Copyright Lawyer Degrees and Education Requirements

Apr 24, 2020

Essential Information

The individual who wants to be a copyright lawyer needs to specialize in intellectual property (IP) law, which also includes patent law. There are two ways to do this: candidates may either earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree and a certificate in IP law by taking a specified number of hours of IP courses, or they may earn a Master of Law in Intellectual Property (IP LL.M.) if they already have a J.D. LL.M. programs also have a specialization in copyright law. Copyright lawyers could seek employment opportunities in law firms, corporate legal departments or government agencies. To enter a J.D. program, a bachelor's degree and the completion of the LSAT is required. For a master's degree, the applicant must already hold a J.D.

Juris Doctor and Certificate in Intellectual Property Law

'Intellectual property' covers a huge variety of topics in the areas of copyrights, patents and trademarks. Topics can include moral rights for writers, artists or others who create products for public viewing; trade secrets and publicity rights. Subject areas involving IP concerns include entertainment and sports, advertising, video games and other software, electronic databases, scientific and mechanical inventions and much more.

To receive a certificate in intellectual property law, a student needs to do all the work and meet all the requirements for a J.D., which usually involves 84 or more semester hours. In addition, students need to choose electives from intellectual property courses; generally, 15-20 elective semester hours are required. Students may choose to have a copyright emphasis in these electives. Within the required coursework for the J.D., an introduction to intellectual property will usually be included; this may be a single course or three courses in the main areas of IP, which are trademarks and unfair competitions, copyright law and patent law. Other IP courses may include:

  • IP law strategies
  • International patent laws
  • Copyright laws
  • Entertainment law
  • Technology law
  • Antitrust and IP law

Master of Law in Intellectual Property

An LL.M. in intellectual property allows a lawyer to specialize in one of the three areas of IP law, which are copyrights, patents and trademarks. Lawyers who desire to specialize in copyright law will be able to take most of their coursework in that area. Sometimes the copyright courses are coupled with courses in telecommunications and entertainment. Expertise in all three of these topics is needed for the copyright specialist. Although the coursework varies from school to school, the lawyer who elects to focus on copyright law will be able to choose from courses such as the following:

  • International copyright law
  • Copyright litigation
  • Art law
  • Music licenses
  • Publishing law
  • Intellectual property taxation

Popular Career Options

There are several kinds of work settings for a copyright or intellectual property lawyer, including the following:

  • Corporate legal divisions
  • U. S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
  • Specialized law firms

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Because of the large number of law school graduates in the U.S. each year, the job field is very competitive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, gives no information regarding the job opportunities of a copyright lawyer, but it does indicate that the number of jobs for lawyers is expected to increase by 6% from 2018 to 2028. BLS statistics for May 2019 indicate that a lawyer's median yearly wage was $122,960.

Continuing Legal Education Information

A lawyer is required to pass a bar examination for the state in which he or she wishes to practice. In 46 states and territories, there are required minimum continuing legal education (MCLE) hours for lawyers to maintain their licenses after they pass the bar. These requirements range from an average of 3-15 contact hours a year and usually include a specified number of hours in ethics. Courses specific to intellectual property may be taken.

The two ways people become copyright lawyers are by attending a Juris Doctor (J.D.) program and acquiring a certificate in IP law by taking IP courses, or by earning a Master of Law in Intellectual Property (IP LL.M.). Each degree requires a different number of hours and coursework.

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