PRO BONO: NGOs

The Storytellers

Award-winning documentary filmmakers tell compelling
stories on important social issues with the help of our
intellectual property lawyers

While attending a picnic in Central Park in June 2005, Leslie Morioka, a partner in New York, was introduced to a filmmaker who was in the early stages of producing a documentary and needed legal assistance. As a patent litigator dealing primarily with drug products and medical devices, Leslie never imagined working in the world of documentary films. However, she had always been involved with the arts, and the idea of using her professional expertise to support the arts appealed to her.

Since that chance conversation, under Leslie’s leadership, White & Case has been involved with documentary films that have varied widely in subject matter but together have played important roles in preserving history or documenting current events.

New Year Baby tells the story of Socheata Poeuv’s journey back to Cambodia after discovering secrets about her family’s survival during the Khmer Rouge genocide. Socheata wanted to share her story to memorialize what happened to the Cambodian people during that time. Leslie and her colleagues assisted Socheata’s production company, Broken English Productions, with a dispute over creative rights and helped navigate the fundraising process. Leslie began building her team of lawyers by inviting Raj Gandesha, at the time an associate and now a partner in New York, to work with her on this project.

Leslie and Raj also advised Red Square Productions on a dispute over creative rights for the Peabody Award–winning film My Perestroika, which tells the story of five childhood classmates who grew up in the Soviet Union and came of age as the communist system collapsed. They share very different views on nationalism and what it means to be Soviet as their lives and belief systems are turned upside down by political and social change.

“A good documentary film draws an audience in and engages them in real-life situations,” said Raj. “These films provide a unique and essential platform for stories to reach a wider audience.”

Documentaries are uniquely affected by changing events, which can dictate a new direction or focus for a film. In 2004, a filmmaker was in Cambodia gathering footage on the upcoming national elections when a charismatic leader, Chea Vichea, was assassinated. The story took a dramatically different turn, ultimately resulting in Who Killed Chea Vichea?, a Peabody Award–winning murder mystery and political thriller that investigates the arrest and trial of the alleged perpetrators and other events following the assassination. Leslie and Raj advised the production company, Loud Mouth Films, on rights clearance issues and the process of securing the insurance necessary for distributing the completed film.

The scope of our work extends beyond safeguarding the creative rights of documentary filmmakers. For example, our lawyers have advised a law school film project on agreements and fundraising, helped a museum with a dispute involving the rights of a full-length documentary to be shown in conjunction with an exhibit, and advised on trademark and related rights for a small multimedia project focused on at-risk teens.



Artistic license
 Artistic license


We have a vibrant pro bono practice serving a wide range of artists and arts institutions. In 2012, 15 partners and almost 100 other lawyers and legal staff from 12 offices undertook 27 arts-related matters.

US Supreme Court amicus brief on behalf of the Association of Art Museum Directors and 28 museums of art

In July 2012, we filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court on behalf of the Association of Art Museum Directors and 28 museums of art including The Art Institute of Chicago, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, involves application of the copyright “first sale doctrine,” which provides that any person who owns a “lawfully made” copy of a work is allowed to sell and otherwise dispose of it without the copyright owner’s permission. The lower courts concluded that the doctrine did not apply to copies manufactured outside the US, and the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal. In our brief, written by New York partners Stefan Mentzer, Owen Pell and Ed Rover with associate Kristen O’Shaughnessey, we pointed out that the Second Circuit’s decision could have serious repercussions for art museums and the viewing public. Museums depend on a provision of the Copyright Act
that allows them to acquire and publicly display “lawfully made” artwork without the copyright owner’s permission. Under the Second Circuit’s reasoning, any museum that exhibits a copyrighted artwork that was made outside the US—in effect, large swaths of modern, postwar and contemporary art—potentially is a copyright infringer. At the oral argument on October 29, Justice Breyer cited the museums’ argument as one reason to reverse the Second Circuit’s decision. In questioning the respondent’s lawyer, Justice Breyer noted the potential impact on museums as one of the “horribles” that might result if the lower court were upheld.

DOCUMENTARY
FILM PRACTICE
PRO BONO CLIENTS


BROKEN ENGLISH
PRODUCTIONS

DOGWOOF LTD

EYESPOT FILMS

LOUD MOUTH FILMS

MUSIC & MEMORY
PROJECT

RED SQUARE
PRODUCTIONS

WOMEN FOR
AFGHAN WOMEN

YALE VISUAL
LAW PROJECT


 
 

“These films are important, and I feel privileged to play at least a small part in the telling of these stories.”
Leslie Morioka
Partner, New York

KEY INSTITUTIONAL
ARTS CLIENTS


EUROPEAN UNION
BAROQUE ORCHESTRA

GLOBAL POVERTY
PROJECT CONCERT

MELNIKOV HOUSE
Moscow

MIAMI SCIENCE
MUSEUM

MUSEO DEL OBJETO
DEL OBJETO
Mexico City

MUSEUM FOR
AFRICAN ART
New York

THE NATIONAL
MUSEUM IN WARSAW

POLISH NATIONAL
CENTER FOR CULTURE

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