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LTA program launches lab to study issues at the intersection of intellectual property and the First Amendment

Tuesday, November 29, 2016  /  Rate this article:
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LeBron's tattoos, virtual football players, emerging forms of music and government surveillance - few things in the United States aren't touched by the First Amendment's protection of free speech, but today's technologies create new challenges for laws that regulate artistic vision, expression and innovation.

The Spangenberg Center for Law, Technology & the Arts created The First Amendment and the Arts Project, a student-run lab, to study the evolving relationship between free speech and intellectual property.

The First Amendment and the Arts Project launched in the fall of 2016 under the supervision of adjunct professor Patrick Kabat, a First Amendment lawyer with the international law firm Dentons, who was recently quoted in a Vanity Fair article discussing first amendment issues related to the controversial film, "Last Tango in Paris." Originally conceived with the help of Professor Craig Nard, Director of the Spangenberg Center, the lab will give students hands-on access to local and national first amendment and intellectual property cases.

"The lab is really student driven. I want them to work on cases that they are passionate about, whether it's music, art, video games, the tech industry or any facet of social or cultural expression that moves them," said Kabat. "The law is trying to catch up to a world that is changing and advancing every day -- there are lots of cases out there that students can dive into and learn from, and a wealth of issues that will need their attention when they enter practice."

In the three short months since launching, the lab's eight students have tackled four different and emerging issues in First Amendment law, including search warrant and surveillance-related court records in the federal courts in the Northern District of Ohio, copyright and fair use issues facing a major art, and a city's regulation of DJ appearances on the basis that they do not provide valid musical performances. The students are working closely with thought leaders from LA to DC, and have formed partnerships with high-profile not-for-profit organizations and advocacy groups that focus on similar issues, including clinical initiatives at Yale Law School's Information Society Project, where Kabat is a fellow, and the University of Buffalo School of Law.

The lab's fourth project arrives in April 2017 with a conference at the law school that brings together the members of the YouTube community, the video gaming industry, virtual reality evangelists, amateur directors and performance artists to discuss the law's impact on the entertainment and technology of tomorrow. The old line between audience and participants has been blurred, and the legal rules that govern popular forms of cultural expression must adapt to the increasingly virtual, networked world in which we live.

"This is an exciting new venture for us, and I'm looking forward to seeing what issues our students take on," said Professor Nard.

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