By Laurel Fishman
In the lobby outside the Beverly Hills Hotel's Crystal Ballroom, the schmooze fest built to a deafening roar as the movers, shakers and tastemakers of entertainment law — and those who aspire to be in this lofty league — convened before the 13th Annual Entertainment Law Initiative Luncheon & Scholarship Presentation.
After repeated appeals to "Please take your seats," GRAMMY Foundation Vice President Scott Goldman resorted to a prolonged "shhhhhhh" to get the ultra-voluble crowd to give the proceedings their full attention. The roar turned to respectful silence in the ballroom as the law students representing this year's ELI Legal Writing Competition finalists poised themselves for their onstage appearance.
The students were fresh from an exclusive mentoring session with the ELI Executive Committee, where they had just received priceless anecdotal wisdom from the elder statesmen of the field. "I'm still pinching myself!" University of Southern California law student Jay Patel told me. Daniel Carollo, who's studying at St. John's University School of Law, described the experience as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Chapman University School of Law's Maral Vahdani said she loved getting the lowdown on the building of Madonna's career, adding how she appreciates that entertainment law covers "both sides of the spectrum, the more glamorous stuff and the legal side."
Finalist Brian Pearl, a student at University of California Los Angeles, anticipated taking the spotlight to talk about his paper, "hoping for a question I'm capable of answering intelligently!" When his turn came to discuss turning outside of copyright law to communication law in order to limit access to illegal file-sharing, presenter and ELI Executive Committee Program Chair Ken Abdo lauded Pearl's inventive "rock and roll attitude."
Contest winner William Jacobson, a student at the Charlotte School of Law, was awarded a $5,000 scholarship for his efforts. He spoke about his thought-provoking paper, which addressed computers generating content independent of human creativity. Jacobson said this necessitates further distinction beyond open-sourcing and crowd-sourcing to what he coined as "compu-sourcing." He raised issues of ownership concerning creation by programmers versus users, and the importance of distinguishing original works from those "fabricated by technology."
Predictably, humor pervaded the luncheon. ELI Executive Committee Chair Michael Reinert joked about having to travel 3,000 miles to the event to see his colleagues from just up the street. Attorney John T. Frankenheimer, winner of the 2011 Service Award, was acknowledged by his fellows for his ability to "capture the most complex of deals on one Post-It note!"
Recording Academy and GRAMMY Foundation President/CEO Neil Portnow warned, "If you think this is just another industry event, wait until you hear our keynote speaker." Portnow's words rang true when the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am took the stage. A GRAMMY Foundation Board member, the GRAMMY-winning musician/producer shot straight from the hip, saying he was "probably gonna piss people off," yet it was "with all due respect to the great minds in this room" that he insisted that technology now defines the what and the where of monetizing music in the "marriage between art and science."
When all was said and done, I expressed admiration for how Goldman had held the attention of the crowd of verbal giants throughout the program. Goldman's response succinctly summed up the bottom-line ethos of the afternoon, "You just gotta deal!"