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Nimmer, Melville Bernard


Melville B. Nimmer was a leading authority on copyright law.

Nimmer was born June 6, 1923. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1947 and from Harvard Law School in 1950. After law school he obtained a position in the legal department at Paramount Pictures where he remained until 1957 when he entered private practice. Nimmer continued to be involved with the motion picture industry, however, and served as general counsel to the Writers Guild of America, which represents film and television writers. He was the chief negotiator for the guild during a five-month strike in 1960 where the right to receive residuals for the showing of theatrical films on television was established.

Although Nimmer's work in the film industry involved questions of copyright law, he had to learn the subject largely by reading cases on his own. At that time copyright law was a relatively unimportant discipline. Few lawyers specialized in it, and no law school offered courses in the subject as part of its regular curriculum. In the last decades, however, copyright questions have become a major concern for many industries, including the computer industry.

Nimmer became a leading authority in the growing field. His treatise Nimmer on Copyright (first published in 1963 with frequent revisions thereafter) became the standard work on the subject. A companion volume Nimmer on Freedom of Speech appeared in 1984. When he died, Nimmer was working on a book entitled World Copyright, which was to contain chapters on all significant copyright laws in the world.

In 1962 Nimmer joined the faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law and continued to teach there until his death. At the university Nimmer came into contact with the student protests and antiwar demonstrations and became increasingly interested in the freedom of speech issues that the demonstrations raised. In Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 91 S. Ct. 1780, 29 L. Ed. 2d 284 (1971), Nimmer represented a protestor who was charged with disturbing the peace because he entered a courthouse wearing a jacket inscribed with a vulgar protest against the draft. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the protester on the ground that the words presented no danger of violence and that the state therefore had no compelling reason to suppress them.

Nimmer died November 23, 1985, in Los Angeles, California.

further readings

Low, Charlotte. 1982. "Profile." Los Angeles Daily Journal (April 19).

"Melville B. Nimmer Symposium." 1987. UCLA Law Review 34 (June-August).

Van Alstyne, William W. 1996. "Remembering Melville Nimmer: Some Cautionary Notes on Commercial Speech." UCLA Law Review 43 (June).

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