Film and TV writers oftentimes make heroes a centerpiece of their scripts. But there are times when the creative community needs real-life heroes who can help them protect their intellectual properties.
Enter The California Society of Entertainment Lawyers (CSEL). Based in Beverly Hills, CSEL, a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization for entertainment attorneys to network and strategize on issues of common interest.
Through their collaborative efforts, CSEL members have advocated in the courts and with the California legislature in support of the creative rights of screenwriters, authors, songwriters and other entertainment industry creative professionals.
Behind the founding of CSEL is noted entertainment lawyer Steven T. Lowe of Lowe and Associates. In 2010, Lowe authored an article for Los Angeles Lawyer Magazine where he cited the uphill challenges screenwriters face in their copyright claims against studios. Entitled “Death of Copyright,” the article revealed how out of 48 infringement cases over the previous two decades, the studios won all but one.
The article gained traction within the entertainment law community, used in many law schools including UCLA and captured the attention of fellow entertainment lawyer Larry Zerner. Lowe and Zerner concluded that there was no specific organization for entertainment attorneys to network, share insights and gain knowledge that would serve to help them in their representation of creative professionals.
Lowe and Zerner officially launched CSEL in 2013 – and entertainment lawyers took notice.
“CSEL came about at a time of pronounced inequity between artists and studios in the entertainment industry, and its members have provided critical advocacy for creators struggling to be heard before the courts and legislators of California,” says Daniel Lifshitz of the Beverly Hills entertainment litigation firm of Johnson & Johnson.
Another original member of CSEL is David Albert Pierce, Managing Member of the Pierce Law Group who serves as the organization’s Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) Chairman. “Being a part of CSEL has been an amazing experience. I’m also quite proud of CSEL becoming a recognized California State Bar Continuing Legal Education provider and of the numerous CSEL CLE Programs [which he coordinated].”
These unique programs are designed to further CSEL’s motto ‘Fighting to Protect Artists Rights’ and have included ‘Con Men In The Entertainment Industry,’ featuring an Assistant US Attorney panel member, where the panel discussed common scams that confront both independent producers and investors. Additionally, the ‘Comedy & The Law’ program discussed an array of legal issues that directly affect stand-up comedians and comedy writers with regards to free speech.
As CSEL grew in prominence, the organization became a ‘go-to’ resource to provide “amicus briefs” for creative professionals who are battling it out in the courts. As an example, CSEL was the only organization to file a “Friend of the Court” or “amicus” brief in the case of Petrella v. MGM (2014). In that case, the United States Supreme Court determined that defendants could not defeat a copyright infringement claim merely on the grounds that the claimant waited too long to file it.
Since then, CSEL has filed numerous amicus briefs, and was most recently asked by Plaintiff’s counsel to file an amicus brief in connection with the Skidmore vs Led Zeppelin case.
“As our practice centers on representing clients in the entertainment industry, CSEL has proved to be an invaluable resource,” says Charles M. Coate, Los Angeles litigation firm of Abrams Coate, LLP. “CSEL was extremely supportive in our firm’s appellate efforts on one copyright matter in particular in both filing an amicus brief and in argument thereon before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on the appropriate test to be applied. Its members are experienced practitioners who understand both the issues that are of central importance to the entertainment bar and the public policy goals that can shape those issues.”
Educational events have become a staple for CSEL. The most recent CSEL session, entitled “Comedy and the Law,” was held at The Comedy Store and presented a panel of attorneys representing comedians and comedy writers along with comedians Argus Hamilton and Tony Hinchcliffe.
“CSEL fulfills an important need in providing education and networking for entertainment and IP attorneys who exchange ideas about pressing and cutting issues with great camaraderie. Its advocacy for positive change in the law is commendable. CSEL gives voice to the ‘little guy’ who needs protection and representation,” says Neville Johnson, partner of prominent entertainment litigation firm, Johnson & Johnson.
In 2017, Lowe was granted permission to participate in oral argument before the Ninth Circuit on behalf of CSEL.
“The cities of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles are massively involved in the entertainment industry. Actors, directors, singers, writers are all connected with the cities of Beverly Hills and Los Angeles,” says Thomas V. Girardi, renowned litigation attorney with Girardi/Keese. “This spectacular organization, CSEL, permits the finest entertainment lawyers in the United States to meet, share experiences, share legal victories and disappointments. There are very few legal organizations that focus on specialties the way CSEL does.”
CSEL is presently in a membership drive. It not only accepts attorneys as members (annual membership is $100), but law students as well ($50 law student membership or fee waived if student works for organization). CSEL is also accepting “creative professionals” as members as well. This will give the non-attorney members an opportunity to network with entertainment attorneys at bi-monthly CSEL meetings.