Royalties, Rap And Race: The Top 10 Law Schools That Teach Real-Life Music Issues

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Langdell Hall Library on the campus of Harvard Law School, where law students offer music clients pro bono advice on topics from copyrights to contracts.

Behind the success of every hitmaker are the lawyers, fielding the deliberations, deals and disputes that are a constant part of today's music business.

While attorneys have always been important to artists and music ­companies, new business models, from brand licensing to streaming, have only increased the need for legal expertise. The scope of that expertise is also wider than ever, moving beyond issues of contract law to questions of intellectual property in the digital age.

At which law schools do the top music lawyers gain that expertise? These 10 stand out as the alma maters of the majority of the music ­industry's most accomplished attorneys.


New York

FAME is the acronym for Cardozo's Fashion, Arts, Media and Entertainment Law Center, one of two programs targeting future music business lawyers, at the school's ­campus near Manhattan's Union Square. The second is the Intellectual Property and Information Law Program, under director Christopher Buccafusco. "Cardozo offers an incredibly deep range of ­opportunities for students interested in music law," says Buccafusco, "including ­internships, student groups, speaker series and practical-skills training."

Alumna: Julie Swidler, executive vp business affairs/general counsel, Sony Music Entertainment



When Brooklyn Law School ­professor Vernon Brown brought two ­longtime clients, Cash Money Records founders Brian "Baby" Williams and Ronald "Slim" Williams, to his entertainment law class in April, his students got to talk dealmaking with the duo whose roster includes Drake, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj. At Brooklyn Law, says Brown, "we've worked to devise a ­program [that reflects] how the law works in ­practice through the music industry. The business itself is ever changing."

Alumnus: Allen Grubman, partner, Grubman Shire & Meiselas


Ithaca, N.Y.

A Cornell Law School ­graduate wrote the book on the latest trends in music industry contracts. Understanding and Negotiating 360 Ancillary Rights Deals: An Artist's Guide to Negotiating 360 Record Deals, published in 2015, is the work of Kendall Minter, class of 1976, who has ­represented Cassandra Wilson, Peter Tosh and OMI. As both an ­undergraduate and a law student at Cornell, Minter grabbed ­opportunities still available to ­students today -- including DJ'ing on the college radio station and ­promoting campus ­concerts -- if they can find the time.

Alumnus: Minter, founder of Atlanta-based Minter & Associates


New York

Fordham Law School, which in 2014 relocated to nine floors of an ­architecturally striking 22-story tower on its Lincoln Center campus, offers a deep ­curriculum in contract law, ­business and ­corporate law, finance and ­intellectual property. Among its ­specialized courses is a class in ­entertainment law taught by Derek Dessler, whose career includes 14 years as a legal executive for Universal Music Group.

Alumnus: Paul Robinson, executive vp/general counsel, Warner Music Group


Cambridge, Mass.

For the past two decades, aspiring attorneys at Harvard Law School have offered pro bono legal advice to young musicians, producers and other music professionals through the student-run Recording Artists Project. RAP has an affiliation with Boston's Berklee College of Music and offers its students guidance on matters from contracts to copyrights. Among those who have benefited is Berklee alumna Esperanza Spalding.

Alumnus: Horacio Gutierrez, general counsel, Spotify


Berkeley, Calif.

With a history of activism at the UC Berkeley campus, it's apt that the law school curriculum includes Social Justice Issues in Entertainment and Media Law, a fall-semester course that considers the ­underrepresentation of people of color in Hollywood. For music law students, Berkeley has a full complement of courses, ­including Introduction to Intellectual Property and Fundamentals of Internet Law.

Alumnus: Jeffrey Harleston, general counsel/­executive vp business and legal affairs, Universal Music Group


Los Angeles

In March, UCLA Law School's Ziffren Center for Media, Entertainment, Technology & Sports Law hosted the 40th annual UCLA Entertainment Symposium with discussions of key legal battles including ­copyright infringement claims against SiriusXM, Pandora and Spotify. Among the speakers was Harvey Geller, of ­counsel at Gradstein & Marzano, who has fought for the rights of artists to royalties for ­pre-1972 ­recordings. "UCLA School of Law offers incomparable faculty and strong, specialized training for students who seek to work in ­entertainment law," says John Branca, whose law partner, Ken Ziffren, founded the center. "My career in the music world," adds Branca, "and the careers of many entertainment law giants, is built on the fundamentals learned at UCLA Law."

Alumnus: John Frankenheimer, ­partner, Loeb & Loeb



At Penn Law, the Detkin Intellectual Property and Technology Legal Clinic, under director Cynthia Dahl, allows students to offer pro bono advice in areas including copyrights, patents and licensing. The clinic is a "truly unique experience," says Dahl. "When lawyers practice in the real world, they have to learn how they can add value to a ­business situation, an artistic situation and a ­technology situation."

Alumna: Shira Perlmutter, chief ­policy officer/director for ­international affairs, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office



Los Angeles

USC Gould's Media, Entertainment and Technology Law Program offers students a curriculum that blends legal and business skills, says ­director Jonathan Barnett. For an attorney focused on business ­transactions, he says, it's essential to help clients get a return on their ­investment, "whether it's an artist seeking to partner with a label or a label or streaming service seeking to partner with other content holders."

Alumna: Tracey Anne Moore, vp ­business affairs, Curb Records


New Haven, Conn.

Music law topics are integrated into the broader curriculum at Yale. The top-ranked school (No. 1 in the most recent U.S. News & World Report tally of law schools) offers ­numerous related courses in such areas as intellectual property and contracts. Under the umbrella of media law, the Information Society Project focuses on issues including copyright, media law and privacy. On Oct. 4, the project hosted a talk by Vivek Mohan, privacy counsel for Apple, who is ­responsible for security issues ­surrounding the music and ­technology company's products.

Alumnus: John Tehranian, founding partner, One LLP 

Additional reporting by Cathy Applefeld Olson.