Although social influencers and content creators are a fairly new phenomenon, their ability to inspire an audience to take action makes them highly sought after by small businesses, mega-brands, and even Hollywood film studios. But creators should take note, with a growing demand for influencers, comes an increasing need to protect your inventions; images, as well as literary and artistic works. Thankfully, there are intellectual property attorneys like Shay M. Lawson. As an intellectual property attorney, diversity expert, and founder of the Advocate Law Group PC, she’s fiercely committed to protecting a person’s passion and profits through copyright, trademarks, and contracts. “The biggest mistake I see creatives making is assuming they’re ‘too small’ to be stolen from or copied,” says Lawson. Spend the few dollars on a copyright now so you can enforce your rights against thieves who will be sorry later.”
Unlike a traditional entertainment attorney focused on television, film, music, theater, and publishing, Lawson adds social media to her area of specialization. “I’m not your run of the mill entertainment attorney because what it means to be an entertainer and how that person generates revenue is always changing,” she says. “A single client who is a multi-platinum music producer could also be a YouTube sensation from making videos of his beats, or a style influencer for how she wears her hair. Understanding how all that needs to be legally protected is going to be completely different than any other type of trademark or contract lawyers are doing. I’m probably only a handful of lawyers that can tell you how much you should negotiate for a Tweet versus an Instagram post versus a Snap story versus a YouTube video, and put you in the best position to maintain ownership of the content you create when partnering with a brand for sponsored content. I can only do that because I am a part of the culture. I grew up with the creation of each of these platforms. So as unique as my client’s needs are, I am also uniquely informed on how to best protect them from a legal standpoint.”
Coupled with Lawson’s passion for protecting intellectual property, is her commitment to advocating for social change. “I love the overwhelming unity among women in the entertainment industry in being a voice for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, especially among women of color,” she says. What I want to see in my industry, though, is accountability and real lasting change not damage controlled reactionary change for optics. My passion for this change has been channeled into an unexpected opportunity to work with Kitti Jones as a client. Kitti is a dynamic spirit that has leveraged her dark experience with domestic violence at the hands of a major music celebrity, to now be an author and the face of a national PSA campaign to spread awareness and resources to victims.”
Lawson also sits on the board of the Lee Thompson Young Foundation that provides mental health resources to students in Atlanta-area public schools. She’s a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. where she chairs social action around issues such as voting during midterm elections. Plus she sits on the board of the Recording Academy, Atlanta Chapter as a Governor and co-chair of Advocacy where she has spent the past two years lobbying members of Congress on behalf of music creators to pass the Music Modernization Act.
Lawson’s dedication to the field speaks volumes about the power of representation. “I was inspired to go to law school by a group of environmental attorneys that came to my high school, she said. The attorneys shared their work on behalf of African communities being taken advantage of by American oil companies and corrupt governments. I actually focused my undergraduate thesis at Hampton University on Nigerian political theory and my graduate research on war crimes and international humanitarian law for the International War Crimes Tribune. So helping others and helping communities has always been on my mind. This translated into working in diversity and inclusion once I started my professional career. Any part I can play in empowering organizations to be the best and most inclusive version of themselves is a service to everyone and a cause I will always take up meaningfully.”