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Winter 2014
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ON POINT

Legal writing award sends student to GRAMMYs

Amid all of music’s brightest stars at the GRAMMYs on Sunday was one of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s brightest minds.

No, 3L Matt Borden did not perform or take the stage, but he did present his award-winning paper to hundreds of the top lawyers in entertainment law from around the country.

Borden’s paper on the law governing the inheritance of digital music collections after people die was selected as the winner of the GRAMMY Foundation’s Entertainment Law Initiative Contest. Each year law students from around the country submit papers about legal issues facing the music industry today, and the winner receives $5,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to the GRAMMYs in Los Angeles.

Borden attended a luncheon on Jan. 23 along with the four runners-up and then attended the GRAMMYs on Sunday.

In 2005, Moritz student Kara M. Wolke was a runner-up in the contest, and in 2006 Moritz student Kevin Bernardo was also a runner-up.

Borden got the idea for his paper, “The Day the Music Died: Digital Inheritance and the Music Industry,” while doing research for a note he was writing in the Ohio State Law Journal, of which he is now a managing editor. The idea stuck with him, and when he “stumbled upon” the writing contest, he wrote the paper over winter break.

Its focus was simple: What happens to your music when you die?  As the law stands now, passing digital music collections, which can sometimes be worth thousands of dollars, on to beneficiaries is extremely difficult because of license agreements users agree to when they buy a song off music stores like iTunes or Amazon.

“You can’t even consent to passing it on to your beneficiaries,” he said. “Because of how strictly they’ve interpreted the Stored Communications Act to avoid liability, you essentially lose out. So that’s why I’m arguing there should be an express exemption in the act that says it doesn’t cover the estate fiduciary, heirs or beneficiaries.”

The paper also argues that profits an independent artist makes after death should be given to the estate or beneficiary of the deceased.

Spending winter break writing a paper nearly 20 pages in length is not most people’s idea of relaxing, but for Borden, writing is a passion.

“Legal writing is the thing I love most about law school,” he said. “I like thinking creatively and drafting creative solutions to problems, then putting it on paper and describing it to people.”

Posted in: Winter 2014, On Point