University of Pittsburgh

Pitt Law Students Analyze Legal and Technological Challenges For Pittsburgh’s Burgeoning Film Industry

Publish Date/Time: 
February 28, 2013

The latest issue of the Pittsburgh Journal of Technology Law and Policy might make a few prospective lawyers ready to say “lights, camera, action!” and join Pittsburgh’s nascent entertainment industry. In the past 24 months, Pittsburgh has hosted several high-profile film productions, including The Dark Knight Rises, the Tom Cruise film Jack Reacher, and the Stephen Chbosky adaptation The Perks of Being a Wallflower. While Hollywood has found plenty of use in Pittsburgh’s steel bridges and row house-packed hills, the industry is in hard supply of local entertainment lawyers, according to Stephanie Dangel, the director of business and legal affairs at the Steeltown Entertainment Project.

“To fulfill Pittsburgh’s promise as a world-class entertainment hub, the region still needs to develop one important resource: a critical mass of entertainment lawyers,” Dangel writes in the introduction to the current issue of the Pittsburgh Journal of Technology Law and Policy.

The current issue of the Pittsburgh Journal of Technology Law and Policy, an online Pitt Law journal, was forged by a unique partnership between the journal’s staff and the Steeltown Entertainment Project, a nonprofit organization that aims to foment film and television projects in the Pittsburgh region.

Ashley Edwards, a third-year student at Pitt Law and chief editor of the journal, said after meeting with Steeltown’s legal staff to explore current legal issues in filmmaking, she knew they would be a perfect fit for partnering on the series of articles for the journal.

“[Steeltown’s] mission of educating the community on film production and encouraging more films to be made in Pittsburgh worked well with our overall goal of the student series,” Edwards said. “They were able to comment on our topic choices and offer their advice. Their guidance and enthusiasm for the genre made the process exciting, and it was a great partnership.”

In her article “There’s No Business Like The State Film Tax Incentive Business,” Edwards analyzes the benefits and pitfalls of Pennsylvania’s film production tax credit program that has been often credited with drawing big productions to the region since it went into effect under Act 55 in 2007.

Edwards said as she researched the film tax credit program for her article, she was surprised by skewed statistics and biased studies used to promote film tax incentive programs around the country. In essence, the film tax credit might be getting too much credit from supporters.

“The goal of my article on the film tax credit program is to look at Pennsylvania’s film tax credit program from a critical standpoint in order to communicate to the community that the program is not perfect and needs work to truly benefit Pennsylvanians,” Edwards said.

Edwards said that because the film tax credit program was just renewed by the Pennsylvania legislature this past summer, it’s here to stay for a few more years.

“What I would hope is that the legislature, local film organizations, and the public use this time to reassess the program’s benefits and ensure that the benefits are truly outweighing the costs,” Edwards said.

Other facets of Pittsburgh’s growth in the film industry are new technology and the proliferation of cloud computing that allow for lower costs, seamless production across multiple filming locations, and greater access for independent filmmakers. Apart from this growth in production technology comes new challenges in the legal landscape for producers.

3L Gregory Graham observes in his article “Storm Fronts and Filmmaking: Cloud Computing Regulation And The Impact on Independent Filmmakers” the chilling effect of vague technical provisions in proposed legislation such as the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the possibility of variations on such legislation passing in Congress in the future.

Graham’s article examines the current technological landscape and legal protection for film production and cloud computing infrastructure. As the entertainment industry takes greater advantage of cloud computing resources for production, the industry will need trained lawyers to navigate new legal paradigms to maintain the integrity of the content while furthering innovation and cost effectiveness.

J.D. candidate Peter Groh extends the observations of the technical intricacies of content protection and copyright in his paper, “Through a Router Darkly: How New American Copyright Enforcement Initiatives May Hinder Economic Development, Net Neutrality and Creativity.”

Groh argues the Six Strike Copyright Alert System, a framework agreement rolling out in 2013 between Internet service providers and content rights holders like the RIAA and MPAA, “grapples with the norms of freedom of expression, privacy, fairness, proportionality, and transparency.”

Pitt Law Professor Michael Madison said it’s not rare for a law school to write about state or regional issues, but it is rare for a law journal to write about a prescient regional issue such as the local film industry through an explicit partnership with a local enterprise such as the Steeltown Entertainment Project.

“Law journals aren’t known for producing work that is aimed directly at the audience of lawyers and businesspeople in their home regions,” Madison said. “This is an innovative piece of work and something that Pitt Law should be proud of.”

Edwards said the next issue of the journal, to be published in May 2013, will cover legal issues regarding cell phones as a platform.

“We thought this would be a great topic choice because the legal issues surrounding cell phones are always changing, and we hope our series will provide important information to the community while also sparking an interest in technology law,” Edwards said.

Edwards said some of the topics the journal’s students will be writing about include ownership rights to pictures taken using Instagram, a popular photo app, and the legal consequences of “jailbreaking” cell phones to install third-party applications and ringtones.

“We are currently looking for a company or organization in Pittsburgh to partner with and write our introduction piece,” Edwards said. “We are very excited about this upcoming issue.”

The Pittsburgh Journal of Technology Law and Policy is available for free via open access licensing.


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