LLC’s, Corporations, And Other Business Structures - Part I:
Written By New York Entertainment Lawyer And LLC Counsel

John J. Tormey III, Esq.

© John J. Tormey III, PLLC.
All Rights Reserved.

This article is not intended to constitute, and does not constitute, legal advice with respect to your particular situation and fact pattern. Do secure counsel promptly, if you see any legal issue looming on the horizon which may affect your career or your rights. What applies in one context, may not apply to the next one. Make sure that you seek individualized legal advice as to any important matter pertaining to your career or your rights generally.

While many artists continue to do business as individuals, there often comes a point in their career when it makes sense to ascend to the next level - to create a business, to create a company, usually in this day and age a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation, with its own name and identity. Sometimes this step is prompted by the need to hire employees or independent contractors, but not always. Sometimes the business principal simply wants to try to insulate himself or herself from potential personal liability. In the fields of arts and entertainment, the process of forming and filing a new entity like a corporation or limited liability company (LLC) is often handled by and through a music lawyer, film lawyer, TV lawyer, publishing lawyer, and is often the first reason for which a new client seeks counsel. If you are an artist who has reached that point in your career, or even if you have already surpassed it and want to revisit your decision, then this article is for you. I am a New York entertainment lawyer who regularly handles corporate and LLC matters and my contact information appears below.

1. Choosing a Name For A New Business
If one is choosing a structure for a small business, there are a number of different types of business entities that can be formed. At minimum, one likely will need to assess the relative merits of the subchapter-”S” corporation (“S-corp”); the subchapter-“C” corporation (“C-corp”); and the limited liability company (“LLC”). This choice will be described in more detail, below, and in Part II and Part II of this Article. But the first issues one should address, also typically addressed with and through one’s entertainment lawyer, are the trademark considerations which may arise as a result of the chosen name for the limited liability company (LLC), corporation, or other form of company.

“Fanciful” (i.e., fictitious) new business names for a limited liability company (LLC), corporation, or other form of entity should be searched as trademarks, especially in fields like film, music, and entertainment where name recognition can be so important. Entertainment lawyers will routinely search and then issue opinions on proposed trademarks of properties for clients, including trademark-searches on LLC names and corporation names themselves. Why go through this process? Because a new LLC, corporation, or other form of business needs to confirm that no other businesses have prior rights or viable claims to its newly-proposed name (or a name substantially similar to its newly-proposed name). In any event, one may be barred from registering a corporate, LLC, or other business name, if someone else has already registered the same name in the jurisdiction in which the entity-filing is intended. Moreover, if one’s business is intended to ultimately be national or international in scope, as is often the case in entertainment-related and Internet-related LLC’s and corporations, a careful trademark search conducted through one’s entertainment lawyer becomes all the more important. One doesn’t want to invest sweat and equity in a fanciful business name, only to later find out that he or she is legally prevented from using it, or is unable to stop others from infringing on the newly-chosen business name. These types of conflicts are more prominent these days given the ease of publishing one’s own business name digitally and electronically on the Internet in a variety of fashions.

Principal owners of a new business do sometimes elect to incorporate or form a limited liability company (LLC) under their own legal and given name (i.e., “John Doe, Inc., or “John Doe LLC”), instead of a fanciful name, in the hopes of saving money that they would otherwise spend on a trademark search through an entertainment lawyer. But there are at least two potential drawbacks to doing so:

Incorporating or forming a limited liability company (LLC) under one’s given name often makes it more difficult to later successfully develop a separate and distinct brand identity for one’s products and services.

Incorporating or forming a limited liability company (LLC) under one’s given name (or even a variant thereof) marginally increases the chances that a court may be inclined to let a plaintiff “pierce” one’s “corporate veil” in a litigation, if the “corporate veil” issue ever arises. “Piercing” means “finding individual economic liability” on the part of the owner/principal. The plaintiff’s argument would be that a self-titled corporation (or LLC) is more likely to be the “alter ego” of its individual principal. Now, although the odds of one’s “veil” being “pierced” may not be that high - assuming that the business owner observes all other corporate or LLC filings and formalities up until that point - the risk of individual liability is still worth mentioning. After all, for many people, the avoidance of “personal liability” and the avoidance of possible “veil piercing” is the whole reason for their incorporating or forming an LLC in the first instance.

What do I mean by “personal liability”? That is probably the most important legal concept that a limited liability company (LLC) owner, corporation owner, or other form of business owner will ever seek to avoid! Please read the next installment of this article.

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My law practice as an entertainment attorney includes incorporations and the formation of limited liability companies (LLC’s), as well as work relating to copyrights, trademarks and service marks, and contracts, as relating to film, music, television, publishing, and other businesses, media, and art forms. If you have questions about legal issues which affect your career, and require representation, please contact me:

Law Office of John J. Tormey III, Esq.
John J. Tormey III, PLLC
1636 Third Avenue, PMB 188
New York, NY 10128 USA
(212) 410-4142 (phone)
(212) 410-2380 (fax)