X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
NAME AND TITLE: Alan R. Friedman, executive vice president and general counsel AGE: 47 OSCARS SOW PROBLEMS: There always seems to be a flip side to raving success. Alan R. Friedman, general counsel for Miramax Film Corp., knows this all too well. Movies produced or co-produced by Miramax received 40 Academy Award nominations and won nine Oscars, including the Best Picture award for the musical “Chicago.” Now, Friedman has to worry about protecting Miramax’s intellectual property. Of particular concern is trying to stop bootleg DVDs of “Chicago” and other Miramax hits from getting into the marketplace. The film, which brought in $134 million at the box office in its first 12 weeks, is a hot property — literally. Illicit DVD copies burned off demo discs (like the ones provided to academy members) end up on sale on the Internet, spurring Friedman into action to oust the peddlers from eBay and other auction sites. Through cease-and-desist letters, Miramax has been “very successful in stopping these auctions,” Friedman said. THE BEGINNING: In 1979, Miramax was the quintessential Hollywood outsider when Harvey and Bob Weinstein created the company to bring edgy, arty films to the world. No one envisioned the brooding Virginia Woolf, portrayed in “The Hours,” chain-smoking and breaking bread with Mickey Mouse, but they now share a corporate parent: the Walt Disney Co., which bought Miramax in 1993. Today, Miramax couldn’t be more entrenched if it tried, though its headquarters are in New York, not in Hollywood. Roughly one-third of the company’s 400 employees work in New York. Los Angeles has the rest, save for a small contingent in a London office. Friedman declined to provide financial information about Miramax, a wholly owned Disney subsidiary, but Business Week pegged the company’s profits for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2002, at $140 million. LEGAL UNIT: He may be general counsel, but Friedman is no corporate bureaucrat. The company has a business and legal affairs department (headed by co-chiefs Steve Hutensky and Michael Luisi) with about a dozen lawyers. The staff attorneys take care of the quotidian tasks involved in putting together a film: contracts, contracts and more contracts, and such other jobs as tracing the chain of title regarding rights to a particular project, to fend off legal battles over ownership down the road. At least one lawyer from that department is assigned to each film to do the legal work necessary to see the project through, Friedman said. Friedman reports to the Weinstein brothers and to Bob Osher, co-president of production (also a lawyer). To staff a project, Friedman can corral some attorneys. On a regular basis, Friedman oversees one lawyer who works with him full time and two staffers, plus he shares an attorney with the business and legal affairs department. TAKIN’ CARE OF BUSINESS: Like a heat-seeking missile, Friedman steps in to prevent conflicts from heading to court and to deal with them when they do. He will step in to work on particularly knotty contract disputes or sophisticated intellectual property issues. He is the point person for legal issues concerning company employees, handled largely by a staff attorney he supervises. A bright blip on Friedman’s radar is the protection of Miramax’s intellectual property. Aside from protecting against bootleg DVDs, Miramax also must defend poaching claims, including complaints that the company stole a film’s idea from another writer. “Shakespeare in Love,” Oscar winner for best picture in 1998, spawned at least four suits involving implied contract and copyright infringement claims. Miramax settled two cases, secured dismissal of a third and a fourth is pending, Friedman said. Meanwhile, screenwriter Jeff Grosso awaits argument before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on his claim that the film “Rounders” ripped off his screenplay “The Shell Game.” Miramax removed the case to federal court from state court in Los Angeles, where Grosso tried to get around the strict confines of federal copyright law by claiming that submission of a script creates an implied contract between the parties, Friedman said. Grosso wanted to latch onto more generous California state law, which demands only proof that the material was used, Friedman said. Federal copyright law is tougher; the work must also be “substantially similar” to the defendant’s product. Miramax secured summary judgment by arguing that Miramax’s screenwriter did not have access to Grosso’s script and that “Rounders” was not substantially similar to “The Shell Game.” OUTSIDE COUNSEL: Friedman calls many of the shots when sending work to outside firms, but the head of the business and legal affairs department and certain other executives can do the same. Miramax uses less than 10 outside firms, Friedman said. O’Melveny & Myers gets complex transactional work and some litigation projects, Katten Muchin Zavis Rosenman handles copyright litigation in Los Angeles and Loeb & Loeb also gets work from Miramax. “I function like a partner,” Friedman said. “I see the papers, I review them in advance and I want to be in on planning the strategy of how we’re going to handle the litigation.” ROUTE TO THE TOP: Though he was born in New York City, Friedman was raised in the suburb of Scarsdale, N.Y., where he makes his home now. He did not have childhood dreams of becoming a lawyer, but he developed the credentials. A National Merit scholar, he received his undergraduate degree cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where he majored in economics. Three years later he earned his J.D. — again, cum laude — from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. Then he had a focus. “I wanted to be a litigator,” Friedman said. His college roommate’s brother was at New York’s White & Case, and encouraged Friedman to join the firm. Four years later, Friedman wanted more responsibility and more time in court, and he got it at Gold, Farrell & Marks, which had only about 15 lawyers when Friedman signed on as an associate in 1985. Entertainment work comprised roughly half of Gold Farrell’s business, and that introduced Friedman to clients like the Beatles and singer Billy Joel. He defended Ringo Starr and George Harrison in depositions involving a contract dispute. “That was kind of cool,” Friedman said. He spent a solid two weeks with Joel during litigation stemming from a dispute with the singer’s former manager and brother-in-law. Friedman wowed Miramax, winning a preliminary injunction against what was then Columbia Pictures Entertainment Inc. (now Sony Pictures Entertainment) in a dispute that pitted Miramax horror flick “Scream” against Columbia newcomer “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” The problem: the phrase “From the Creator of Scream,” in Columbia’s marketing campaign. Friedman argued that the word “creator” duped filmgoers into thinking that the second film was also a Wes Craven vehicle, but it was not. What the two films had in common was that Kevin Williamson, who wrote “Scream,” created the film adaptation of the book that inspired “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” Friedman said. After that, Friedman saw a stream of Miramax projects. His litigation skills appealed to Miramax, which did not have anyone in the general counsel’s seat when Friedman became GC in June 1999. Not all of Miramax’s challenges come from outside. A New Yorker profile portrayed co-chairman Harvey Weinstein as a paradoxical combination of thundering, sometimes violent, oaf and brilliant executive. As for Weinstein’s loud and pushy behavior described in the article, Friedman said that he has never been on the receiving end. “I have been in plenty of meetings, and I have never seen anything physical.” FAMILY: Married since 1980, Friedman and his wife, Patti, have a daughter in high school and a son in the fifth grade. LAST BOOK READ AND LAST FILM SEEN: “The Quiet American,” by Graham Greene (also a Miramax film starring Michael Caine, nominated for best actor) and “About Schmidt,” starring Jack Nicholson.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.