Cravath partners spearhead new copyright program at Columbia Law

January 30, 2015

students-taking-test[At the intersection of intellectual property law and legal education, there lies a new approach to learning and lawyering…]

A new course at Columbia University Law School offers students the opportunity to learn intellectual property litigation by doing it. Led by two partners in the New York office of Cravath, Swain & Moore LLP, David Marriott and David Kappos, students take on real and simulated copyright cases with additional guidance from Raymond Dowd’s Copyright Litigation Handbook (ThomsonReuters). The course includes both classroom and fieldwork, though it’s officially termed an externship and is not part of Columbia’s official clinical program.

The two Dave’s bring deep knowledge and experience to the table: Marriott is a member of the Legal Advisory Board of the Copyright Alliance and an adjunct professor at New York University School of Law, and Kappos has star power as former Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and former director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (2009-2013). Not surprisingly, their first program was oversubscribed by a wide margin in fall 2014. When the semester ends Cravath attorneys manage the cases pro bono either to their conclusion, or until the next group of students picks them up in fall 2015.

“It’s a good deal for everybody—students get to do some work that they usually wouldn’t do. I think it’s a win-win-win,” Marriott said. Kappos emphasized the ideological objective to provide a “space and opportunity to defend rights of little guys. People who live in modest apartments in New York City and write songs, and make music, and struggle.”

Marriott and Kappos selected eight students to represent four copyright plaintiffs, each of whom is a small party who alleges that their intellectual property was ripped off. Copyright ownership in a new original work arises automatically upon creation since the United States abolished its previous filing and notice requirements in 1989. But copyright protection becomes more complex when an author begins to parcel out rights in the work, or when a non-author makes an unapproved use of it. A composer or song writer, for instance, may assign his or her copyright in an original song to a friend—but the author’s estate may later challenge the validity, duration, or rights represented by the assignment. Those were the facts in one case handled by students in the Columbia Copyright Dispute Resolution Externship last fall. As often happens in real life, other claims arose that were not purely copyright matters. In this case, students faced a complex procedural stature involving the probate court of Ohio, as well as an intervening bankruptcy.

“The students tackled new and unfamiliar subject matter with enthusiasm and navigated their way through its nuances with skill, and doing that, provided a valuable advice and service to a client in need,” Marriott said.

The expectation is for students to do as much of the litigation work as possible–including depositions and arguments–under student practice orders. While those opportunities haven’t come up yet in the fieldwork, students did practice these skills through coursework that includes participation in a weekly seminar and assignments culiminating in a mock trial at the end of the semester. Instead of a standard law text book, assigned readings include chapters and appendices in Copyright Litigation Handbook and relevant sections of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the U.S. Copyright Act. Dowd, a partner at Dunnington, Bartholow & Miller LLP, wrote the Handbook as a convenient reference guide for courtroom practitioners.

“[Dowd’s book] is a very helpful guide to the practical, and very useful. It’s a useful text,” Marriott said.

As a practical matter, representing plaintiffs from the inception of a lawsuit is more straightforward than defense work, Marriott noted. Kappos said he hopes students will gain a new appreciation of how intellectual property law protects small parties.

“Their rights only get protected by a strong IP system, and it’s important and valuable to protect the rights and interests of the little guys who are creating so much great content and culture for us,” Kappos said.