Texas Bar Journal • May 2024

SXSW 2024

The intersection of law and technology.

By Geoffrey Hinkson, Rebecca Johnson, and Eric Quitugua

two people arguing a third person standing in the middle

South by Southwest, the annual music, film, and technology conference that takes over Austin each year, featured panels on March 8-16 that provided updates on the law, offered continuing education for attorneys, and explored current and future legal trends. Highlights from some of the law-related sessions follow.

Are You for Real: How to Identify AI-Generated Music

During the panel titled “Are You for Real: How to Identify AI-Generated Music,” speakers Jackson Abbeduto, senior counsel to Granderson Des Rochers; Amadea Choplin, COO at Pex; Markus Schwarzer, CEO of Cyanite; and Howie Singer, author and adjunct professor at the New York University Music Business program, discussed the strategies, tactics, and challenges involved in identifying and taking legal action against AI-generated music. One technology used to identify AI-generated music is a singer ID, which uses a biometric of a singer’s performance to catch the replication of that singer’s performance in AI-generated music. This technology uses software with a catalog of all known works by musical artists. After Schwarzer and Choplin mentioned that the technology is not 100% accurate, Abbeduto said that from a legal standpoint, lawyers need to rely on the rights of publicity—which protect name, image, likeness, and signature. The panelists also discussed how lawyers are trying to catch AI companies using data to generate musical works, and one angle they are focusing on is data outputs instead of data inputs.

Legal Tips for Indie Filmmakers

Despite specializing in bringing the quirky and unusual to the screen, indie filmmakers must understand the legal landscape as well as their big box-office peers to keep out of trouble. Los Angeles attorneys Michael Donaldson and Chris Perez, of Donaldson Callif Perez, provided tips in their panel titled “Annual Legal Update: Indie Film.” The two discussed the ins and outs of clearing copyright or proving fair use for using film clips and other copyrighted material in movies and documentaries, and their experience with the new Copyright Claims Board. They noted its informality, with cases heard over Zoom before three hearing officers (not judges), and decisions written in layman’s terms. They also broke down the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts v. Goldsmith, saying it means there is “no protected media.” Perez said that previously, use of copyrighted material in a documentary “almost always” was considered fair use but no longer. He said insurance companies now are asking filmmakers’ attorneys to detail how their written opinion for any fair use claim is consistent with the Warhol decision. Finally, the panelists discussed the use of artificial intelligence in film. According to Perez, “everybody’s using AI, whether they’re telling their lawyer or not.” This brings in additional IP complications. “If you use AI, tell your insurance company . . . tell your lawyer that you’re doing it,” he advised filmmakers, adding that even “your distributor needs to know.”

Legal Operations, Technology, and Your Business

Jenn McCarron, director of legal operations and technology at Netflix, hosted “Tech Transformation and the Meaning of Life: CLOC Talk Live,” a panel recorded for the podcast CLOC Talk. CLOC is the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium. Other panelists included Indeed’s Senior Legal Operations Manager Justin Felder and Harvard Law professor Jerry Ting, founder of the AI-powered digital contracting company Evisort. Asked by McCarron to explain what legal operations is, Felder explained that within a business, “We are business experts for the legal team, and legal experts for the rest of the business,” or the “conduit between the product people, the technologists, and the legal department.” Panelists discussed how legal operations officers can be “intrapreneurs,” transforming their organizations from within through technology. McCarron shared experiences of leading such change at Netflix, including partnering with co-panelist Ting to get the streaming giant to use his AI contracting software to ease the process of hiring actors and crew on its productions. Ting noted that “legal ops is absolutely critical” for many businesses, but that “lawyers are not trained to be business minded.” The panelists discussed at length how legal operations can be a career path for prospective lawyers who discover they don’t want to practice law. Ting said that start-up CEOs like himself “have a lot of crazy ideas,” and end up presenting them to Fortune 500 companies that “don’t want to change.” That’s where legal operations officers come in—they help facilitate change within companies by framing each new tech solution so that it works within their company’s culture and by framing it as a partnership rather than a disruption.

Pay Transparency

The panel “Pay Transparency: Boom or Bust?” examined a bevy of pay-related issues of note for labor and employment attorneys through the experiences of Nikita Turk, lead multimedia producer of NerdWallet; Lulu Seikaly, senior employment counsel to Payscale; Angela Hucles Mangano, general manager of Angel City FC; and Hanna Williams, CEO and founder of Salary Transparent Street. Seikaly gave a primer on recent pay transparency legislation across the country, including Colorado’s Expanded Pay for Equal Work Act, which requires employers to post salary ranges for job opportunities. She also talked about salary history bans, where employers are prohibited from asking an applicant’s pay history. Seikaly cited such legislation and social pressures as catalysts for bolstering and protecting employees’ autonomy. In a discussion about remote work, she pointed out recent legal trends—that employers are modeling policies after New York state, where employers are required to post salary ranges if the job duties must be performed in New York or if the employee reports to a New York state-based manager or office. However, Seikaly cautioned employers to post a range regardless of the existence of pay transparency law to avoid penalties and to attract the best personnel, who reasonably expect full salary disclosure.

Small Claims for Creatives

In a panel titled “The Creative Biz: What We Wish Was Taught in Art School,” host Miriam Lord, associate register of copyrights and director of public information and education with the U.S. Copyright Office, centered the conversation on legal tips during the panel’s Q&A, in which an audience member described an instance where a group of lawyer-musicians created music that was later downloaded by someone outside the group and uploaded online under a different name. When facing a copyright issue, Lord said, talking to a lawyer or pro bono lawyer is a good first step. Another step, she said, is the Copyright Office’s new Copyright Claims Board. The small claims court, established by Congress in 2020, streamlines copyright disputes for creatives seeking up to $30,000 in damages. For an initial fee of $40, one can self-represent in a case to be reviewed by a three-person tribunal. A creator can also register a work for a copyright at the same time as filing a claim.

Rewards and Risks of Multimodal AI

At the session titled “Rewards and Risks of Multimodal AI,” Che Chang, general counsel to OpenAI, and Justin Haan, a partner in Morrison Foerster, discussed the usage of artificial intelligence between individuals and businesses for various tasks in the workplace, different AI tools, and the balance of legal risk and user expression. As the conversation progressed, the pair spoke heavily about AI technology and copyright law. “The extent of training of models on large volumes of publicly available data is recognized as fair use under copyright laws,” Haan said before asking Chang to give a high-level overview of how OpenAI is addressing artists because AI tools can be trained with public data and generate results that are similar to works that are already published.

Another topic discussed during the session was how law firms can use AI tools. Haan mentioned that multiple legal teams told him they use ChatGPT to convert legalese to common writing to make it understandable for the average person.

How Law Firms Succeed as Modern Global Businesses

As law firms become global businesses, advancing market leadership, continued profitable growth, and retaining talent have become top priorities in a competitive landscape. In the session titled “How Law Firms Succeed as Modern Global Businesses,” Yvette Ostolaza, of Sidley Austin, and Madhav Srinivasan, of Proskauer Rose, shared operational processes and explored strategies of high-performing law firms. Various points of the business side of the legal industry were discussed, such as how COVID-19 impacted firms, management structures, poaching and retaining talent, expenses, the realizations about clients, AI, and more. The panelists also discussed succession planning, pointing out that midsize and large-sized law firms are struggling with client relationships. Ostolaza referenced doctors seeing patients and said, “That next level of client says, ‘This person can’t be my doctor anymore because I’ve got kids that are 16 and they are going to retire soon,’ and that’s something that firms are struggling with because nobody wants to let go.”

Owning a Business Means Protecting Your IP

The panel “How to Build and Protect your Brand: From Startup to Scaleup” brought together government officials and an entrepreneur to discuss how small business owners can benefit from understanding patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Robbie Cabral, Shark Tank alum and inventor of BenjiLock, described his journey from business novice to global success and how he benefited early on from working with a patent attorney who’s still with him today. David Gooder, commissioner for trademarks in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO, said new entrepreneurs often confuse patents, trademarks, and copyrights. In addition to explaining the differences and talking about online resources like USPTO’s “IP Identifier” tool and “Trademark Basics Bootcamp,” Gooder advised entrepreneurs to contact the IP section of their state bar to find an IP attorney. He also recommended the government’s IP Attaché Program that helps businesses navigate IP laws abroad, should they plan to expand to other countries.

Leaders in the Law: Women Who Inspire

Supreme Court of Texas Senior Justice Debra Lehrmann and University of Texas Center for Women in Law Executive Director Veronica Stidvent held a one-on-one discussion titled “Leaders in the Law: Women Who Inspire.” Lehrmann started off by sharing the inspiration behind why she initially wanted to become a judge. Afterward, Stidvent and Lehrmann discussed women in the law—specifically, the percentage of women in law school, women who are equity and non-equity partners in law firms, women in law firm leadership roles, and other data points. Lehrmann noted the realities and challenges of being a woman lawyer and followed up with actionable strategies, takeaways, and stories. Closing up the session, Stidvent asked Lehrmann what success looks like for the legal profession regarding gender parity. Lehrmann said, “We have to be willing to understand the importance of flexibility so that we can keep the talented women in the legal profession who need to be in the legal profession.”

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