By Sara Gold, with contributions and photos by Cat Mineo
California Western’s New Media Rights clinic celebrated its tenth anniversary Saturday, Oct. 7 with festivities attended by about 100 people at the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. This milestone evening kicked off with entry for all to the park’s Game Masters Exhibit. After some interactive gaming fun, guests were welcomed to indulge in “street” tacos, churros, and beverages. Later in the evening, current and former clinic staff, as well as current and former Cal Western student interns, spoke briefly about the impact New Media Rights had on their lives.
“My fellowship at New Media Rights was an incredible thing for my career. I learned so much that I use every single day,” said Teri Karobonik, former staff attorney at New Media Rights and now an attorney for Twitter. “The earlier we can expose creators and future entrepreneurs to these issues, the better. Working at New Media Rights made me the attorney I am today.”
Following the brief speeches, a short video of some former interns sending their congratulations was played as a surprise to Prof. Art Neill, the clinic’s founder and executive director. Prof. Neill, who teaches the Internet and Social Media Law class at Cal Western, concluded the evening with a musical performance.
FROM CONCEPT TO CLINIC
New Media Rights started as an idea conceived by Prof. Neill when he was a law student at the University of San Diego School of Law. He said that the emergence of new technologies and social media platforms in the mid-2000’s, such as MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and blogs, led him to wonder how online creators would be affected.
“I realized that more people would need day-to-day intellectual property advice, and I was interested in figuring out what services were needed,” Prof. Neill said.
After graduating law school, Prof. Neill worked as an attorney for the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN), a nonprofit that advocates for fair utility rates and billing practices in San Diego County. As a side project, he teamed with Brandon Weiner, a UCAN colleague, to start building non-legal and legal sources to found New Media Rights, a nonprofit designed to help businesses and individual creators make informed choices when making, sharing, or reusing creative works.
New Media Rights launched its website on January 8, 2008 and over the new few years began developing a variety of informational resources, including how-to guides on video editing and creation, a copyright law FAQ, and legal guides on copyright law, video game law, and open source software, among other topics. Although New Media Rights was not affiliated with California Western during the first few years, the clinic enlisted the help of Cal Western students, including now-alumni Mike Scott, Carter Knopke, Josh Salinas, Michael Donahue, and Ashkan Yekrangi.
JOINING CALIFORNIA WESTERN
As the clinic and its website began to grow, Prof. Neill wanted to expand New Media Rights’ services from just offering educational resources to providing non-litigation-related legal services for businesses and other creators. These services, such as drafting contracts, reviewing terms of service, licensing content, and formulating responses to take-down notices, would be designed to “keep creators away from legal trouble and outside of the courtroom,” he said.
Prof. Neill, who started teaching at Cal Western in 2010, felt that the clinic’s expansion presented a great opportunity to get law students involved. New Media Rights officially became affiliated with California Western School of Law in 2012 and moved to its current office on First Avenue, within walking distance of the school, in 2014. Since 2012, the clinic has welcomed six new law student interns per trimester, many of whom return for subsequent trimesters.
Now, the clinic responds to more than 600 information requests annually. Every person receives initial consultation and guidance, and the clinic takes on about 20 percent as clients. In total, New Media Rights has resolved over 2,000 matters since its inception.
“We couldn’t manage our intake without the student participation,” Prof. Neill said. “We can take more cases because we have students helping, and there are more students out in the world with an IP and public interest background.”
FROM STUDENTS TO STAFF
Erika Lee, now a postgraduate fellow with New Media Rights, started out as a student intern the summer after her 1L year and continued working with the clinic into her 3L year. She was drawn to the program due to her past work experience in the marketing department of a large performing arts center in Madison, Wisconsin.
“I knew I wanted to work in the entertainment industry in some capacity, and when I was searching for law schools, I saw that the New Media Rights program was offered through California Western,” said Lee, who graduated last spring. “I was immediately interested because New Media Rights had experience in various intellectual property issues and because the clinic worked with various creative professionals. I wanted to work with filmmakers and other creative professionals to help them get their projects off the ground, and New Media Rights seemed like the perfect place to do that. Through the clinic, I was able to develop and sharpen my drafting and communication skills, while at the same time work with real clients who had real issues.”
Shaun Spalding, now the clinic’s assistant director, also began his work with New Media Rights as a student intern, before the clinic was officially associated with the school. He graduated from Cal Western in 2011 and served as the clinic’s assistant director until 2013, when he took a hiatus to pursue other media-related projects. Spalding rejoined New Media Rights as assistant director last year and is happy to be educating and advocating for independent creators.
“New Media Rights has the values of the nonprofit, runs efficiently like a business, and is lean and non-bureaucratic like a startup,” he said. “Everyone, even the students, is encouraged to speak up. I think we do a lot to destroy the myth that lawyers always have to work in an adversarial mode.”
Spalding’s favorite part about mentoring student interns is seeing their skills develop as they go through the program.
“Since we are working with actual clients, my job is to teach them ‘process’ – how to systematically solve client problems, how to effectively start researching an issue, why context is important, and what questions to ask,” he said. “When I see students really starting to excel at that, I know that they’re going to be ready for any transactional problem and any practice area.”
NEW MEDIA RIGHTS TODAY
The New Media Rights website has been viewed more than two million times, and the clinic’s YouTube channel has more than 150 educational videos that have collectively been viewed more than 500,000 times. The clinic also sends out an “IP 101” course via email newsletters.
In 2015, the clinic developed its Fair Use App, a web program that takes users through a sequence of questions aimed at helping creators determine whether their reuse of copyrighted works could be authorized as fair use. The Fair Use App has been visited more than 15,000 times since its launch.
Last year, New Media Rights released a book called “Don’t Panic: A Legal Guide (In Plain English) For Small Businesses and Creative Professionals,” written by Prof. Neill and Karobonik. Available as a paperback, e-book, or audiobook, the book provides an overview of IP law and gives practical guidance for preventing and dealing with IP disputes. Already ten undergraduate and graduate courses are using the book.
On the advocacy side, New Media Rights works to shape policy by communicating with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Copyright Office, both agencies whose decisions have profound impacts on the rights of artists and creators.
Over the next two years, New Media Rights hopes to expand its educational resources for specific creative and entrepreneur groups, as well as bring the book to more high school, undergraduate, and graduate institutions. New Media Rights will also continue to give Cal Western students the opportunity to contribute to the clinic’s mission and learn legal and practical skills in the process.
“As a law student, these experiences were invaluable because I was able to experience the practice of law from different angles: from client work to educational work to policy work,” Lee said. “Most importantly, my work with New Media Rights helped me realize that there are so many different ways that I can serve a client and the community at large.”
Cal Western 3L Dustin Pinder, who started interning at the clinic this semester, told The Commentary, “My first five weeks have been absolutely amazing. It’s my first opportunity to get hands on with IP, and I hope to be here with some stories for the next ten-year anniversary and say a few words about how New Media Rights helped me grow as an attorney.”