A class of 10 students at Indiana University Maurer School of Law - Bloomington has been getting hands-on experience helping an intellectual property lawyer who works with musicians, actors, and other entertainers on contract and intellectual property issues.
"Intellectual Property Practicum: Legal Aspects of the Music Industry," is a capstone course for students with an interest in practicing intellectual property and entertainment law.
"There's an underpinning of intellectual property law in most everything in this class, and it's tied to popular culture, it's tied to music," said Indianapolis attorney Robert Meitus, who teaches the course.
"The students listen to music and watch TV and read books," he said. "So when they listen to the songs we're working on, or see a TV show a client is on, it's quite remarkable to have those opportunities to bring the law to life. A contract dealing with an actress on a primetime TV show is a much more effective teaching tool than a casebook might be about a principle out of a 19th century case."
The course started as an idea from an Internet law course Meitus taught in 2002, prior to teaching the practicum, during which students worked with him on a domain-name dispute involving pool champion Jeanette Lee, also known as "The Black Widow."
In that case, Lee, a resident of Indianapolis, asked for help with the issue and he suggested he could take her case pro bono if she would let him have students help; she agreed.
After Lee's registration of jeanettelee. com lapsed, someone in Armenia registered the site, according to a decision posted on the National Arbitration Forum's Web site, www.adrforum.com.
The entity that owned jeanettelee.com was using the site not to promote her, but to sell goods and services that were not relevant to Lee.
Ultimately, the students and Meitus helped Lee win the arbitration because she met the criteria of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' policy regarding domain-name disputes.
"The students really reacted to working on a live legal dispute, a matter that was real as opposed to in a book," he said. "We go back and use that decision in work that we do in cases that are similar to that one."
Domain-name disputes and other types of cases the students work on have come through his firm, Meitus Gelbert & Rose, and through the Creative Arts Legal League, a low or nofee referral service for artists and musicians who need legal help.
Working with a number of musicians and entertainers also lets him choose and assign many smaller assignments. That way, students get the experience and will likely see some kind of result while they are still in the class and not months or years later, he said.
"Our practice allows the students to work on a variety of high-profile cases," he said. "If they're not actually doing the work, we have some where they're shadowing attorneys as clerks would."
In those cases, the reason is generally because the firm isn't representing the client pro bono, but the client must still give permission for students to shadow.
"Most lawyers have to deal with contracts ... but the students have never looked at a real legal contract so much as studied the concepts of contract law," he said. "Just looking at even boilerplate clauses and talking about why certain jurisdiction or venue clauses are important, warranties of representations and how they work, tends to be well received by the students."
While Meitus said most of what the students work on is confidential, he could say the students have been working on a contract for a music producer who is "a very real, well-known artist ... on a major label." Another client is "an actress on a major network television show. There was a contract with a management company that fell apart."
Students are also researching a copyright infringement case involving a song.
"Our client is the potential plaintiff alleging the infringement," he said. "The students get to listen to the music and decide whether it's substantially similar under the law. They get to think strategically about how to solve that, whether to file suit, and of course you'd try to negotiate a settlement beforehand if possible."
"This class presents unique challenges that other classes don't," Josh Radicke, a 2L in the class, said via e-mail. "While we do have a less strict format, we also have more responsibility. If you fail to prepare for a normal class or forget an assignment, you're going to be embarrassed or you're going to hurt your grade. In this class, if you fail to do something that you're supposed to, you're going to hurt not only yourself and possibly your grade, but you're going to fail your client and your fellow students who are working with you on a project."
Meitus added that confidentiality is first and foremost with the students.
"I tell my students if they ever want to talk about the cases, they need to have a reunion or call me," he said.
"I'm sure you can imagine the 'juicy' information that passes through an entertainment lawyer's office; a lot of it sounds like something from TMZ," Radicke said.
"There's a strong impulse to want to share information with friends and family about the goings on of famous clients, but confidentiality is ... perhaps the most important part of practicing law. A normal class can't prepare you in the same way this one does to be a mature professional who carefully keeps confidentiality and abides by our standards and ethical code," he added.
As tough as confidentiality might be, Meitus said some former students have used the class to get careers in entertainment law, including former students who've landed at Paramount Pictures and Sony/BMG.