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Jay Cooper began his legal career helping out his musician friends after they’d been arrested for drugs. Today, he’s more intent on protecting their intellectual property rights. Earlier this year, Cooper was immersed in the biggest deal of his lengthy career, doing the IP due diligence for the $100 million sale of Elvis Presley’s estate to Robert Sillerman, an entertainment industry entrepreneur and one of Cooper’s clients. The job of moving from fighting drug-possession charges to finessing hugely lucrative IP deals was “like building a pyramid, a lot of blocks over a period of years,” says Cooper, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Greenberg Traurig who chairs the firm’s entertainment department. Cooper’s marquee-name clients include Mel Brooks, Sheryl Crow, Etta James, Carl Reiner and Jerry Seinfeld. Cooper was once a musician himself, playing saxophone, clarinet and flute with big bands in the 1950s. He backed up singing legends such Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole � Cooper now represents Cole’s children � and also played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But he also hedged his bets by attending law school at Chicago’s DePaul University. He says he never intended to practice law and continued to work as a musician for several years after earning his law degree in 1951. His path into a legal career started out when some of his musician friends came to him for help — first with those pesky drug arrests and later when they would ask him to look over contracts. He says he went through several years of work-related confusion “not knowing if I was a lawyer or a musician.” After the demands for his legal services reached a certain point, he opened an office in Beverly Hills and put an end to his musician’s life on the road. By the late 1960′s, the firm of Cooper Epstein & Hurewitz focused on helping clients — including many musicians — with everything from divorce and tax matters to bankruptcy and criminal charges. Soon enough, however, entertainment and IP work crowded out the rest. Cooper became active in the American Bar Association’s Forum Committee on Entertainment and Sports Industries, which he later chaired for two years. He joined the California Copyright Conference — a nonprofit IP organization for the music industry — and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, eventually serving as president of both groups. Cooper’s first encounter with copyright law occurred years earlier. Sometime in the late 1950′s, composer David Rose asked the lawyer for advice on legal issues relating to his compositions, which included the theme song from the television show “Bonanza.” “The copyright code at that time was only half an inch thick,” recalls Cooper. “I was able to read the whole thing on the flight” from Los Angeles to San Francisco, where Rose worked. These days, copyright has become such a big part of Cooper’s practice that the only book on his desk is a much-thumbed copy of the much thicker current version of the copyright code. Now that new technologies have multiplied the possible ways to exploit a performer’s IP rights, much of Cooper’s lawyering involves parsing old contracts — such as those dealing with Elvis Presley’s estate — and figuring out whether they cover technology that could not have been envisioned when those contracts were signed. As for the huge Presley deal itself, Cooper says the transaction was all very hush-hush at Greenberg Traurig, even to the point of adopting code names for Elvis and his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley. The deal covers the use of Elvis Presley’s name and likeness, photographs, some copyrights for music he composed, royalty rights for some recordings, movies, television shows and trade names associated with Graceland and Elvis products. It took Cooper and his team six months to review copyright files, contracts, settlements, merchandise agreements and movie and television contracts — “all areas where Elvis’ image or voice was involved,” says Cooper. Alan Annex, a partner in the firm’s New York office presided over the transaction. Lawyers from the Los Angeles office of New York’s Proskauer Rose represented the Presley estate. Beyond the Elvis deal, Cooper comes down firmly on the side of the music and film industries when it comes to the digital divide between content owners and technology innovators. Ask him what he thinks about the flood of illegal downloading of music and movies and Cooper will tell you that a $40 billion industry is being held hostage by 19-year-old boys” who have figured out how to maneuver freely around all that digital content. Cooper, who lectures frequently on copyright law at law schools at UCLA, Berkeley and Harvard, says the students who come to hear him “all know [illegal downloading] is wrong but they’re doing it themselves.” Cooper landed at Greenberg Traurig a few years ago after he had practiced for several years as an entertainment partner at Los Angeles’ Manatt Phelps & Phillips. He had come to that firm in the early 1990′s, when his own firm had grown to about 50 lawyers “and we were too big to be a boutique and too small to compete with the big firms.” Reluctant at first to leave Manatt, Cooper was urged on by Joel Katz, a longtime friend of his who heads Greenberg Traurig’s national entertainment practice out of the firm’s Atlanta office. At the age of 75, Cooper says he has no plans to retire or even slow down. “I’m still in the middle of a lot of exciting things,” he says, sitting in an office that is filled with music industry mementos. “Why would I want to give this up?” Victoria Slind-Flor ( In the News) is a former West Coast edi-tor for IP Law & Business magazine.

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