Welcome to U.S. District Court of California with the Honorable John F. Walter presiding over the spat between the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Zediva, which rents DVDs online.
One quick housekeeping note –
While we support Zediva on the PR front, we had no involvment with the brief.
I’m guessing I’ve read through 100 or so legal briefs over the years. Between the jargon and a narrative governed by the quest to be the smartest kid in the room, the writing would clog a wood chipper.
That’s what makes the Zediva brief, penned by the law firm of Durie Tangri, so extraordinary.
The read was, dare I say, amusing.
Check out the opening ‘graph:
Movie studios, including all of the Plaintiffs here, spent the better part of the 1970s and 1980s trying to persuade courts to declare video rentals illegal. They sued Sony for making video cassette recorders (VCRs), taking the case to the Supreme Court. Even after the VCR itself was declared legal, they sued hotels for making videos available to their customers to watch in their hotel rooms. They even went to Congress in an unsuccessful effort to change the Copyright Act to make renting videos illegal without the payment of a royalty.
Simple works. You don’t need to be Louis Brandeis to get the drift.
I also appreciated the conversational language:
As with any DVD rental business, if a DVD is rented out, nobody else can rent that DVD. The only way for Zediva to increase capacity to meet demand is to do the same thing any other DVD rental business would have to do — buy lots and lots of DVDs.
Love that scientific term, “lots and lots,” which I believe is twice as much as “lots.”
But the humor elevates this brief to a class by itself.
In response to the MPAA’s complaint that movie studios could be harmed by a consumer finding out a desired movie is out of stock, the brief points out:
This may be the first time in history that a copyright owner claims that an alleged infringer has irreparably harmed it by not engaging in ENOUGH acts of supposed infringement.
Later in the document, the point gets accentuated:
The studios will not be irreparably harmed if a Zediva customer occasionally has to wait a little while in order to watch “Vampires Suck.”
Look, I’m not saying the writing in the brief challenges Faulkner or even Elmore Leonard.
Instead, the brief shows the mere act of writing like a human being and applying storytelling techniques results in a more effective communication.
I too read the brief and it was the first time I ever felt compelled to read on of these legal documents from beginning to end due to the humor and compelling nature in which it was written. It’s nice to see a legal firm break away from the pack that had fallen inline with doing things the old-fashioned way. Many props to Durie Tangri on this.
If you look deeper, they use the art of storytelling as a model in all the breifs by them that I have read. So this isn’t a one shot deal.
I hope it becomes a trend for the legal industry at large, as even someone with no law background such as myself can understand legalese for the very first time!
Appreciate the perspective.
Great to hear Durie Tangri brings this storytelling mentality to all briefs, not just this one situation.
With that said, I’m not holding my breath that other attorneys will follow suit.