parties have given their approval on all the clauses then the final approved version of the document is circulated amongst all the parties for confirmation and then proceeded towards execution thereof. 

The other challenge is that a lot of time goes in negotiating these clauses and commercial understanding of the deal with the lawyers of these talents. We have spent at times more than 10 human hours in a single day negotiating these agreements and turning it around for execution within the next 36 hours. These are the times when our skills and abilities to deliver our work along with people handling skills are being put to test. At no point in time can we afford to lose our patience or get aggressive with the opposite party lawyers as media and entertainment is a very close knit industry and we have to work with such people time and again. 

As a Partner at JP Legal Corp, you’re deeply involved in content production agreements and project viability assessments. How do you navigate the delicate balance between creative freedom and legal constraints in the entertainment industry?

JP Legal is best known for providing its clients end-to end services i.e. from Script to Screen. 

JP Legal provides personalised services to its clientele wherein its involved in the processes of content making right from the time the literary works for such content is being developed by the writer which is engaged by the Producer.

Once the first draft of the script is being developed JP Legal reads the same and points out the red flags i.e. if there are any names of real persons mentioned in the script, branded products are showcased in the story line, any third party copyrighted materials (i.e. paintings, news footages, photos, music) are used in the script. This is done to ensure that none of the third-party copyrights are infringed in the script. Further in the event any footage, paintings, music is forming a part of the story line, then JP Legal initiates the License Agreements with the copyright owner and producer of the content and legally acquires the license to showcase such third-party material in the content. 

Once the final draft of the script along with the above necessary changes suggested by JP Legal is locked by the Producer, then JP Legal trains the production team about the Dos and Don’ts to be followed whilst actual filming of the content to avoid any third-party copyright infringement issues. 

In the meantime, whilst the script is getting locked and pre-production period of the content is under process, JP Legal drafts, reviews and executes all the Above the Line Agreements (i.e. Agreements for the Writers, Actors, Director, Head of Departments) and Below the Line Agreements (i.e. remaining crew) and hands it over to the production house. Under these agreements the obligations, representations and warranties of each cast and crew is detailed in depth and all the intellectual property is acquired by the Producer from them in universal perpetuity in lieu of the agreed consideration.

Since Producer can be the assignor of the exploitation rights of the Content, JP Legal also drafts, reviews and executes agreements for Theatrical Distribution Rights of the Film, Non-Theatrical Distribution Rights Agreements like Satellite Rights, OTT Rights, Music Rights etc. with third parties. All these agreements ensure that the content is commercially exploited on every available window worldwide. 

The new area of focus and revenue generating window for any content produced is the over-the-top platform. In the year 2020 when the world was hit due to the Covid19 Pandemic OTT’s role became more significant in India as the audience had no other source of entertainment sitting at home. 

The top 3 OTT Players are Prime Video, Disney Hotstar and Netflix, other Indian OTT players are Zee5, SonyLiv, Voot, JioTV, Alt Balaji and many others. On an average these OTT platforms require a new show every fortnight of the month in order to cater to the audience of every genre quenching their viewing thirst and keeping them engaged and holding on to the respective content available on the OTT platform. 

Most of the OTT players prefer to have content which is based either on the books, real life stories, old TV shows etc. So, the OTT platforms acquire the requisite rights for developing these web-shows from the book publishers, real persons on whom the show is being made or from the satellite companies with whom the old TV show rights are acquired accordingly. If the OTT platforms have any slightest doubt about any underlying rights not being cleared then they will not showcase such   content. 

Most of the clientele of JP Legal are now inclined towards making content for the OTT platforms, hence at each stage JP Legal is involved with their clients to produce the content as required by the OTT Platforms in accordance with their rules and regulations. In order to be a support system to the clients towards production of the content for OTT Platforms, JP Legal has to from time to time be abreast with the applicable laws of the land and the current market scenario as we not only are a legal function but extend our support to commercial aspects of the content to ensure that the producer earns maximum revenues from the production of such content.

In the Indian content creation industry, a writer is usually considered the most important person to create intellectual property in literary works. Thus, when an audio-visual content piece is developed, JP Legal ensures that a writer’s agreement (s) is elaborately drafted and executed to ensure that the writer has written the original script for the audio-visual content. But, of course, unless the script/story is an adaptation from a book or is a derivative work developed based on original content, then such aspects are in depth captured in the writer’s agreement. Similarly, music composers who create musical works, directors directing the content and the actors who are also part of embodying artistic works are important copyright owners of the works. Thus JP Legal ensures all the assignment of the intellectual property rights stemming from their work is assigned to the Producer.

In the event any of our client is interested in producing a content based on the published Book or remake the content in another language, then we at JP Legal conduct a thorough due diligence of the chain of title on all the underlying materials of the original content is clear from any third-party infringement ensuring that all the intellectual property rights are flowing well from the original author/creator to the final exploiter/producer. Thus, to ensure the same, JP Legal will draft and execute numerous rights acquisition agreements to acquire the original rights from the original copyright owner or author. 

As mentioned above JP Legal is appreciated by all their clients because there is JP Legal’s legal and commercial in-depth involvement in each and every content which is created by its client, unlike other law firms who only provide a production pack to their clients. This really sets JP Legal apart from all the other law firms. 

Whilst   JP Legal ensures that the creative bend of the director is always safeguarded with the legal implications and regulations to ensure that there are no future litigations on the project and all rights of the project are safeguarded and well exploited in universal perpetuity by the producer and recoup all the investments made towards the content in a diligent and timely manner.

Throughout your career, you’ve received several awards, including being recognized as the Best IP Lawyer among 100 Female Lawyers in India. Can you share the significance of these accolades and how they have impacted your approach to your legal work?

I have been very obliged and humbled to every fraternity for rewarding her the awards and accolades for the work done by me  in the media and entertainment industry over the last 17 years. From 2019 when I was an In house Senior Manager at Phantom Films and later at Reliance Entertainment Limited, I have been a speaker at many Intellectual Property Forums in India and also had made submissions of my yearly work done to the respective fraternity to qualify for such awards. Thus to be a speaker on the panel the person has to have in-depth subject matter knowledge and confidence to speak on the stage. With the help of my seniors at work and colleagues I had gathered the strength to be on the panel with other renowned IP lawyers. These fraternities conduct a deep research about my profile and work and my speaking skills and then qualify my profile for the awards. 

In the year 2023 I was also awarded the 40 under 40 Rising Star Award by Legal Era forum, JP Legal Corp. have been awarded the Lex Falcon Award in Dubai and many more. These awards and accolades always push a person to work hard and achieve their dreams and take a step towards success and get recognition amongst the legal fraternity.

This year has given me an immense pleasure as Legal500 has once again ranked me as a Leading Individual in the TMT Category – India – Mumbai Focus, this ranking means a lot to me as after extensive research and scrutiny this title is being given to a lawyer. Further JP Legal Corp. has also been ranked in the Tier 2 – TMT category & Tier 3 for IP category for India – Mumbai focus for the year 2024. The Legal500 accolade is considered as epitome for me  as it elevates me and the law firm over and above other existing firms. 

Your social media presence is quite extensive. How has leveraging platforms like LinkedIn contributed to your professional growth, networking, and perhaps even attracting opportunities in the legal and entertainment domain?

In today’s day and age social media is a blessing for all the lawyers as the pace at which they can connect with the legal fraternity and clients is immense. On Linkedin we also reach out to lawyers who are working in the intellectual property area like trademark, patents and seek their advice as and when required for our projects. Also through LinkedIn we come to know about the current employment opportunities prevailing in the legal fraternity and if we have a candidate for the same then we surely reach out and put in a word for the candidate with the employer. 

Further, through the LinkedIn portal, I have been very fortunate enough to connect with the various forums or groups who conduct intellectual property seminars across India. Once connected with these forums subject to my availability and the topics being discussed at the seminars, I participated as a panelist for one of the sessions hosted by these forums. Also time and again my profile has been shortlisted for many accolades and awards which through the LinkedIn portal is being publicised and known to the world. 

A few reputed law firms practising intellectual property rights and these law firms on a weekly or fortnightly basis issue magazines which mentions about prevailing laws, latest judgements and litigations prevailing in the media and entertainment industry and they also upload the same on Linkedin. I also follow most of these law firms on LinkedIn and keep myself updated about the media and entertainment industry.

Lastly, over the years I have been conducting numerous legal and business workshops in the law schools at Mumbai, Hyderabad and have taught the students about copyright law, drafting agreements and nuances of media and entertainment business. Through the LinkedIn chat box these students also get a chance to interact with me and ask their concerns and seek career guidance for themselves. I  surely respond to each one of them as and when time persists. 

Thus LinkedIn is a great social media platform for professionals to showcase their career progress, achievements, accolades and seek information on various related topics. I make sure that my LinkedIn profile is well updated and intact with the latest information and news related to herself and JP Legal Corp.

Considering your achievements and experiences, what advice would you give to recent law graduates aspiring to make a mark in the field of entertainment and media law, or law in general?

Today’s generation has a lot of advantages of having access to a lot of social media platforms which provides them with a lot of knowledge and current information. Over the period of years and working experience I  have realized that a person has to be evolving with the time and have a complete control and know-how of its surroundings along with current legal and technical knowledge of gadgets.

When I conduct the workshops in the law schools, I emphasize and encourage the students who want to pursue media and entertainment law to firstly study contract act and copyright act in depth, along with that have a fair idea about trademarks and patents. These students should be inclined towards drafting, vetting, negotiating and executing agreements prevailing in the media and entertainment sector. If a student wants to join a studio or production house, firstly that student should acquire knowledge about the businesses conducted by such a company and have a hands down experience in knowing the different types of agreements which will be executed for a particular deal.

In the media and entertainment sector the law students should understand that more than legal knowledge this industry functions based on mutual trust and confirmation between the parties and also respect and value the sentiments of the persons creatively involved in the process of content making, thus firstly the student should have people’s management skill within themselves. Also this industry is very volatile and growing thus the student should be open to learning the new aspects of the business and be able to cater to the same. 

Lastly, this industry has no fixed working hours, hence the student should be completely passionate about the industry to work for long hours. Students should have knowledge about the business and have zeal towards working in the industry. To their seniors this will showcase their sustainability in the industry. Also this industry requires a lot of hard work and one should be ready to give their best towards the legal work. Always keep yourself updated with the latest judgements, industry know-how, local laws, commercial deals happening across the industry all this will provide skills and abilities to negotiate the deals in better manner and get the best commercials for the clients.

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