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From Scarlett O’Hara to Rosa Parks, Southern cultural icons are the meat and potatoes of Joseph M. Beck’s intellectual property practice. Last year Beck, 58, a partner at Atlanta’s Kilpatrick Stockton, scored a major victory in a copyright infringement suit brought by the estate of Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With the Wind.” Beck represented Houghton Mifflin Company, publishers of Alice Randall’s “The Wind Done Gone,” a parody of Mitchell’s novel. The Mitchell estate charged that Randall’s book infringed its copyright and interfered with its ability to publish a sequel. In defense, Beck brought in an affidavit from Southern literary icon Pat Conroy, who had been commissioned by the Mitchell estate to write a sequel. The deal fell apart after Conroy bridled at the estate’s restrictions, which prohibited homosexuality and miscegenation and stipulated that Scarlett could not die. Beck noted that in Randall’s book, Scarlett’s love, Ashley Wilkes, turns out to be gay, Scarlett is found to have some black blood, and she dies. The estate wouldn’t license a book like Randall’s, says Beck, “So they can’t [say it is] a theft of sequel rights.” U.S. District Judge Charles Pannell of the Northern District of Georgia did not agree and enjoined publication of “The Wind Done Gone” last May. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the injunction on May 25. In mid-October the court issued a full opinion, determining that “The Wind Done Gone” was indeed a parody, and permitted under the doctrine of fair use. The Mitchell estate’s lawyer, Martin Garbus of New York’s Frankfurt Garbus Kurnit Klein & Selz, has said that he will seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Beck was raised in Montgomery, Ala., and went to law school at Harvard University. He received his degree in 1968 and began his professional life at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank devoted to urban development issues. It was around that time that Beck met Jean Camper Cahn and Edgar Cahn, founders of Washington, D.C.’s Urban Law Institute, a now-defunct group, who brought Beck on as staff attorney. While there, he litigated a successful class action on behalf of blacks in the D.C. area, challenging the licensing of a then-segregated television station. Eventually, however, Beck succumbed to the pull of the South. In 1972 he moved to Atlanta and joined Kilpatrick Stockton. He had been at the firm for nearly 30 years when he took up his signature case. Beck represented the estate of Martin Luther King Jr. in a suit against CBS Inc., which had used portions of King’s famous “I have a dream” speech in a documentary and later sold it on videotape. The King estate sued CBS in federal court in Atlanta. CBS, represented by partner Floyd Abrams of New York’s Cahill Gordon & Reindel, brought in a copy of the speech, which was published in September 1963 by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference without a copyright notice. Under the copyright laws of that time, anything published without such notice forfeited copyright. Taken aback, Beck went to work, interviewing King’s widow and associates. They pointed out that at the time of publication, King was in Birmingham, Ala., dealing with the aftermath of a church bombing, and would not have been available to give his permission. Beck argued that King had not abandoned his copyright, and that performance of a speech is not publication. The trial judge, William O’Kelley, wasn’t persuaded. Because King had invited so many members of the press to his speech, he said, it was the equivalent of publication. Beck argued the same thing before the federal appellate court in Atlanta, adding that it was absurd to expect King to offer up a copyright notice while giving his speech. The appeals court agreed and reversed O’Kelley’s decision. The case was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount. These days Beck is involved in a suit brought by civil rights icon Rosa Parks in federal court in Detroit. Parks is unhappy with a song entitled “Rosa Parks” that is on the rap group OutKast’s 1998 album Aquemini. Parks, represented by Johnnie Cochran, is charging Beck’s client, LaFace Records, a now-defunct division of Germany’s Bertelsmann AG, with Lanham Act trademark violations, defamation and with trespassing on her right of privacy. He was successful at trial, but Cochran appealed. The case was argued before the federal appellate court in Atlanta in May. Beck says that one of the best parts of his job is the chance to hang out with artists and literary lions. “I love the IP clients,” he says. “They’re creative people. So, in a vicarious way, I get to participate in a little of what they do.”

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