Pete Salsich refers to himself and his colleague Michael Kahn as “screen lawyers.”
“Virtually any [creative content] that gets produced ends up on a screen — whether it’s on your cell phone or your laptop or your TV,” said Salsich, who is of counsel at Capes Sokol in Clayton. “But you still need the rights to put content up there. And if you’re putting it on a screen, chances are we’ve already done that deal somewhere.”
Salsich and Kahn, a shareholder, form the core of the firm’s nascent entertainment and media practice group. Their target market: anyone who does creative work, especially in St. Louis.
“There isn’t anybody that’s too small for us because we don’t have to charge everybody like it’s a large-law-firm client,” said Salsich, who has represented independent filmmakers, a comic book author, a tattoo artist, “jamgrass” and hip-hop musicians, toy companies and many others.
Salsich understands his clients’ artistic impulses, by the way: He once designed a Billiken logo for the sports teams at Saint Louis University, his undergraduate and law-school alma mater. He’s also a self-described “below-average” rhythm guitarist who has gigged with the local bands The Occasionals and Eighty-One. His profile page on Capes Sokol’s website bears, in large font, a quote by rocker Neil Young.
Salsich met Kahn years ago. They both practiced at Blackwell Sanders in the mid-2000s, then later at The BrickHouse Law Group, where they represented S. Victor Whitmill, a tattoo artist from rural Missouri who created Mike Tyson’s face tattoo and then sued Warner Brothers after the studio allegedly used it without permission on actor Ed Helms’ face in the movie, “The Hangover 2.” Salsich and Kahn also represented entities related to the “Spawn” comic series when they were sued by former St. Louis Blues player Tony Twist for including in their narrative a mob-enforcer character named Antonio “Tony Twist” Twistelli.
Kahn landed at Capes Sokol, where he specializes in copyright, trademark, First Amendment and media law. Salsich worked as general counsel of Coolfire Studios, a full-service entertainment-production company in St. Louis, and then at AEGIS Law before joining Capes Sokol in early November.
Before launching their new practice group, they reflected on the cases they had worked on.
“We asked, ‘What does every one of these cases have in common?’” Salsich said. “Often, it was the lack of piece of paper with a couple of paragraphs, and had the parties had that piece of paper, they would’ve signed it and it never would’ve been a lawsuit.”
A major goal, then, is to get their clients’ documents in order early — be they related to business formation, contracts, licenses or releases.
Through fixed-fee arrangements, Salsich said, smaller clients can get the legal forms they’ll need again and again and can call if they have questions. Bigger clients might prefer to proceed on a retainer basis, which can lower their overall legal spend by avoiding problems in the first place. In both cases, Salsich wants clients to feel comfortable calling without having to worry about the meter running.
“In that environment,” he said, “you can hear about more things coming down the road, so that when something comes up, they don’t have to pay the hourly rate to tell us about the business.”