The impact of a recent federal ruling regarding copyright at Georgia State University quickly rippled through its alumni working in the field of intellectual property (IP) and the faculty who trained them at the College of Law.
The IP donors have raised more than $500,000 in scholarships and other funding related to understanding legal issues regarding creativity, knowledge, information and technology.
About a hundred of them gathered at GSU the day after the landmark ruling made the front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ("Judge rules largely for Georgia State in copyright case," read the headline).
They met for their 8th Annual IP Hot Topics Luncheon - part of a busy slate of programs that have established GSU as a "real-world" hub for intellectual property law in the state and region.
"If you look at every firm in the city of Atlanta, there is a GSU IP lawyer doing well there," said Scott Frank, president and CEO of intellectual property at AT&T, who serves as chair of the IP Advisory Board at GSU.
"Intellectual property is really becoming incredibly important to our society. In a ‘knowledge economy,’ knowledge is worthless if you don’t have the laws to protect it. You can see so many people getting into intellectual property and the energy and excitement around it."
The copyright case drew national attention because it revolves around how students are educated in the digital age and fair use of published work.
Publishers had accused GSU of copyright violations for letting faculty download and reproduce excerpts from published works for course materials without getting permission or paying licensing.
At the luncheon, GSU Professor Michael Landau, a specialist in copyright and trademark law who started out as a professional musician, spoke about the ruling.
In 94 of the 99 instances of alleged infringement, the judge ruled that the university provided the materials in compliance with fair use. The ruling is expected to be appealed.
"It’s a spectacular win for Georgia State, the University System of Georgia and all of academia," Landau said in a recent interview. "It’s the first real case involving electronic reserves because Georgia State didn’t cave when the publisher called and said, 'You shouldn’t do this. You should pay us.' … I wasn't that surprised in general ruled in the favor of GSU, but I was surprised that the judge ruled in our favor this much."
While the case did not touch on electronic reserves at the College of Law, the ruling does provide a window into this rapidly expanding legal field at GSU.
"We feel like we have something special here," said Frank of the intellectual property alumni network.
As Atlanta attracted such large information technology companies as BellSouth, the College of Law began to attract software engineers and other technical professionals who wanted to expand their legal knowledge. The law school’s night classes suited full-time IT professionals.
Frank is one example. After graduating with an electrical engineering degree from Georgia Tech, he pursued to a dual-degree program in business and law at GSU. Those classes were at night. His engineering degree equipped him to work days as a patent agent, working on behalf of inventors.
Starting in 2003, Frank and other alumni began organizing the network of successful IP lawyers who give back to GSU.
Their alumni network has funded $100,000 in scholarships, including a full scholarship and other academic and writing awards.
"While the financial help is important, I think the biggest impact the scholarship has is mental rather than financial," said Derek Constantine, treasurer of the IP Law Society and recipient of a partial scholarship.
Like Frank, Constantine earned an undergraduate engineering degree at Georgia Tech. He chose a J.D./MBA path at GSU, and soon was "hooked" on patent law. He saw it as making a difference in his field outside of the lab. He has already served an externship at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a patent examiner, and works at an IP firm in Atlanta while finishing his joint degree.
"During a rough economic stretch for attorneys when students have experienced plenty of rejection, it means a lot to me to get some very positive feedback from a group of well-respected patent professionals," Constantine added.
The IP donors have also organized a prominent job fair, mentor program and internships with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Roundtables allow IP attorneys to share their strategies.
Their donors also include Landau, who is approaching his 20th year on the GSU faculty. Almost every GSU alumnus in intellectual property law took a class from him.
"I want to support the College of Law and have an awareness of intellectual property and many alumni want the same thing," Landau said. "As a faculty member, I wanted to kick in my fair share."
He’s also experienced real-world IP issues. In the mid-1970s, he was in a jam band that played regularly at a New York bar. His gigs grew less frequent as technology revolutionized live music.
"When disco came, all of a sudden bar owners thought, ‘Why pay a band when you can just pay a D.J. and all the music can be the same?’
Landau took over a singing telegram company in Manhattan, and found himself talking to his attorney regularly about the legality of parody songs, marketing slogans and other issues.
His curiosity drew him to University of Pennsylvania Law School. A decade later saw an era of what he calls "lightning fast change" in IP law.
The law lags behind the conflicts between creators, users and those who profit on the sharing of information.
"Commercial law has to change to cover this, but it's been real slow," Landau said. In the meantime, "an entire generation has grown up taking whatever they want and sharing whatever they want [via the Internet]. Technology companies that are really huge successes are based on another person’s content."