Copyright Law Memo Assignments – Spring 2011

Each memo assignment for Copyright Law – Spring 2011 will be posted here approximately two weeks before the memo is due. Time in class will be set aside to discuss questions relating to each assignment.

For students who want to know more about the writing assignments for this course, this is a link to the memo assignments from Spring 2010. That link includes links to the best memos written in response to the first assignment from that version of the course.

Assignment Three

[Carefully note the date below.]

To: Junior Lawyer
From: Senior Lawyer
Date: March 30, 2011
Re:New Amazon Cloud Service

The CEO of our client, Big Bad Records, just forwarded a link to me that describes a new thing called the “Amazon Cloud Player.” Apparently wants to sell music to consumers, let the consumers store that music in’s “cloud” servers, then help the consumers stream that music back to them on various devices – all without clearing the rights to the music or paying royalties to the artists. Can you look into this ASAP and put together a short memo – four pages max – that lays out the key legal issues here and the likelihood that can get away with this. This can’t be legal – can it?  Thanks.


You should follow the Rules and Guidelines set out below with respect to Assignment One. The due date for this assignment is Wednesday, May 11, 2011, at 12 noon.

Assignment Two

To: Junior Lawyer
From: Senior Lawyer
Date: March 21, 2011
Re: Status of Termination of Transfer Law

Our law librarian just flagged for me a newly-filed petition for certiorari in the ongoing Steinbeck litigation. The petitioners apparently allege that they lost their case in the Second Circuit because the court applied an interpretation of the “agreement to the contrary” portion of Section 304(c) of the Copyright Act that is at odds with the interpretation used in the Ninth Circuit. We have a lot of publishing and content-producing clients (book and e-book publishers, small motion picture production companies, and the like) that are undoubtedly wondering what’s going on in this area of the law. Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides to do with the petition, we should write up a brief newsletter to our clients that summarizes the current state of play in these cases and offers our best judgment about what, if anything, is likely to happen, what that means for our clients, and what precautions our clients should take at this point, if any.

Please track down the petition and the key cases from the two circuits, then write up a summary in not more than four pages. Have it to me not later than Monday, April 4, 2011 at 12 noon.


The relevant petition and the key cases have been posted online, with links below:

These are unedited.  Each is in .pdf format.

Form, Format, and Content of the Work Product

The work product requested here does not require a a research memo in the form “Facts/Brief Answer/Issue/Analysis,” nor is the topic suited to that format. Instead, you should devise an alternative organizational framework, one that begins with the familiar “To/From/Date/Re” beginning but otherwise frames its analysis in terms of the background to the problem, a summary and analysis of the key authorities and the reasons for the present report, and conclusions and recommendations, if there are any. It should be clear that the assigning lawyer is more interested in the relevant rules of law adopted by the various courts in question than in the nuances of the facts of the cases, but that does not make the facts irrelevant. Instead, relevant facts should be detailed in a way that draws out the salient points of the courts’ holdings.

Because you have the cases in front of you, as well as the statute and some background discussion in the Cohen, et al. casebook, the assignment presents two key challenges: One is understanding the nature of substantive law at stake and determining the extent to which there really are two circuit courts in conflict, or instead a single interpretation of the statute that has been applied by different courts to different fact patterns.  In other words, do not take the petition at face value.  You will need to perform your own analysis.  Two is executing a memo on that complex topic concisely, in the space of four pages.

In all other respects, you should follow the Rules and Guidelines set out below with respect to Assignment One. The due date for this assignment is Monday, April 4, 2011, at 12 noon, rather than the date specified in the Syllabus.

Assignment One

To: Junior Lawyer
From: Senior Lawyer
Re: Bubble Art
Date: February 7, 2011

We have a client with an unusual problem; I need you to do some quick research and recommend a course of action. The client is a Japanese techno-performance artist known simply as Nils, who has achieved worldwide renown – and a considerable fortune – by designing “virtual reality” art exhibits for corporate clients. Nils is designing a new exhibit for an installation in the United States, and he wants to know whether he can use copyright law to protect his interest. If so, he can charge his client a lower fee – but retain the right to commercialize his creation in other ways. If copyright can’t apply, then he’ll negotiate a higher up-front fee.

The creation is an adaptation of soap bubbles. Nils has designed a hand-held “wand” that is in the shape of a typical wand for blowing soap bubbles, with a circular loop on top of a handle, though somewhat larger. Instead of blowing true bubbles using a soapy solution, this wand is electronic and serves as an input device for a giant digital television monitor. The wand contains a light sensor mounted in the handle, and a plastic tab that extends from the handle into the loop. The user – Nils, in performance – holds the wand in his hand and faces the screen, blowing through the loop and against the plastic tab. As he blows through wand, electronic “bubbles” appear on the screen.

These virtual bubbles have visual and musical dimensions. On screen, the virtual bubbles move about and then pop, within a few seconds, as true soap bubbles do. The stronger Nils blows, the larger the bubbles he generates and the faster they move. Bubbles on screen interact with other bubbles, bouncing off of one another and eventually popping. Nils can control the direction in which the bubbles begin to move by changing the direction in which he holds the wand. In addition, each bubble has an accompanying musical tone (the screen is linked to a synthesizer and a set of speakers). A bubble of a certain size is accompanied by a certain musical tone. Smaller bubbles, produced (as with soap bubbles) by short, rapid bursts of blowing, are accompanied by higher tones; larger bubbles, produced by longer breaths, are accompanied by lower tones. Nils intends to “play” improvised music on his creation, as he blows virtual bubbles.

Are these visual/musical bubble improvisations protectable under copyright law?

I need your written analysis, not more than four pages in length, not later than Friday, February 18, 2011.

Rules and Guidelines for Assignment One

To the extent that these rules may appear to conflict with general advice regarding memos that appears in course-related webpages, these rules take precedence.

This is an “open” problem, meaning that there are no limits on the resources that you may bring to bear on your work. Among other things, you may consult with your classmates and other human beings. If you discuss the merits of the assignment with anyone, however, you must disclose that person’s identity on or in your memo. Write the names of any student “consultants” at the top of the first page of the memo.

Use your own name in the “From” field. The memos are not anonymous.


Memos must be typed or printed using a computer. Each memo, including any attachments, must be not longer than four [4] typewritten or printed pages, double-spaced, with 1″ minimum margins on all sides. (“To,” “From,” “Re,” and “Date” headings may be single spaced.) You do not need to include a comprehensive statement of the facts; instead, you may refer to the factual background in my memo to you. A factual summary may be helpful, however, in framing and presenting the analysis of the memo. No footnotes are permitted. The following font must be used: Twelve [12] point Times New Roman.


Memoranda will be graded based on form, format, and writing quality as well as on content. The assignments are designed so as not to have any single correct or even best solution. Each problem may present a range of issues that the memorandum should identify, analyze, and solve in a creative way.

Due date

One hard copy of the work product prepared for this assignment must be turned in not later than Friday, February 18, 2011, at 3:00 pm. Memos may be turned in either to the Registrar’s Window or to Ms. Melissa Shimko, in Room 314, or handed personally to Professor Madison. Electronic (e-mailed) copies are not acceptable. Memos slipped under anyone’s door are not acceptable. There were be no extensions or exceptions to this deadline. Memoranda that do not conform to the format instructions above, or that are turned in late, are subject to grade reductions.