A Passion for Writing and Analysis Helps Amerine J.D. '17 Win Writing Competitions

  • The Writer's Touch
    The Writer's Touch  In her second year of law school, Amerine’s longtime interest in writing and analysis lead to success.  David F. Morrill
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Mary Catherine Amerine, a third-year student at William & Mary Law School, has now won four* writing competitions during the course of her law school studies. Her writing success has given her the opportunity to travel the country accepting prizes and meeting the nation’s top intellectual property lawyers.

Amerine attended Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where she studied English with minors in Philosophy and Anthropology.  In fact, it was her undergraduate studies in English that propelled her interest in law school.  “I knew that I wanted to be involved in intellectual property because, as an English major, I was really interested in still working and being a part of the creative realm. I really loved being part of that world and loved the idea of protecting creativity and providing a legal backbone for fostering creativity.”

Once she decided to study intellectual property, the choice to attend William & Mary Law School was an easy one. As a D.C. native, Amerine knew of William & Mary’s reputation and was impressed by her campus visit.

It was in her second year of law school that Amerine’s passion for writing and analysis, fostered in her undergraduate years, began to lead to success. 

Her 2L Note, “Wrestling Over Republication Rights: Who Owns the Copyright of Interviews?” was the first of her papers to win awards. Amerine had spent her first summer of law school working at the Independent Television Service in San Francisco, a company that produces, funds, and distributes independent documentaries. One of her projects required her to research questions of ownership of depositions. While she was able to answer this question for her supervisors, she stumbled upon a related and larger issue. It seemed that there was no definitive answer as to who owned the copyright of an interview.  So, when the opportunity came to write for the Business Law Review at William & Mary, she jumped at the chance to explore this cutting-edge issue. With the guidance of Vice Dean Laura Heymann, she produced her paper, proposing that interviews be viewed as a work complete in themselves. Viewing the interviewer as the mastermind of the work, she said, supports the idea that the entire copyright interest should belong to the interviewer as the author of the work.

After her paper was chosen as an alternate for publication in the Business Law Review, Amerine said she was proud of her work, and didn’t want to let it die in the law library.  “I felt that I had produced something interesting about an important topic, and I wanted to see if I could go somewhere with it,” she said.  She entered three competitions, and won both the Virginia State Bar Intellectual Property Law Section’s annual student writing competition and the American Intellectual Property Law Association’s Robert C. Watson Award.  As a reward for her hard work, she was invited to attend the Virginia State Bar’s annual IP law seminar where she received her award and was introduced to accomplished IP law attorneys. She also attended the American Intellectual Property Law Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. and spent three days learning from and talking with many of the two thousand of the nation’s top IP lawyers participating in the event.  Amerine’s paper was also recently accepted for publication as a practitioner article in the upcoming spring issue of the Marquette Intellectual Property Law Review.  You can learn more about the paper on SSRN.

“As someone who wants to go into the field of intellectual property, the main benefit was the ability to meet attorneys and learn what issues were important to practicing attorneys,” Amerine said.

Amerine’s success did not stop there. During her second summer of law school, Amerine worked at the Harry Fox Agency in New York, a music licensing company.  She had taken a deep interest in the music side of copyright law, and one of her supervisors recommended that Amerine enter the Grammy Foundation’s Entertainment Law Initiative national student writing competition.  The paper Amerine entered, “Searching for a Sound: A Proposal for Creating Consistent De Minimis Sampling Standards in the Music Industry,” explored the disparate effects of a circuit split that occurred during her time at the Harry Fox Agency.  Differences in opinions from the Sixth and Ninth Circuits, the hubs of the music industry, had left large questions for artists that used sampling, the art of using unique pieces of existing music as components of new songs. Amerine’s paper explored the differences in the rulings and proposed that the music industry itself take the lead in setting de minimis sampling standards that could be followed by the courts in subsequent cases.

While it remains to be seen if the music industry will heed Amerine’s advice in endorsing or creating best practices for sampling, Amerine’s work was recognized by the Entertainment Law Initiative.  She was invited to attend the Entertainment Law Initiative Luncheon, where she received her award from Ken Abdo, one of the country’s top entertainment lawyers, before defending her paper from his questions in front of the 550-member audience.  Amerine’s paper was published in the Entertainment Law Initiative Tribute Journal, and she was flown to Los Angeles to attend the Grammys and other related events, where she ran into fellow William & Mary law alumnus and mentor Christos Badavas J.D. '94 who is the SVP and General Counsel at SESAC, a performing rights organization.

“It was nothing I ever expected to happen during my last semester of law school,” Amerine said of her experience. Writing, she said, has given her the opportunity to get outside the doors of the Law School and meet people practicing in the real world of IP law.  “It was not only very reassuring to hear that I am good at what I want to do for the rest of my life, but the exposure to practicing attorneys was invaluable.”

Amerine is looking forward to continuing to work in the intellectual property arena after graduating from law school. When asked if she had any advice for current law students, she said, “Take every opportunity you can. Don’t write just to get the credit. If you find something that you are really interested in writing about, it will make the process easier and open the doors to opportunities you may have never thought possible.”

*Editor's note: Mary Catherine received word in mid-April that she won her fourth writing award, given by the New York Intellectual Property Law Association, for her paper, "Searching for a Sound: A Proposal for Creating Consistent De Minimis Sampling Standards in the Music Industry.” She will receive the award during the association's annual meeting on May 16. 

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