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Meet Art Neill of New Media Rights in North Downtown and Banker’s Hill

Today we’d like to introduce you to Art Neill.

Art, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
The idea started when I was a law student from 2003-6. Blogging, YouTube, etc. were all coming around. I had always gotten jobs based on my understanding of technology. I knew tech is just a tool and could be used for all sorts of useful, good, and not so helpful purposes. I was fascinated by technology’s power to make a positive change in the world. My idea was fairly straightforward – figure out how to provide legal help to the folks who were now using the internet to create and share information and creativity. Eventually, that meant providing legal services, education, and policy advocacy to underserved creators and entrepreneurs, but it took some time to figure that out and really solidify what we are. When I graduated law school in 2006, I pitched a nonprofit consumer group on starting the New Media Rights Program within the larger organization.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
When I graduated law school in 2006, I pitched a nonprofit consumer group on starting the New Media Rights Program within the larger organization. At this point, a lot of folks still asked me questions like, “why would someone on the internet need a lawyer?” This sounds funny today, but at the time, it was hard to convince folks that individuals would need this legal assistance. Later on, foundations caught on and we got some support. Even later, law schools started to broadly launch legal clinics in the IP, entrepreneurship, and arts space. We wanted to use the clinical model, where the program would have attorneys and law students work with clients directly, and were invited by California Western School of Law to become a program of the school. Along the way, we had to learn not just how to provide legal services, but also how to teach concepts like intellectual property, privacy, and contract law to students.

We needed the early incubation, the chance to fail a bit, figure out how to fund things, figure what the community needed. We did the things startup organizations (non-profit or otherwise) do. We gave talks (to anyone who would listen!), met people in the tech and creative communities, printed out cards and left them at coffee shops, lent video equipment (for free) to San Diego filmmakers, and found out where we could fill niches in our community. We started working with individuals and using what we learned to develop a website and YouTube presence full of useful material. This was where things really took off. Hundreds of thousands could, and did, visit our free guides and resources every year, and when they had a tougher question, they could reach out and ask for our help. The big difference was that we actually would (and still do) write back to anyone who reaches out to us with questions about legal issues they’re encountering, even if just to provide a few thoughts and some direction of what to do next. Again, an actual lawyer would look at your question, and if we could, we’d take the case, and do the work pro bono at that.

To continue to grow we’ve had to develop a capable, dedicated team. Our Assistant Director Shaun Spalding and Staff Attorney Erika Lee have helped us reach new frontiers. Our team shapes the mission of the organization, rather than being expected to simply do tasks dictated by “the boss”. The shared ownership of the mission makes us stronger and helps us meet new challenges.

New Media Rights – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Founded in 2006, New Media Rights provides preventative legal consultation for early-stage startups, nonprofits, journalists, and filmmakers across the country. The consultations we provide to projects before they launch has a generative effect. By assisting entrepreneurs and nonprofits in compliance with complex issues like intellectual property and data security laws, we free those folks from the threat of future legal issues that may ruin their business and also fix violations at the source before they happen.

For example, if we directly assist one app developer to implement accurate and transparent data security policies, then that app’s 10,000 users will be protected from data breaches, and that developer and his/her two employees’ jobs won’t be at risk from an FTC enforcement action. Following the consultations, we then generalize that information and publish educational resources about those topics to help others we can’t directly assist.

In the last ten years, we have worked on more than 2500 cases, have had two million people visit our website, and have created more than 13 hours of educational videos that have been viewed more than 500,000 times. We’ve received national attention for our work battling content bullying (see here and here). We’re unique because we ‘open up’ what we learn from our clients and create useful, accessible information for others who may have similar challenges. We are a legal services nonprofit, but we provide a lot of openly licensed educational materials and have produced a YouTube Channel, a book used in universities across the country, an app about fair use, as well as a well-trafficked website.

Along the way, we have served on the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee, testified before the US Copyright Office, spoken at national conferences, published numerous academic articles. We’ve also trained over 100 future attorneys to be problem solvers who also understand the importance of pro bono work. We’ve been involved in some high profile disputes, helping defend artists and journalists from efforts to silence their work. But frankly, it’s most exciting to see a nonprofit, business, or creative project take off and be successful (especially here in San Diego) and know that you had a hand it that. I’ve met folks who just had a dream 5-10 years ago, and now they have organizations with 15+ employees, and that is just awesome!

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
It’s most exciting to see a nonprofit, business, or creative project take off and be successful (especially here in San Diego) and know that you had a hand it that. We’ve provided tens of thousands of hours of pro bono legal services, knowing that a project’s ability to pay doesn’t mean anything about its importance for the broader world. We’ve been instrumental in bringing so many new cultural perspectives and technologies to the world, it’s really quite exciting to see.I’ve met folks who just had a dream 5-10 years ago, and now they have organizations with 15+ employees that serve thousands of people, and that is just awesome! I’m very grateful to get to work with clients at this exciting moment, right when they are “taking the leap” to launch a passion project they’ve been dreaming of for years. 

Our ten year anniversary in 2017 at the Fleet Science Center was really something special. We had over 100 people there. Seeing many clients, students, and staff from over the years, and learning about how much NMR means to them, and all the great things they’ve gone on to accomplish was really touching. That anniversary was a chance to reflect on all the positive impact we’ve made over the years. This has really been a team effort, and though a small (3 person) team, we’re a mighty one!

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