Copyright Lawyer

Written by Jack Levinson

In the vast field of law, one of the most interesting areas of focus is the growing field of Intellectual Property Law. Encompassing copyright, trademark, and patent law, this area of specialty has become ever more important type of lawyer as pieces of intellectual property such as artworks and writing enter the digital sphere.

A career in intellectual property law can be intellectually stimulating and highly lucrative, making it an appealing path for new lawyers to pursue.

Below, find all the information you need to know about the role and responsibilities of copyright infringement lawyers, educational requirements and opportunities for lawyers, copyright lawyer salary data, and more.

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Roles and Responsibilities of a Copyright Lawyer

Intellectual property lawyers work with clients to protect their creative or intellectual products such as art, music, literature, designs, and brand identity, among many other examples. Intellectual property can also apply to patents and inventions, with one prominent recent example being the COVID-19 vaccines created by different pharmaceutical companies, all of which are patent protected.

In most cases, copyright infringement lawyers work with clients who earn their livelihoods from their intellectual property, and copyright lawyers help them defend their claim to their work when situations of theft and unauthorized use emerge.

In the digital age, as information sharing becomes ever easier, the role of copyright lawyers is becoming more and more important, making this an appealing path for those considering different branches of law to pursue.

Skills Needed

In order to excel at the demanding work the job of a copyright infringement lawyer requires, attorneys must possess the following skills:

  • Communication, dealing directly with clients, other lawyers, and sometimes judges
  • Organization, taking responsibility for overseeing the often complex work that needs to be done to research and prepare for an intellectual property case
  • Attention to Detail, ensuring professionalism in all correspondence and a well-trained eye to review crucial documents and information on a client’s behalf
  • Writing, preparing formal arguments as well as internal correspondence that can be impactful in shaping the outcome of an intellectual property case
  • Analytical Mindset, understanding how to approach the provided information to successfully make the case that an infringement violation has occurred
  • Technical Knowledge, understanding the standards of the industry in question, including how new work is produced and distributed and how profit can be generated from intellectual property products

If you possess the qualities listed above, you are an excellent candidate to become an intellectual property lawyer and for the legal field in generally.

Day to Day Life of a Copyright Lawyer

The day to day life of an intellectual property lawyer is spent working to protect the intellectual property of their clients, assisting them in cases where their work has been infringed upon or outright stolen.

In a copyright lawsuit, a successful lawyer must prove:

  • That a client’s intellectual property – such as, for example, a song – is original and properly registered to its owner with the U.S. copyright office
  • That the defendant accused of infringement acted wilfully, knowingly infringing upon someone else’s intellectual property
  • That the defendant specifically sought “commercial advantage or private financial gain” – in other words, that they committed an act of infringement with a goal of profiting

While intellectual property cases can often ultimately go to court, intellectual property lawyers spend a great deal of time in the discovery period of the case, doing research to determine the status of the work in question as well as the context for its infringement. Lawyers formally submit the findings from this period, entering it into the case. This work can lead to settlement decisions.

Once an intellectual property lawyer has worked on a case for a specific property, they often continue to work on cases that relate to that work, becoming experts on that I.P. who are able to protect it in the future.

Educational Requirements

Practicing attorneys are expected to have an advanced education in law, which provides the deep framework needed to pursue a legal career. It also prepares law students for the bar exam, the famously rigorous test that is mandatory for lawyers to pass in order to practice law in their state of choice.

Bachelor’s Degree

In order to apply to law school, one must first hold a bachelor’s degree, as it reflects the core competencies needed to succeed in legal studies. However, there is not an existing bachelor-level track for those who would like to pursue law. In fact, the American Bar Association explicitly encourages students from a variety of educational concentrations to apply, as different areas of knowledge can help one find unique specializations within the field.

Though one can apply to law school with any bachelor’s degree, students who attend undergraduate college knowing they intend to pursue law often major in the following subjects:

  • Political Science
  • History
  • English
  • Economics
  • Philosophy
  • Business

Some students who would like to orient their undergraduate education specifically toward a legal career have pre-law advisors who help them choose the courses that are relevant to their future pursuits. Though this is not required or expected of law school applicants, it can help you develop an area of focus early on, making you an impressive candidate for graduate programs.

Juris Doctor (J.D.) Law Degree

A J.D. degree is the most common law degree and is a requisite to become a practicing attorney. Traditional J.D. programs provide basic preparation for the responsibilities of a lawyer, helping students achieve mastery of the law through a study of legal theory and history, courtroom strategies, and case research, among other topics. This coursework provides the education needed to take the bar exam.

Most J.D. programs take three years to complete, with students taking on clerkship opportunities during summer breaks. This gives students work experience that they can add to their resumes while they are still in school. Some of these experiences lead to work opportunities after school.

When working toward your J.D., it is crucial to be sure you are meeting state requirements for education, exams, and licensure. Take a look at our Index of State Requirements for Lawyers here.

Specialized Degrees

Beyond law school, working attorneys can receive Master of Laws degrees, also known as L.L.M. degrees, which further develop one’s area of legal expertise. For copyright lawyers, this would be a Master’s in Intellectual Property Law. Coursework in an Intellectual Property Law includes the following subjects:

  • Internet law
  • Copyright law
  • Trademark law
  • Patent law

Master’s students who have already been working as intellectual property lawyers will here find the opportunity to enrich knowledge of a subject whose ins and outs are already familiar to them, allowing them to dive deeper into the field.

What is the advantage of getting a master’s degree if you have already completed law school and passed the bar? In fact, holding an L.L.M. can make one eligible to serve as an expert on specialty cases, which can be a highly lucrative profession.

A full-time L.L.M. program typically takes one year to complete. There are many part-time options available as well.

To learn more about educational opportunities and requirements for lawyers, take a look at our Guide to Lawyer Education.

Necessary Areas of Knowledge to Become a Lawyer

A law school education gives one the grounding they need to handle the serious responsibilities of a practicing attorney. These include the following topics:

  • The U.S. Constitution
  • Courtroom procedure and strategy
  • Legal theory
  • Case histories
  • Legal research methods
  • Lawyers’ ethics

Only law school will provide students with the thorough expertise needed to begin a legal career.

Copyright Lawyer Salary

Across areas of specialty, the legal profession is a well-compensated one.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median annual salary of $127,990 for lawyers overall – more than double the national average. In some states, the average for lawyers is significantly higher, with states like New Jersey, California, New York, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia boasting an annual mean salary range of $153,800 – $198,820. Indeed, lawyers are among the top paid professionals in the United States, and you can expect that a copyright lawyer salary will meet these expectations.

While the median copyright lawyer salary is already significantly higher than the national average, those who receive specialized degrees like an L.L.M. are eligible for even better compensated positions. The legal profession is also one that rewards seniority; it is standard for lawyers to begin to receive larger salaries as they rise in the ranks of their firm.

In short, a copyright lawyer salary is likely to start high, and will only continue to increase with experience.

Job Outlook

Those considering a career in copyright law can feel encouraged that there will continue to be more and more work opportunities in the field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a predicted growth rate of 10% for lawyers by 2031, which is double the average growth rate for most professions.

Where Do Copyright Lawyers Work?

There are many work opportunities for intellectual property lawyers, from private practices to in-house roles with publishers and producers of intellectual property materials. These include the following:

  • Tech companies
  • Book publishers
  • Record labels
  • TV & film production companies
  • Video game companies
  • Other content creation studios

As more and more types of content begin to emerge – and as technology affords more people the opportunity to become creators of intellectual property – the need for skilled intellectual property lawyers will only continue to grow.

Additional Resources for Prospective Lawyers

The legal field is an exciting, rewarding, and ever-growing one that poses great opportunities for those interested in pursuing a law career. If you are deciding if you would like to become an intellectual property lawyer, or if you are in the early stages of determining your law school path, take a look at our Guide to Types of Lawyers and our Index of Lawyer Salaries by State.