Universal's 'kick-ass pirate chaser' takes lawyer of the year honor

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Universal's 'kick-ass pirate chaser' takes lawyer of the year honor

Wed Apr 29, 2009 @ 12:24AM PST

By Matthew Belloni

ChristensenBHBA1 With piracy such a high-stakes problem, it was nice to see the Beverly Hills Bar Assn honor one of Hollywood's most fervent copyright protectors with its Entertainment Lawyer of the Year award. 

We hit tonight's gala at the Beverly Wilshire for Universal Studios EVP and general counsel Maren Christensen. Besides being one of the friendliest high-level studio lawyers in town, Christensen has become a top anti-piracy crusader. She's testified before Congress on behalf of tougher copyright-infringement laws and has traveled the world battling illegal file-sharing. A worthy choice for these challenged times.   

But tonight was a party, not an IP conference, and we stopped to chat with plenty of the town's top legal firepower who came out for the occassion. Last year's honoree Patti Felker kicked off the ceremony by announcing she's worn sweatpants to the office for about a decade. Former Warner Bros. general counsel John Schulman got laughs by noting how much worse the piracy problem has gotten under Christensen's steady watch. And master of ceremonies BJ Novak of "The Office" managed to pull off what we're guessing is the first beastiality joke in the history of lawyer-of-the-year dinners (actually, we remember Garry Shandling being pretty off-color a couple years ago).

When she accepted the award from Universal topper Ron Meyer after a funny tribute video that featured her tracking down DVD pirates Jason Bourne-style, Christensen said she hadn't planned to talk about piracy during her speech because it's such a "buzzkill." But she couldn't resist a few admonitions to the audience (BHBA boasts the largest entertainment law section in the world):ChristensenBHBA

"I think we all need to be kick-ass pirate chasers," she told the crowd. "Piracy is a difficult, messy problem that is slow to fix but it is definitely fixable. What we need is government will, and we could use some help from the ISPs and some of the operators of some of the video sites, especially the user-generated sites."

There are positive signs, she said. The major video sites are increasingly seeing that it's in their self-interest to cooperate with the studios in going after illegal file-sharing. "After all, they want to have VOD services that they pay us for, and the pirates are competing with that. They won't be able to compete with free any better than we can."

Well said. Fittingly, Novak ended the evening by warning the crowd not to put the tribute video on YouTube.    

Photos by Getty Images

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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