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Nimmer on Copyright: A Pillar for Copyright Attorneys Past, Present, and Future

July 11, 2023 (4 min read)
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Nimmer on Copyright

Nimmer on Copyright is such a mainstay in copyright law it has often been called the “Bible of copyright law,” and for good reason.

It is the leading treatise on U.S. copyright law – cited in over 3,500 court opinions including citations by every federal court of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. Nimmer on Copyright is cited in more than ten times as many cases as leading copyright treatises from LexisNexis’ competitors.*

David Nimmer, revision editor of the treatise and son of the original author, Melville B. Nimmer, says he has been “gratified that the courts have cited to the treatise on so many occasions.” He added, “Given that wealth of citations, the treatise view has been embodied in the fabric of law in numerous particulars.”

Throughout its 60-year history, Nimmer on Copyright has played a critical role in shaping copyright law in the United States. It has also been a pioneer in addressing emerging issues in copyright law. The treatise was one of the first to address the challenges posed by digital technology and the Internet.

Its analysis of these issues has been invaluable to practitioners and policymakers alike, past and present.

Melville Nimmer and the History of Nimmer on Copyright

Born in Los Angeles in 1923, Melville B. Nimmer earned an undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkely in 1947, and a law degree from Harvard University in 1950.

After graduation, he worked in the legal department at Paramount Pictures before entering private practice in Los Angeles. In 1962 he accepted a faculty position at the law school of the University of California, Los Angeles, all while working on what would become the leading treatise on copyright.

The first edition of Nimmer on Copyright was published in 1963.

At the time, copyright law was not widely taught in law schools and there was very little guidance for practitioners. Nimmer's treatise filled this void, providing a comprehensive analysis of the law and its underlying principles.

“The way my father set it up was a unified vision of the field,” says David Nimmer. “It takes one person to look at the field as a whole, to see the interrelationships, and to put it all on paper in an understandable way.”

Over the years, the treatise has undergone numerous revisions and updates to keep pace with the changing legal landscape. Melville Nimmer himself continued to write and update the treatise until his death in 1985. Since then, his son, David Nimmer, has carried on the family legacy by assuming authorship of the treatise.

We’re on the cusp of celebrating the 60th anniversary of the treatise, which is indeed a milestone, and it’s a great honor to be able to continue into the present,” Nimmer says.

Nimmer on Copyright Updates

Today, Nimmer on Copyright remains the go-to resource for anyone seeking to understand U.S. copyright law. Its strength lies not only in its comprehensive analysis of the law, but also in its deep understanding of the underlying principles that shape the law. As copyright law continues to evolve, so does the treatise.

Although the treatise has been revised three times per year since the 1990s, a new meta-revision process is underway, which will ultimately see the wholesale replacement of existing chapters 12 and 13. Portions that have already reached publication are co-authored by Prof. Shyam Balganesh (Columbia University) and Prof. BJ Ard (University of Wisconsin).

“My collaborators and I are trying to systematically present the ‘heart’ of the treatise in a new way,” says Nimmer. “The beauty of this is we’re taking all the old material, reworking it, and keeping it in, but streamlining the presentation to make it more logical in light of all the developments that have accrued to the field.”

The forthcoming release consists of a wholesale revision of fair use. “Fair Use was discussed in Nimmer on Copyright when it was first published in 1963, then revisions were made to encompass the Copyright Act of 1976 … Because of the torrent of cases that address the topic, it is something almost every revision addresses.  To bring order to the field, a new chapter consisting of four hundred pages will appear in print this summer.”

About David Nimmer

David Nimmer teaches copyright courses at the UCLA School of Law and is Of Counsel to Irell & Manella LLP in Los Angeles, California. Apart from his treatise, Prof. Nimmer authors numerous law review articles on domestic and international copyright issues. Prof. Nimmer also lectures widely in the copyright area, from Rome to Tel Aviv to addresses all over the United States.

In addition to writing and lecturing, Prof. Nimmer represents clients in the entertainment, publishing, and high technology fields -- dealing with everything from Google Books to Winnie the Pooh. Congress invited him to give testimony about copyright reform in 2014 (his third time testifying on the Hill). He has also given Parliamentary testimony in Sydney.

Prof. Nimmer received an A.B. with distinction and honors from Stanford University, and his J.D. at Yale Law School, where he served as an Editor of the Yale Law Journal.

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 *Competitive claims as of March 2023.