New Media Rights Program Promotes Education, Advocacy

Through its nonprofit New Media Rights program, California Western School of Law advocates and educates in the complex areas of intellectual property, media, and technology law. The legal aspects of these areas are diverse, and oftentimes, a component of their work is utilizing the publishing power of the Internet to disseminate their message.

Over the course of a decade, New Media Rights has provided one-on-one legal assistance to people, companies, and organizations for free or at reduced cost. “The idea is to keep them out of the courtroom as they create, start businesses, and seek to remain free from censorship,” says Art Neill, founder and executive director. “And then we open up about what we learn through online guides, videos, and even our own app, all designed to help members of the public understand their rights.”

New Media Rights fall 2015 clinic class

Here are four ways that California Western School of Law stands up for freedom through its New Media Rights program:

1. Startups and creators get a helping hand

Through their free and nominal-cost legal services, New Media Rights serves as a voice and resource for those who may otherwise not be able to speak up for themselves.

Startups in the media and technology worlds are especially vulnerable because they often lack funds. “There are all these laws out there that affect independent creators— those people who are just starting up their businesses and using their own capital and money,” Neill says. “They need legal services just like larger companies because they’re affected by the same laws.”

For example, a prominent local literary and performing arts organization needed to make sure it was doing the right thing when it sought a partnership with public broadcaster KPBS. That’s why So Say We All, a nonprofit devoted to storytelling, turned to New Media Rights and then-California Western student Ella Ahn ’15, to help bring moving stories of military veterans to the airwaves.

“So Say We All and KPBS wanted to create a relationship that worked for both parties, and we helped them to do that,” Neill says. “Contracts may seem boring, but a good contract allows you to see into the future and to set expectations between two parties. People often come to us at the dispute phase because they didn’t set an agreement up front, so it’s best to set things down when you start out.”

The resulting partnership produced a podcast, “Incoming: Stories of Veterans Told in Their Own Words,” that became a major success and allowed veterans to tell their stories and preserve them for the future.

New Media Rights has worked on legal issues with other projects such as “GTFO [The Movie],” a documentary that profiles sexual harassment and misogyny in the gaming community. “We helped them avoid problems and work out deals in areas like distribution,” Neill says.

2. Online guides disseminate crucial information to a broader audience

YouTube video

New Media Rights offers many free online guides about the law, including this popular FAQ about copyright regulations and an accompanying video series, that offer critical information in a simple format.

“Our guides are all about keeping people out of legal disputes, which is why I often joke that my job is to help keep people from needing lawyers like me,” Neill says. “We want the guides to help people make better day-to-day choices, avoiding the kinds of legal disputes that derail creative projects and new businesses. The guides should help them be more informed, make better decisions, and know when it’s time to talk to a lawyer.”

In addition, New Media Rights has created the Fair Use App, an interactive guide which walks users through a series of questions to help them understand whether they can use copyrighted materials in their own films and videos.

3. Advocacy makes a difference in DC

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If you’re passionate about free speech, and supporting creators, innovators, and technology entrepreneurs, consider donating to New Media Rights today so they can continue to provide free legal services to thousands.

New Media Rights doesn’t only assist people and organizations in need. They also play a vital advocacy role and regularly provide information and perspective to policymakers in Washington, DC.

Recently, the program has taken stands on crucial issues like net neutrality and copyright law. “We always offer real-life examples,” Neill says, “and we’ve been cited numerous times in the final rules.”

Indeed, in October 2015, the U.S. Copyright Office approved new rules expanding the freedoms of creators. Specifically, New Media Rights played a significant role in helping the Copyright Office develop rules to protect consumers, remix artists, and documentary filmmakers.

“Independent creators and consumers are underserved by legal services, and they are also underrepresented in policy proceedings,” Neill says. “The law around creativity should protect artists commenting on or parodying works coming out of Hollywood as well as it works for Hollywood itself.


4. Students get training to continue the mission

Law students are an integral part of the New Media Rights program. Kyle C. Welch ’14, who began working with New Media Rights during his second year of classes at California Western, says the experience was invaluable.

“New Media Rights exposed me to a cutting-edge area of the law that’s only going to grow in volume and importance,” he says. “I was able to help folks, many of whom had no other recourse or very limited recourse. And I was able to advocate for policy positions I cared about. It definitely helped me become a better lawyer and more prepared professional.”

Welch is now a licensing associate in San Diego State’s Technology Transfer Office, where he helps commercialize intellectual property produced by the university.

Neill says partnerships with law students help extend the influence of New Media Rights into the future. “We offer an opportunity for law students to do the kind of cutting-edge work that will be needed in coming decades,” he says. “We’re helping to increase the number of people who understand the intersections of law, technology, and creativity, while also giving students the chance to do important public interest work.”

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