Copyright Law Writing Assignments – Spring 2021

COPYRIGHT LAW WRITING ASSIGNMENTS – SPRING 2021


BASIC REQUIREMENTS AND MECHANICS

The graded work for this course consists of three short (3-4 pp.) writing assignments. These may consist of legal memoranda (to colleagues, clients, or others); explanatory email messages (again, to one or more audiences); or PowerPoint [or equivalent] slide decks (in which the lawyer communicates by the content of the slide deck, not by delivering a presentation orally). Each assignment will be posted here approximately two weeks before the assignment is due. Also before the assignment is due, time in class will be set aside to discuss questions relating to each assignment.

FORMAT EXPECTATIONS

Prior versions of this course have required that writing assignments be produced in solely in the format of traditional legal memos. That expectation has changed, because lawyers today increasingly communicate in other formats and other media. This course may require different formats.

HOW TO SUCCEED

Although the formats may change, professional expectations regarding effective communication have not changed. Legal writing in every setting should be clear, consistent, polished, expert, ethical, responsive, and trustworthy. Those expectations apply to this course. For guidance regarding those expectations and how they apply to the graded work for this course, students are strongly encouraged to read and re-read this “Modern Legal Writing” document, which summarizes advice for producing a great work product in Professor Madison’s courses.

Added March 2021: For help with basic writing questions (grammar, syntax, word choice, active vs. passive voice, and so on), consider trying editing / writing correction / grammar checking software. A good choice – with a free option – is Grammarly. An alternative choice that may be better suited to professional writing but one that costs real money, is WordRake. WordRake may be a useful investment now that pays off over a full professional career; the founder and creator of WordRake, Gary Kinder, is a tremendous writer in his own right. I took a writing seminar from him when I was a junior lawyer, and I still remember and use his lessons even today.

SAMPLE QUESTIONS

For students who want to know more about the assignments for this course, here are links to some prior assignments:

RUBRIC

The rubric used to mark the assignments is available here.

ASSIGNMENTS

Assignment Three

[The following is an entirely made-up set of facts. The videogame Pong was, and is, real, and you can read about it here.]

To:  Senior Associate, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe
From:  Senior Partner, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe
Date:  April 16, 2021
Re:  Film Clip Copyright Clearance Matter

As you know, we’ve done a fair amount of work over the years for Harry Zimm, who owns ZigZag Productions, a film and TV production company in Los Angeles.  He is putting together a documentary film about the early years of the videogame industry, with investment from Netflix (which expects to distribute the film).  Harry usually does high end feature film work, so he’s unfamiliar with some of the copyright clearance issues that come up with documentaries, and he’s asked us to take a look at one matter in particular.  Fortunately, because of Netflix’s backing, we don’t have to pinch pennies; it’s a documentary but not a usual documentary budget.

Someone on Harry’s team found a thirty-minute film of two people playing an early version of the Atari game “Pong,” and Harry wants to use clips from the film in his documentary. I haven’t seen the footage yet – Harry is sending it over, along with a 1970s film projector that we can use – but he describes it to me as “exquisitely dull.” 

As Harry describes it, the footage is shot over the shoulders of two kids, in the foreground, each of whom is moving a huge joystick to control their paddles on a TV screen as the simple “virtual tennis match” on screen unfolds.  (As you may know, Pong consisted of a white blip batted back and forth “across” a white vertical line, against a black background.) In the footage, you can see the game play, and hear sounds associated with the game (beeps and boops), clearly.  There is a soundtrack, which apparently consists of an introductory voiceover (something like, “1974:  Welcome to the future of sports” followed by some 1970s synthesizer stuff.  The beeps and boops seem to come from the game, but the sounds are relatively distinct, so maybe not. So far, no one recognizes the music from pop music of that era – and Harry grew up in the 1960s, so if anyone would recognize it, he would — so it may have been recorded specially for this Pong thing.  The date makes sense, since the original Pong game was released in something like 1972.

Apparently, Harry’s person picked up the film at a local flea market for $5.  The film canister was marked “Atari,” with the corporate logo. Nothing else.  There’s no date on the canister.  Maybe this was produced in connection with a TV commercial?  Maybe it was a promotional film or an instructional film for Atari’s corporate use?

I’m going to have a junior associate or a paralegal run down all of the specifics in terms of what rights might exist in the film and what rights Harry needs to clear. (For various reasons, Harry does not want to go down the fair use rabbit hole.) That person is going to need a guide to the relevant law, so that they know where to look and what to look for, and Harry (who is pretty meticulous about this stuff) is going to want to know exactly where he stands.

Can you please put together an outline of relevant legal and factual issues, per the above, that helps the associate get started and tells Harry what’s happening?

I need your work by May 6.

Thanks.

Rules and Guidelines for Assignment Three

To the extent that these rules may appear to conflict with general advice regarding work product that appears in course-related webpages, these rules take precedence.

This is an “open” problem, meaning that there are no limits on the resources that you may bring to bear on your work. Among other things, you may consult with your classmates and other human beings. If you discuss the merits of the assignment with anyone, however, you must disclose that person’s identity on or in your work product. Write the names of any of these “consultants” at the top of the first page of the document.

Use your own name in the “From” field. Your work product is not anonymous.

Format

Your work product in response to this assignment should be formatted in one of two ways: (i) as an email rather than as a default or standard “legal research memo.” Your email should consist of not more than 1,200 words, excluding the header (To, From, Subject line, Date). In printed form, it should have 1″ minimum margins on all sides. OR (ii) as a set of PowerPoint slides, prepared for delivery as a printed work product, rather than as a guide or accompaniment to an oral presentation. Including a title slide, the total PowerPoint “slide deck” should consist of no more than 25 slides. [For guidance and suggestions regarding how to prepare professional PowerPoint slides, review these examples.]

You do not need to include a comprehensive statement of the facts; instead, you may refer to the factual background in my memo to you. A factual summary may be helpful, however, in framing and presenting your analysis. No footnotes are permitted.

You may use any font that you wish, but of course take care that all aspects of your work product should look, as well as be, professional.

So that your work product can be uploaded to the TWEN system in Westlaw (see below) and graded electronically, you must use Microsoft WORD (in the case of option (i)) or Microsoft PowerPoint (in the case of option (ii)).

Grading

Work product will be graded based on form, format, and writing quality as well as on content. The assignments are designed so as not to have any single correct or even best solution. Each problem may present a range of issues that your work should identify, analyze, and solve in a creative way.

Due date

One copy of the work product prepared for this assignment must be turned in not later than Thursday, May 6, 2021, at 12 noon.

Your work product must be turned in via the course TWEN page (on Westlaw), by depositing an electronic copy in the TWEN “Drop Box” for Assignment Three for this course. Although the work product may be formatted as an email or as an electronic PowerPoint file, electronic (e-mailed) copies are not acceptable. Documents slipped under anyone’s door are not acceptable.

There were be no extensions or exceptions to the deadline. Work product that does not conform to the format instructions above, or that is turned in late, will be accepted, but is subject to grade reduction.

Assignment Two

[The following is an entirely made-up set of facts.]

To: Junior Associate, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe
From:  Partner, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe
Date: March 19, 2021
Re: Copyright Infringement Matter? [dictated but not read]

I just got off the phone with a long-time client of the firm who is steaming about how a daughter – an aspiring screenwriter – is being given the runaround by some entertainment big shots.  I need you to think through the following summary for me, so that I can call the client back, together with the daughter, and brief them about their likely options looking forward.

Here’s what I’ve been told so far:

The daughter (let’s call her Eve Jones, for now) has a drama degree and has been making the rounds of production companies in Southern California, pitching scripts and ideas for TV shows.  She has sold a few items, so she’s building a reputation via word of mouth, and that helps her get her foot in the door at some better-known outfits.  But she’s making just enough money to pay her bills.

Apparently she went to a pitch meeting for a hot shot company called Ace Productions, which is owned by a well-known actor (Let’s call him Cary James, for now) and has had a number of hit shows and films recently. She had a four-page typed “treatment” to share (a summary and outline of a proposed show, in this case a series of 30-minute episodes of unscripted reality TV having something to do with a pair of out-of-work radio hosts-turned-podcasters and their screwball misadventures with interviews, on and off the air).  The idea for the treatment came out of her hours and hours of listening to podcasts while sitting in traffic on Los Angeles freeways.

When she arrived at the pitch meeting, the receptionist said that Eve had to sign a one-page pre-printed form in which she agreed that she was a temporary employee of Ace Productions during the time that she was on the premises and that any creative work that she shared with the company would be treated as a “work made for hire” and owned by the company.  The form also said that she would be paid $10,000 as “salary” if the company accepted her work.  If she didn’t sign, she wouldn’t be allowed into the meeting.

Eve apparently though that the whole thing was worth a $10,000 gamble, so she signed.  She went in.  She made the pitch based on her treatment.  Apparently Cary James himself was there, and he loved the pitch.  They kept the treatment, gave Eve a cashier’s check for $10,000, and she left.

I haven’t seen a copy of the form, but my client has seen it (Eve was given a copy), and aside from the employment reference and the work made for hire reference, there is no reference to an assignment of the copyright in her work.  Eve agrees, however, that she signed it voluntarily; she had the option of leaving the office and offering her treatment to some other producer.  But she used the money to pay off her credit card and cover her next month’s rent.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Eve has discovered that one of the big streaming platforms is now showing a multi-episode series called “Peace in a Pod,” an unscripted reality TV series of 30-minute episodes featuring 2 former FM radio DJs trying to make it in the world of – you guessed it – podcasting.  Each episode focuses on their misadventures in lining up and trying to work with some strange (or interesting) celebrity guest.  Eve looked into the production credits for the show and discovered the whole thing was produced by Ace Productions, and that the first episode was recorded about 3 months after her visit to their office. Based on her read of the industry’s trade media, “Peace in a Pod” is generating at least $500,000 in profit per episode for the production company.

She’s livid, and my client is livid, too.  Eve wants to sue Ace and Cary James for appropriating her work.  We’re a business law firm, but I don’t have a lot of experience with copyright; my client (the parent) usually comes to me for real estate advice.  I don’t have time to think this through right now. I need you to do that.  Can you please dig into what I’ve written, check into the relevant law, and come up with some good thoughts on what’s strong here, what’s weak here, and what additional information we need to turn up (if any)?  I need to give these folks some guidance about their options.

Rules and Guidelines for Assignment Two

To the extent that these rules may appear to conflict with general advice regarding work product that appears in course-related webpages, these rules take precedence.

This is an “open” problem, meaning that there are no limits on the resources that you may bring to bear on your work. Among other things, you may consult with your classmates and other human beings. If you discuss the merits of the assignment with anyone, however, you must disclose that person’s identity on or in your work product. Write the names of any of these “consultants” at the top of the first page of the document.

Use your own name in the “From” field. Your work product is not anonymous.

Format

Your work product in response to this assignment should be formatted as an email rather than as a default or standard “legal research memo.” It must be typed or printed using a computer. Your email should consist of not more than 1,200 words, excluding the header (To, From, Subject line, Date) and information about humans you consulted. In printed form, it should have 1″ minimum margins on all sides.

You do not need to include a comprehensive statement of the facts; instead, you may refer to the factual background in my memo to you. Including a factual summary may be helpful, however, in framing and presenting the analysis of the memo. No footnotes are permitted. The following font must be used: Twelve [12] point Times New Roman.

So that your email can be uploaded to the TWEN system in Westlaw (see below) and graded electronically, you must use Microsoft WORD.

Grading

Work product will be graded based on form, format, and writing quality as well as on content. The assignments are designed so as not to have any single correct or even best solution. Each problem may present a range of issues and/or problems that the work product should identify, analyze, and solve in a creative way.

Due date

One copy of the work product prepared for this assignment must be turned in not later than Monday, April 5 [was Friday, April 2], 2021, at 3 p.m.

Your work must be turned in via the course TWEN page (on Westlaw), by depositing an electronic copy in the TWEN “Drop Box” for Assignment Two for this course.

There were be no extensions or exceptions to the April 2 deadline. Work product that does not conform to the format instructions above, or that is turned in late, will be accepted, but it will be subject to grade reductions.

Assignment One

[The following is an entirely made-up set of facts.]

To: Outside counsel, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe
From:  Bob Elliot, Executive Director, FanDocs
Date: February 12, 2021
Re: Robots Documentary

Our documentary film production company has launched several projects, one of which prompts this request for some copyright law guidance from you.

The project envisions a full-length documentary film that reviews the history and changing treatment of synthetic and artificial life forms in feature films and television during the 20th century.  Androids and the like, in other words, all of which express struggles between their mostly human appearances and their machine-based attributes. 

High on the list of things to talk about are the various androids, drones, and related characters in the Star Trek universe:  Data, of course, originally from Star Trek: Next Generation; also 7 of 9 (the Borg drone) and the EMH (“Emergency Medical Hologram”) from Star Trek: Voyager, up to and including Dahj Sutra and Sofi Asher from the recent Star Trek: Picard.  (7 of 9 also appears in Picard.)  All of these characters are, as you may know, derived from the Spock character in the original Star Trek TV series (sometimes known as “TOS,” which stands for The Original Series).  Spock had a human mother and a Vulcan father; his character struggled between humanistic expressions of emotion and the Vulcan obsession with logic.  In a way, all of the later synthetic and artificial Star Trek characters were Spock, in slightly different forms and contexts.

There are, of course, other characters to discuss, notably the Cylons in the two Battlestar Galactica television series, the various droids from the Star Wars universe, and the robot from the Lost in Space television series, movie, and recent reboot.  Even Rosey/Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons may make an appearance.

The point of the documentary film is to explore the synthetic and artificial life forms themselves, rather than to critique the films or television series in full. 

We’ve secured the cooperation of several key actors involved in the Star Trek series and films:  Brent Spiner (Data), Jeri Ryan (7 of 9), Bob Picardo (the EMH), and Isa Briones (from Picard).  They’ll give interviews and end up in the film as themselves, talking about their characters.  We also want to include short clips of the actors in character, excerpted from the source films and shows.

Paramount, which owns the copyrights in Star Trek films and shows, is notoriously stingy when it comes to granting permission to incorporate clips from Star Trek (any Star Trek) in other creative projects.  Even if we were able to get the studio’s cooperation, our shoestring budget likely wouldn’t be able to meet whatever price Paramount is likely to quote.

We’d like to go ahead with our project anyway, and the Star Trek material is critical to the story that we want to tell.  But we want to do our utmost to stay out of Paramount’s sights (one) and minimize our exposure and maximize the strengths of our position if Paramount decides to come after us (two). 

So:

What should we do in selecting and using possible clips, and in conducting our interviews, so that we minimize the copyright liability risks associated with the final documentary?  Is there information that you need from us to help you formulate your counsel? In all respects, so that we’re aware of the “why’s” of what we’re doing as well as the “what’s,” what’s the reasoning behind your advice and your questions?

Our planning is in full swing right now, so we need your advice as soon as possible.  Please get it to us by Friday, February 26, and please make it not more than 4 pages in total.

Rules and Guidelines for Assignment One

To the extent that these rules may appear to conflict with general advice regarding memos that appears in course-related webpages, these rules take precedence.

This is an “open” problem, meaning that there are no limits on the resources that you may bring to bear on your work. Among other things, you may consult with your classmates and other human beings. If you discuss the merits of the assignment with anyone, however, you must disclose that person’s identity on or in your memo. Write the names of any of these “consultants” at the top of the first page of the memo.

Use your own name in the “From” field. The memos are not anonymous.

Format

You should use the default or standard “legal research memo” format for this assignment. Memos must be typed or printed using a computer. Each memo, including any attachments, must be not longer than four [4] typewritten or printed pages, double-spaced, with 1″ minimum margins on all sides. “To,” “From,” “Re,” and “Date” headings may be single spaced, and the “consultants” list may appear inside the 1″ margin at the top of the first page.

You do not need to include a comprehensive statement of the facts; instead, you may refer to the factual background in my memo to you. Omitting a factual summary may be unwise, nevertheless. A factual summary may be helpful in framing and presenting the analysis of the memo.

No footnotes are permitted.

The following font must be used: Twelve [12] point Times New Roman.

So that the memos can be uploaded to the TWEN system in Westlaw (see below) and graded electronically, you must use Microsoft WORD for the final, submitted version of the memo.

Grading

Memos will be graded based on form, format, and writing quality as well as on content. The assignments are designed so as not to have any single correct or even best solution. Each problem may present a range of issues that the memorandum should identify, analyze, and solve in a creative way.

Due date

One copy of the work product prepared for this assignment must be turned in not later than Friday, February 26, 2021, at 3 p.m.

Memos must be turned in via the course TWEN page (on Westlaw), by depositing an electronic copy in the TWEN “Drop Box” for Assignment One for this course. Electronic (e-mailed) copies are not acceptable. Memos slipped under anyone’s door are not acceptable.

There were be no extensions or exceptions to this deadline. Memos that do not conform to the format instructions above, or that are turned in late, will be accepted, but they are are subject to grade reductions.