“The Endless Summer”: The king of bar review and copyright sense

Endless Summer Graphic[Note:  This was first published in June of 2011, but if I’m going to recycle anything once a year, it’s this.  And this is the right time, in view of all the graduating around here.  Slightly edited for better goodness. — RDC]

In 1989, when I was still a contributing editor to the ABA’s Student Lawyer dead-tree magazine, I wrote an article describing, in somewhat purple hues, the experience of preparing for the New York bar exam after law school.  The article was called “The Endless Summer,” because the summer of bar review felt like one.

Much of the piece focused on the brilliant preparation course taught by John “Pieper People Pass” Pieper (particularly well suited to students from out of state law schools), and how I — uncharacteristically — completely deferred to someone who knew better than I did (i.e., John) and was glad to have done so.

Someone eventually showed the article to John, and, in a fit of over-enthusiasm, someone in his organization then ran off a bazillion copies of the thing to be distributed to participants in the course.  No one asked.

“Not for your notes: Concept!”

That was copyright infringement!

But, really, so what?

So.  I was a hungry married rabbinical student at the time.  (Yes, after law school but before starting work.  Long story.)  So when I learned about this, I asked the the publisher, ABA Press, to handle it, because it had responsibility for copyright filing for the magazine. (As was common in magazine writing in those days, at least, I sold the ABA Press only the right to first publication and, of course, retained copyright myself.)  So I think I got a little money, and Pieper (the company) agreed to stop photocopying and distributing the work.

A lose-lose.

This time I should not have deferred. I lost what could have been a friendly relationship with John himself, and the chance to have thousands of people read the article, benefit from my experience and build some name recognition as a writer.  John lost a chance to benefit from the article and to allow his students to benefit from the article.  I got less than a month’s rent.

It was a dumb way to handle the situation, I didn’t know better, and I have been regretting it for over 20 years.

Time to make amends. Here is the article again, right on time for bar review season.  (Here’s a PDF of how it appeared in the magazine.)

John, I’m sorry.  It was the wrong thing to do.  I was young and dumb.  And I probably really did need the $500 at the moment. I’m sure everything’s changed with the bar exam and your course (thank God, it has changed regarding the $500) — but if there’s any use you want to make of this article, it’s yours for the copying, as long as you properly attribute it.  (Be careful with that!)

Stay cool, people!

By Ron Coleman

I write this blog.