What does Obama's Supreme Court nominee think of Hollywood?

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What does Obama's Supreme Court nominee think of Hollywood?

Tue May 26, 2009 @ 12:45PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Sotomayor_sotomayor Sonia Sotomayor's inspiring journey from a public housing project in the South Bronx to potentially being the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court would make an excellent movie. But now that President Obama has tapped the Federal judge as his nominee, it's worth looking at how Sotomayor might treat the issues Hollywood cares about. 

That requires scrutinizing Sotomayor's background, from her stint as editor of Yale Law Journal to five years as an assistant district attorney to nearly a decade in private practice to most recently, her decisions first as a New York District Court judge and for the last decade, as one serving on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

There isn't a great deal of evidence to suggest how she'll rule on important entertainment issues, but from what we've gathered it looks like she might she might win a few friends in Hollywood.

Sotomayor practiced at the New York law firm of Pavia & Harcourt specializing in intellectual property litigation. Not much is really known about her work there, but it's said that she represented institutional clients like Ferrari and Fendi, particularly in matters of trademark disputes and international contracts.

In entertainment and media law, Sotomayor is best known for a 1997 opinion in Tasini v. New York Times, authored during her time as a district court judge. In that case, freelancers sued big publishers and claimed electronic rights over works repurposed on CD-ROMs and in databases. Sotomayor took the side of Big Media, handing publishers a victory in an opinion that said they had the right to put materials online without getting permission from freelancers. Her decision in the case was overturned by the 2nd Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court later also ruled that she was in error.

Sotomayor has sided with studios and publishers in other cases. For instance, in 1997, she ruled that Beth Golub, author of “The Seinfeld Aptitude Test,” violated Castle Rock Entertainment’s copyright on the "Seinfeld" show.

Although it hasn't been her calling card as a judge, Sotomayor also has shown an appreciation of First Amendment free speech rights. In United States v. Quattrone, she held that a judge's gag order on the publication of jurors' names during a criminal trial didn't "demonstrate sufficient consideration of measures other than a prior restraint." 

Most comforting to those who believe in free speech is her decision in Pappas v. Giuliani, where she dissented from the majority in a case about an NYPD employee's termination for allegedly racist behavior. Sotomayor ruled the employee's speech was "patently offensive, hateful, and insulting," but that the police department shouldn't destroy "over three decades of jurisprudence and the centrality of First Amendment freedoms in our lives just because it is confronted with speech it does not like."

Her record favoring studios isn't perfect, however. In 2007, she overturned a district court's decision that dismissed a playwright's $100 million copyright infringement suit against Universal and Imagine Entertainment over the 1999 film "Life."

Sotomayor's biggest mark has been on employment and labor law, where she has repeatedly stood up for the little guy. For example, in Parker v. Columbia Pictures, she vacated a district court's summary judgment and ruled that an employee of Sony Pictures Entertainment had grounds to sue after the studio violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

And of course, there's her role as the so-called savior of baseball, when she issued an injunction against owners for violations of the National Labor Relations Act during collective bargaining negotiations with the union. The injunction paved the path to a new contract and the end of the strike that had doomed the 1995 season.

So with the exception of labor issues, it seems Hollywood might have a sympathetic ear on the Court. Don't tell Congress, it might hurt her chances of confirmation.

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The Hollywood Reporter
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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