Billboard's 2017 Top Music Lawyers Revealed, Led By Joel Katz

These 61 keen legal minds are on the front lines of copyright fights and superstar deals, led by the Bronx-born, Atlanta-based attorney who circles the world for his A-list clients. 


Joel Katz, 73

Chairman of the global entertainment and media practice, Greenberg Traurig; University of Tennessee College of Law

Katz reels off flight times from his Atlanta home base like a baseball fan spouts stats: an hour and 32 minutes to New York; an hour and 12 minutes to Washington, D.C.; and four hours even to Los Angeles.

Billboard’s Lawyer of the Year certainly goes the distance. He went to China to meet with clients Alibaba and Baidu, and to Russia for United Music Agency, with whom he negotiated an agreement to license music from Universal Music Group (UMG), Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. In January, he traveled to Gabon, where his client, the Gabonese Republic, is building the African Music Institute with Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

"Music is not just about the United States," says Katz, a father of two adult children who spends up to 50 percent of his time on the road. "If you’re sincere about being a lawyer who understands what makes this stuff work in these locations, you’ve got to go there and meet the players, just like you [need to] know them in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville."

It’s in those music capitals where Katz is the go-to attorney for many top label executives, including Republic Records chairman/CEO Monte Lipman and president/COO Avery Lipman, RCA president/COO Tom Corson and UMG Nashville CEO Mike Dungan, for whom he negotiated a new deal in 2016. (Full disclosure: He also represents Billboard parent company Eldridge Industries.)

Last summer, Katz negotiated a $600 million pact to keep the Grammy Awards and additional Recording Academy programming on CBS through 2026. During this year’s Grammy weekend, he finalized, with Tim McGraw’s attorney Rusty Jones, a new record deal with Sony Music for McGraw and his wife, Faith Hill.

Courtesy of Joel Katz
Katz (center) joined McGraw (left) and Hill at the opening of their Soul2Soul World Tour at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans on April 7.

As co-counsel to the Michael Jackson estate, Katz worked with the estate’s co-executors, John Branca and John McClain, on Sony Corp.’s $750 million acquisition of the estate’s 50 percent share of Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

After five decades in the South, Katz has adopted the region’s warmth and charm, which combined with the Bronx native’s street smarts helped him navigate his way into the entertainment business. Shortly after Katz hung out his shingle in Atlanta, in 1971, James Brown’s business manager introduced him to the singer, who wanted a lawyer based in the South who knew nothing about entertainment law. Katz qualified on both counts. Not knowing what he shouldn’t ask for, he negotiated a deal with PolyGram and earned the Godfather of Soul’s lasting trust. Other clients followed, including Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, George Strait and Julio Iglesias, who got Katz hooked on wine collecting.

Not surprisingly, as one of the most connected attorneys in the music industry, Katz’s influence extends to Washington, D.C. In June, Katz met with longtime pal Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) about "where the music industry is going," he says. Katz is quick to point out that his reach accommodates both sides of the aisle, noting his friendship with Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic whip.

Katz, who rises at 5:30 a.m. every day and estimates he spends 10 hours a day on the phone, took on the chairmanship of the T.J. Martell Foundation earlier this year, following the death of his longtime client, Tony Martell. It’s one of his many philanthropic endeavors. "If you’ve been blessed, really blessed, like I have by being in an industry that is full of great stars and great events," he says, "you have some social and philanthropic responsibility to use those relationships to create goodness as best that you can." (Melinda Newman)


Jeffrey Harleston, 56

General counsel/executive vp business and legal affairs, Universal Music Group; UC Berkeley School of Law

Universal, the world’s leading music company, and Spotify, the globe’s biggest streaming service, announced a worldwide, multiyear licensing agreement in April that followed two-and-a-half years of negotiations that Harleston led for UMG. "I think it’s fair to say that it’s the most significant streaming deal in the music industry," says the father of four. The agreement gives UMG more access to Spotify data to increase its engagement with fans. "We can actually decide what content we want on a paid environment versus a free, ad-supported environment. That’s a significant accomplishment."

Eric Charbonneau
Harleston and Tori Kelly attended Capitol Music’s daylong premiere of new music at the ArcLight Hollywood in 2015.

Paul Robinson, 59

Executive vp/general counsel, Warner Music Group; Fordham University School of Law

While he didn’t get to hang out with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Robinson spearheaded Led Zeppelin’s successful defense in the copyright infringement suit that claimed "Stairway to Heaven" copied portions of Spirit’s instrumental jam "Taurus," saving the WMG-signed superstars millions in potential damages. "Our musicologists actually had a keyboard in the courtroom and played things to the jury," says Robinson, who started his music career as an MTV legal intern in the early ’80s. "They were trying to show both pieces had ascending chromatic basslines, but so do thousands of other songs."

Julie Swidler, 59

Executive vp business affairs/general counsel, Sony Music Entertainment; Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

Swidler is embracing new opportunities under her new boss, SME CEO Rob Stringer, who assumed the role in April. "Rob is very internationally focused," says Swidler, a New York native. "One of the things I always push with everybody is that we are a global organization and you cannot look at anything in a U.S. vacuum, particularly in streaming services." As streaming goes mainstream, says Swidler, companies with deep catalogs "will start seeing the growth in their revenue streams they haven’t seen up to now." Swidler is also helping to steer SME’s royalty tracking portal, which will eventually dovetail with sales and marketing tools. "It’s all about transparency," she says.

Rick Diamond/Getty Images
From left: Ken Levitan of Vector Management, Trisha Yearwood and Swidler at the opening of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Yearwood exhibit in 2015.


Wade Leak, 54

Senior vp/deputy general counsel, Sony Music Entertainment; Columbia Law School

Jeff Walker, 53

Executive vp/head of business and legal -affairs, global digital business, SME; Harvard Law School

Leak uses his antipiracy acumen to protect the rights of SME artists, like when he had SME join industry efforts to quickly shut down the free streaming app Aurous. "The actions send a message to the marketplace of potential services that you’ve got to do it the right way," he says. Walker oversees a content protection group that encourages SME’s digital music partners to encrypt their streams. Illegal duplication of streams, says Walker, "has become the No. 1 antipiracy concern."

Nicola Levy, 44

Global head of digital business affairs, Universal Music Group; Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge

Alasdair McMullan, 52

Senior vp/global head of litigation, UMG; Columbia Law School

Levy played a key role, alongside UMG’s Harleston, in negotiating UMG’s landmark deal with Spotify. "There were pretty entrenched views on both sides when we started out," says Levy. "When I see where we ended up, it’s quite remarkable." McMullan pursues UMG’s actions to protect its copyrights online. He echoes criticism of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as creating "uncertainty in that very area that is [bringing] growth for the business": digital music. With courts failing to resolve conflicts, he says, "we’re coming to the point where legislative reform should be considered."

Maryrose Maness

Senior vp/chief employment and corporate infrastructure counsel, Warner Music Group; Seton Hall Law School

Trent Tappe, 50

Senior vp/chief corporate governance and securities counsel/chief compliance officer, WMG; Columbia Law School

Maness recently helped move WMG’s shared services, including royalty administration, from New York and Burbank to Nashville. (Moves like that helped WMG boost its 2016 cash flow from $222 million to $342 million, according to its financial reports.) Tappe has been with WMG since 2003 and helped launch its initial public offering. Previously, he notes, "there was no stand-alone [major] public music company." More recently, Tappe worked on refinancing $2 billion in corporate debt, saving $20 million in annual interest.


Danielle Aguirre, 39

Executive vp/general counsel, National Music Publishers’ Association; University of Pennsylvania Law School

Up against the biggest streaming services -- Spotify, Apple, Amazon, Google and Pandora -- Aguirre recently led the NMPA through a crucial proceeding of the Copyright Royalty Board that will set the statutory mechanical royalty rates paid by those services from 2018-2022. She argued to change not only the rate but also its structure, so publishers will get paid either per stream or per user, instead of a percentage of revenue. "The rates need to be higher," says Aguirre, "but also less complicated and more transparent."

Peter Brodsky, 53

Executive vp business and legal affairs, Sony/ATV Music Publishing; Brooklyn Law School

Brodsky argued to the European Union in Brussels to allow Sony Corp. to buy out the share of Sony/ATV owned by Michael Jackson’s estate. The father of two also made the case to the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., for relaxation of the consent decree governing performing rights organizations ASCAP and BMI -- only to have the effort "derailed" by the DOJ’s mandate of new song licensing rules that, he says, "should never have come up."

David Kokakis, 44

Executive vp/head of business and legal affairs, business development and digital, Universal Music Publishing Group; Seton Hall Law School

Kokakis oversees a new internal team that works like a business incubator. Its goal is to vet new digital music services seeking to use UMPG songs, "to structure deals with them to enable faster entry into the marketplace," says the Manhattan native. "These efforts ultimately attract new investments in music tech and streamline the process of getting new digital music services to launch."

Scott McDowell, 49

Executive vp/head of legal and business affairs, Warner/Chappell Music; Chicago-Kent College of Law

During the past year, McDowell and his legal team closed or amended over 500 deals, tapping opportunities with the Warner/Chappell catalog, which annually generates $500 million-plus in revenue. The greatest challenge, says the Chicagoan, is "balancing between enforcing rights on behalf of songwriters and incentivizing new businesses. It seems every month a new app based on using music pops up," he says. "We try to arrive at a happy medium for those who want to license and build a business, as opposed to those who want to use music to build their business and pay little or nothing."


Charles J. Biederman, 52

Partner/co-chair of the music group, Manatt Phelps & Phillips; Vanderbilt University School of Law

Gary Gilbert

Co-chair of entertainment and media, Manatt Phelps & Phillips; UCLA School of Law

L. Lee Phillips, 79

Senior partner, Manatt Phelps & Phillips; Cornell Law School

A pact with Kobalt Music for Dierks Bentley and the sale of the remaining half of Norman Whitfield’s catalog to Sony/ATV are among some $60 million in publishing deals that Biederman has orchestrated during the past three years. Gilbert guided the recent sale of the music catalogs of George Benson to Kobalt and Wayne Kirkpatrick to Downtown Music. "It’s an amazing time" for the volume of publishing deals, he says. Phillips supervised the sale of Smokey Robinson’s catalog to Primary Wave. He also negotiated Barbra Streisand’s $47 million-grossing, sold-out North American tour and is guiding ex-Journey frontman Steve Perry’s comeback with his first new solo album since 1994. Says Phillips: "He’s in heavy negotiations for a new album deal."

Michael Kovac/Getty Images
From left: Randy Jackson, Phillips and Perry at City of Hope’s Spirit of Life Gala in 2013.

Joshua Binder, 43

Partner, Davis Shapiro Lewit Grabel Leven Granderson & Blake; University of San Francisco School of Law

Binder represents Top Dawg Entertainment, home to Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q and SZA, among others, and also counts Marshmello, Cam and Daddy Yankee among his clients. The latest project for the Los Angeles native was fielding the "intricacies" of release plans and juggling tour sponsorships for Lamar’s third major-label album, DAMN. Lamar "just fucking works his ass off," says Binder, "and it’s a testament to him and the Top Dawg crew around him. That separates their success from the rest of the business."

John Branca, 66

Partner, Ziffren Brittenham; UCLA School of Law

David Byrnes, 54

Partner, Ziffren Brittenham; UCLA School of Law

David Lande, 50

Senior partner, Ziffren Brittenham; University of Pennsylvania Law School

Closing the $750 million sale of the Michael Jackson estate’s share of Sony/ATV Music Publishing in September 2016 concluded a "three-decade saga," says Branca, who oversees the estate with co-executor John McClain. "It was gratifying that Michael’s decision to buy the catalog [in 1986] paid off so handsomely for his heirs." Branca also executed the Bee Gees deal with Capitol Records that collects the legendary trio’s 22 studio albums under one roof. Byrnes has spent much of the past year building the Blake Shelton brand and negotiating a return to The Voice for Shelton and Kelly Clarkson’s arrival on the show in 2018. Lande’s strategy of encouraging clients to get equity in endorsement deals paid off when Justin Timberlake "got a meaningful piece" of the $1.7 billion deal when Dr Pepper Snapple bought Bai Brands last November. The former tour manager also worked on Beyoncé’s Formation Tour with Live Nation, which wrapped last fall with a $256 million gross.

From left: Branca, Steven Tyler, Sharon Osbourne and Gene Simmons attended the fourth annual Musician’s Assistance Program Fund benefit in 2003.

Vernon Brown, 56

Founder/owner, V. Brown & Associates; Pace University School of Law

For Cash Money Records founders and brothers Bryan "Birdman" Williams and Ronald "Slim" Williams, Brown secured a distribution deal with Apple Music for their documentary/soundtrack Before Anythang, due this summer. While unpaid royalty claims against Cash Money have held up Lil Wayne’s long-awaited Carter V album, the New York native says, "I have made significant progress in that area, and I expect we will have some good news for that [album] coming in the very, very near future."

Christine Calip Victor, 38

Senior vp of business development and business and legal affairs, Bravado/Universal Music Group; New York Law School

Until this month, Calip Victor worked in a senior legal position for UMG labels, including Republic Records, where she helped clear the way for Justin Bieber’s remix of the Luis Fonsi Daddy Yankee chart-topper "Despacito." "We received [word of the remix] on a Thursday, and the song was in the marketplace by the weekend. I’m so proud to have had a business-affairs role in that." Her savvy has led to her promotion to her new role at Bravado, UMG’s global merchandising division.

Rosemary Carroll, 61

Founding partner, Carroll Guido & Groffman; Stanford Law School

Elliot Groffman, 63

Founding partner, Carroll Guido & Groffman; Santa Clara University School of Law

"To contribute to the careers of artists I respect and admire is enormously gratifying," says Carroll. Her clients include Patti Smith, The War on Drugs, Grizzly Bear, Lucinda Williams, The Strokes and Iggy Pop. She negotiated the deal for Pop’s 2016 album Post Pop Depression, which earned the veteran punk rocker a Grammy nomination. Groffman’s longtime client Dave Matthews spoke on his behalf in February, as the Grammy Foundation presented the attorney with its Entertainment Law Initiative Service Award for his support of the music community. The honor was a highlight of a year during which Groffman closed a joint venture for The Bowery Presents with AEG, completed the integration of The Windish Agency into the Paradigm Talent Agency and represented Lin Manuel Miranda in talks for the Hamilton Mixtape album.

Jay Cooper

Shareholder/founder, Los Angeles entertainment practice, Greenberg Traurig; DePaul University College of Law

Bobby Rosenbloum, 48

Shareholder/co-chairman, Atlanta entertainment practice, Greenberg Traurig; Harvard Law School

Paul Schindler, 70

Shareholder/senior chair, New York entertainment and media practice, Greenberg Traurig; Brooklyn Law School

"Fascinating" and "very complicated" is how Cooper describes the rollout for client Katy Perry’s new album, Witness, including her four-day YouTube livestream Witness World Wide, which generated over 49 million views. Rosenbloum, whose clients include Dick Clark Productions and the Latin Grammy Awards, worked with The Recording Academy to bring the mainstream Grammys to New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2018, the show’s first time in Manhattan in 15 years. Meanwhile, for social media clients like, he says, deals are in a "constant stage of negotiation." Schindler represented Billy Joel’s agent Dennis Arfa in selling his remaining stake in Artist Group International to The Yucaipa Companies (while Arfa continues to run AGI). He also helped Marc Anthony set up his entertainment firm Magnus Media while negotiating the sale of influential British dance label Ministry of Sound to Sony Music for, he says, "a huge amount of money."

Doug Davis, 45

Founder/owner, The Davis Firm; Fordham University School of Law

Davis represents rising executives like UMPG counsel Kokakis and Apple Music recruit Scott Seviour, while continuing to work with Apple Music content head Larry Jackson and SONGS Music’s Ron Perry. From New York (where pet chihuahua Ollie joins him at work), Davis also oversees production for father Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammys party in Los Angeles. And he guided the premiere of his dad’s documentary, Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives, at the opening of the Tribeca Film Festival in April.

Lester Cohen/Getty Images
LL Cool J (left) and Davis at City of Hope’s Songs of Hope event in 2015.

John T. Frankenheimer, 71

Partner, Loeb & Loeb; UCLA School of Law

After fulfilling her contract with Arista Nashville, Carrie Underwood was a free agent -- "rare for an artist of her stature," says Frankenheimer. That allowed him to work with Underwood’s management and law partner Kenneth Kraus to craft a new deal for the country star with Capitol Records Nashville in "a thoughtful and deliberate manner that reflects the modern recording era," he says. The Brentwood, Los Angeles, resident also continues to represent Superfly, which launched two festivals in 2017.

Eric Greenspan, 67

Partner, Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light; American University Washington College of Law

Aaron Rosenberg, 40

Partner, Myman Greenspan Fineman Fox Rosenberg & Light; Harvard Law School

The attorney for Goldenvoice founder Paul Tollett, Greenspan doesn’t mind enjoying the perks of his role -- front-row seats to Tollett’s Desert Trip in 2016 with headliners Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and The Who. "That was the dream team," says Greenspan, who recently added Bon Jovi to a client list that includes Dead & Co., Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns N' Roses members Slash and Duff McKagan. Rosenberg just helped guide Ariana Grande’s One Love Manchester benefit in a record-setting nine days. "It was all hands on deck with Live Nation, the British Red Cross, the BBC, Scooter Braun and all the labels," says Rosenberg. "We set up a war room at our offices and basically didn’t leave until the day of the show."

Courtesy of Myman Greenspan
Greenspan (right) with Slash in 2007.

Allen Grubman, 74

Partner, Grubman Shire & Meiselas; Brooklyn Law School

David Jacobs, 35

Partner, Grubman Shire & Meiselas; New York Law School

Kenny Meiselas, 60

Partner/head of music department, Grubman Shire & Meiselas; Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University

While the firm boasts superstar clients Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Sting and recent Tony Award winner Bette Midler, "what I’m getting excited about is representing companies that represent tomorrow," says Grubman. That includes Spotify, Facebook and IMAX, and cutting deals where, he says, "there’s enough for everybody." Meiselas negotiated Gaga’s Super Bowl LI halftime performance; branding deals with Budweiser, Tiffany and others; and the artist’s worldwide tour with Live Nation. For The Weeknd, he struck another Live Nation touring deal and partnerships with H&M, Puma and Bacardi. Apple Music premiered Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: The Bad Boy Story from client Sean Combs. Jacobs, the firm’s youngest partner yet, has brought in new clients Martin Garrix, Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow, Blood Orange, and others.

Rusty Jones, 67

Law Offices of Russell A. Jones Jr. & Anjlee Khurana; University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law

Among those who look to Jones for advice are Tim McGraw, Toby Keith and country music couple Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. Jones oversaw Brooks’ streaming deal with Amazon, exclusive Target box set and SiriusXM channel launch along with Yearwood’s 7-Eleven and Williams Sonoma partnerships. "Of course," adds the father of two, "their tour has sold in excess of 5 million tickets."

Nancy Seltzer
Jones (right) and Brooks backstage at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas in 2014.

Jason Karlov, 48

Entertainment, media and sports -practice group chair, Barnes & Thornburg; USC Gould School of Law

Counsel to Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder, Karlov this year settled the trademark battle over the name Creedence Clearwater Revival, ending almost 50 years of litigation for client John Fogerty. He also helped broker Lady Gaga’s halftime-show deal for the NFL. Day to day, the Santa Monica resident helps his clients with more routine matters, from traffic violations to city ordinances. "By the time it gets to me," he says, "people are willing to pay me a ridiculous amount of money [because] it’s a real problem."

Dina LaPolt, 51

President, LaPolt Law; John F. Kennedy University School of Law

LaPolt is as well regarded for protecting the interests of her superstar clients -- Britney Spears, Fifth Harmony, Steven Tyler and deadmau5, among others -- as she is for her ardent activism, recently filing suit on behalf of Songwriters of North America against the Department of Justice over its revamp of song licensing rules. "My claims are, the DOJ is violating the Constitution by taking [away] our due process of law, our personal property," says the parent of 4-year-old twins. "Copyrights are our property."

Mike Milom, 74

Milom Horsnell Crow Rose & Kelley; Vanderbilt University School of Law

Revisiting one of his most famous deals, Milom negotiated the return of Hank Williams Jr., after an absence of six years, to open ESPN’s Monday Night Football with his song "All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night." Projects for Luke Bryan, Keith Urban, Kelsea Ballerini and other clients "extended their brands and created new alliances and partnerships" to support their creativity and careers", says the Nashville native.

Courtesy of Dina LaPolt
LaPolt (center) with Fifth Harmony. 

Donald Passman, 70

Partner, Gang Tyre Ramer & Brown; Harvard Law School

Passman is one of the best-known attorneys in the music industry -- and not because of his work with Taylor Swift and Adele (which he declines to discuss, citing client confidentiality). Rather, as the author of the primer All You Need to Know About the Music Business, now in its ninth edition, Passman has offered essential legal guidance to generations of readers. Yet even he is challenged by  writing new chapters on "the digital space’s rapid changes" in detail for next year’s 10th edition of his book.

Peter Paterno, 65

Partner, King Holmes Paterno & Soriano; UCLA School of Law

Laurie Soriano, 55

Partner, King Holmes Paterno & Soriano; USC Davis School of Law

Client Kanye West "had a fairly rocky year," says Paterno, who fielded the aftermath of the November cancellation of West’s Saint Pablo Tour. "But I think he’s doing great now, getting ready to make some music." Paterno also acquired rights from HBO, allowing composer Ramin Djawadi and Live Nation to stage a Game of Thrones concert tour. Soriano represents Twenty One Pilots and brokered Travis Scott’s partnership with Live Nation. But the most recent -memorable heavy lifting she had to do was for client Frank Ocean’s release of two albums, Endless and Blonde, in two days last August. "We had to do a lot of that from scratch," she says, "without the assistance of the label."

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
West is “doing great now,” says Paterno, who helped manage the cancellation of the artist’s Saint Pablo Tour in 2016.

Julian Petty, 40

Partner/head of the entertainment practice, Nixon Peabody; Fordham University School of Law

Petty spent 18 months working on the return of A Tribe Called Quest via an album on Epic Records -- for the group’s first new release in 18 years. "We had to negotiate to get a waiver from RCA," the group’s longtime label, says the father of two. He and Stephanie Yu, senior vp business and legal affairs at Epic, "basically did the entire deal over the Christmas break from 2015 going into 2016," he says. "I remember this because I was literally at the Grove shopping center buying gifts -- with her on the phone."

Leslie José Zigel, 53

Chair of the entertainment law group, Greenspoon Marder; University of Miami School of Law

During the past year, Zigel negotiated agreements that are on track to produce $2 million in revenue for his firm in 2017. These include Pitbull’s publishing deal with BMG Rights Management, Carlos Vives’ publishing and neighboring-rights agreement with Kobalt Music and the rights to Luther Campbell’s life story for a Lionsgate film. Says the Miami Beach resident: "There are no shortcuts."


Patrick Donnelly, 55

Executive vp/general counsel, SiriusXM; Cornell Law School

SiriusXM’s $480 million investment in internet radio powerhouse Pandora has Donnelly anticipating major growth opportunities. "They’re much more in the ad-supported radio business," says the Garden City, N.Y., resident. "Plus, they’ve got 75 million 19 to 36-year-olds, which is a great market we don’t touch." With SiriusXM settling some of the pending claims for its use of pre 1972 recordings, says Donnelly, "We believe if you’re using licensed music, you should pay for it. Terrestrial radio has this historical anomaly where they can use it for free."

Horacio Gutierrez, 52

General counsel/vp business and legal affairs, Spotify; University of Miami School of Law, Harvard Law School

Gutierrez reached two key agreements for Spotify in 2017 that could move the world’s largest music streaming service closer to a long rumored public offering: a $43.5 million settlement with songwriters and publishers whose compositions the company streamed without a license and a long term licensing deal with Universal Music Group. The settlement puts aside an issue hanging over the company’s head, while the license renewals "are important because, as we grow, the company can have a sustainable strategy long term," says the native of Venezuela. "Everyone wins. And everyone should win."

Gary Greenstein, 52

Partner, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; George Washington University Law School

Whether in the chambers of the Copyright Royalty Board or in the hallways of the Department of Justice, Greenstein is in the fray on behalf of his digital-music clients, which, sources say, have included Pandora, Spotify, Google, Shazam, iHeartMedia and Napster. His goal is to seek sustainable royalty levels and straightforward licensing. "If copyright owners squeeze new and existing licensees for every last dollar," says the father of two, "they may find themselves without customers and facing rampant piracy from a frustrated public."

Robert Windom, 40

Chief content counsel, Apple; USC Gould School of Law

Someone at Apple had to work out contracts for all those exclusive streaming releases during the past year -- Frank Ocean’s Blonde, Drake’s video for “Please Forgive Me” and the Bad Boy Records documentary Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. Windom’s negotiating skills have helped Apple Music grow from 15 million subscribers in 2016 to 27 million this year. Most recently, the Mobile, Ala., native reached an agreement with the digital rights agency Merlin that will fund new projects from independent labels. "One of the fun parts about this job," he says, "is doing deals that have never been done before."


Christos Badavas, 48

Senior vp/general counsel, SESAC Holdings; College of William and Mary Law School

Badavas was responsible for legal oversight during the January acquisition of performing rights organization SESAC by private equity firm Blackstone, a deal some estimate is valued in the high nine figures. A jazz bassist in his spare time, Badavas was motivated by the potential behind the transaction. "Blackstone shares our management team’s long-term vision for the company," he says. "They are a fantastic strategic partner."

Clara Kim, 52

Executive vp/general counsel, business and legal affairs, ASCAP; New York University School of Law

Kim took the lead in ASCAP’s negotiations with the Radio Music Licensing Committee that resulted in increased performance royalty rates for terrestrial radio play for ASCAP’s 600,000 plus members. The Manhattan resident also has been at the forefront of ASCAP’s fight to overturn the Department of Justice’s mandated change in how songs are licensed. "There is no other creative industry, whether film, books or television, decided this way," she says. "We don’t believe music composition should be treated any differently."

Rich Kessler
The Hooters’ Eric Bazilian and Kim met with elected officials on Capitol Hill in April.

Stuart Rosen, 58

Senior vp/general counsel, BMI; University of Pennsylvania Law School

Rosen is not the only music publishing attorney to object to the Department of Justice’s mandated change in how songs are licensed, but he’s the one who convinced a judge to overturn the DOJ ruling, arguing it would cause "chaos in the marketplace." The Brooklyn native now faces a DOJ appeal of BMI's win. "We think the judge got it right," he says, "and we look forward to defending our position."


Andrew Bart, 62

Partner/chairman of the content and media entertainment practice, Jenner & Block; Columbia Law School

Bart received good news last fall in the long-running case in which he’s representing Capitol Records against MP3Tunes. New York’s Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the copyright-infringing digital-locker company owes $48 million in damages to Capitol and other labels, and not $12 million, as a judge decided in 2014. “That is one of the joys of -litigation,” says Bart, the New York-based father of two teenage boys. “Sticking with cases and riding the roller coaster of successes and struggle and coming up in the good place.”

Jill Berliner, 60

Partner, Rimon Law; USC Gould School of Law

When the Foo Fighters canceled their 2015 European tour dates following the terrorist attacks in Paris, the band’s tour insurance claim was denied by Lloyd’s of London. Berliner, who has worked with frontman Dave Grohl since his days in Nirvana, successfully fought for a settlement. "The band and management were confused as to how [Lloyd’s] could come up with excuses not to pay," says the Los Angeles native.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Berliner has represented the Foo Fighters’ Grohl (pictured) since his days in Nirvana.

Richard Busch, 51

Head of entertainment and intellectual property, King & Ballow; Loyola University School of Law

Busch’s 2015 victory for Marvin Gaye’s estate in the "Blurred Lines" case made him the go-to lawyer for songwriting infringement cases. In April, he reached an undisclosed settlement with Ed Sheeran on behalf of songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard, now credited as co-writers of Sheeran’s "Photograph." The "Blurred Lines" case goes to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals later this year. "I don’t have partners representing the labels," says Busch. "My clients know that they have my full loyalty."

Russell Frackman, 71

Partner, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp; Columbia Law School

Christine Lepera

Partner, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp; New York Law School

A veteran of the copyright wars, Frackman most recently reached a settlement in January (for an undisclosed amount) with Amway over infringement claims. He continues to work for EMI in its decade-long copyright case against Vimeo. "There’s no substitute for preparation," says Frackman. "When I go to court, I travel with five times as much as I need." Lepera earned a victory for Drake and associated companies in May when a federal judge ruled that the hip-hop star’s sample of a 1982 spoken word track titled "Jimmy Smith Rap" on his song "Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2"  qualified as fair use.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Lepera earned a victory for Drake (pictured) in May when a judge ruled that his sample of the 1982 track “Jimmy Smith Rap” was fair use.

Henry Gradstein, 61

Partner, Gradstein & Marzano; USC Gould School of Law

Class action lawsuits were once rare in copyright law, but Gradstein helped change that -- in a way that has been favorable to rights holders. In 2016, after years of legal wrangling, Gradstein reached a class settlement (for an as yet undetermined number of claimants) worth at least $25 million with SiriusXM for its use of pre-1972 sound recordings. Later this year, Gradstein will face off against Pandora in California Supreme Court over the same issue. Gradstein also reached a $43.4 million settlement with Spotify in May over streaming compositions for which the service did not have a license.

Lawrence Iser, 62

Managing partner, Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert; University of California Hastings College of Law

Howard Weitzman

Partner, Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert; USC Gould School of Law

When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appropriated Jackson Browne’s "Running on Empty" a few years ago, "no one had actually stood up and sued [a politician for that] until Jackson did it," says Iser, who in 2016 quashed an unlicensed use of the TV theme song "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego," by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Weitzman, whose clients have included Courtney Love and Nickelback, represented the Michael Jackson estate in U.S. Tax Court in February and moved to dismiss testimony of an IRS witness "for lying under oath to disguise his bias." The witness sought to establish the worth of Jackson’s name and image at the time of his death at $161 million for tax purposes, a valuation that the estate has challenged. The perjury motion remains pending.

Nick Ut-Pool/Getty Images
Weitzman (left) in court with Love in 2004.

Dan Petrocelli

Chairman of the trial litigation practice, O’Melveny & Myers; Southwestern Law School

Petrocelli is an advocate for a content user in one current case and for content creators in another. The father of four has taken on SiriusXM as a client after "they had a number of setbacks in court over whether the owners of pre-1972 recordings had a right to demand payment" of royalties, he says. And he’s representing songwriters signed to Global Music Rights in an action claiming that the Radio Music Licensing Committee has engaged in "collusive tactics to depress [the] prices" that radio stations pay songwriters.

James Sammataro, 43

National head of the entertainment litigation practice group/managing partner, Miami office, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan; Duke Law School

With expertise in live entertainment and copyright issues, Sammataro has advised former Rolling Stones promoter Michael Cohl and top-level Latin managers and artists (Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez), and worked on such Broadway shows as Rock of Ages, Joplin and Al Pacino’s touring show One Night Only. The Massachusetts native says the music business must remain nimble: "What the industry has learned -- unfortunately the hard way -- is that when the winds of change blow, they’ve got to put up a window, not a wall."

Contributors: Rich Appel, Cathy Applefeld Olson, Dave Brooks, Dean Budnick, Ed Christman, Leila Cobo, Chuck Dauphin, Adrienne Gaffney, Andy Genlser, Gary Graff, Hannah Karp, Steve Knopper, Robert Levine, Gail Mitchell, Meilnda Newman, Adelle Platon, Andrew Unterberger, Deborah Wilker

This article originally appeared in the July 22 issue of Billboard.