Scalia Spotlights

Arts & Entertainment Advocacy Clinic Protects Artists and their Work

Professor Sandra Aistars
Sandra Aistars, Director of the Arts & Entertainment Advocacy Clinic

Sandra Aistars grew up in a family of artists: visual artists, authors, painters, and a grandmother who was an opera singer. While Professor Aistars acted in high school plays and sang in the choir, she was eventually drawn to law, all the while keeping one foot in the arts. Today, as the Director of the Arts & Entertainment Advocacy Clinic at Scalia Law School, Professor Aistars leads students in helping artists protect their work through copyright protection. Her students share her appreciation for the arts and take a personal interest in the artists they represent.

“I noticed in academia, a lot of professors who teach copyright law are skeptical of the need for copyright protection,” Professor Aistars said. “CPIP (The Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property, which houses the Arts & Entertainment Advocacy Clinic) was founded, in part, to create a venue for understanding the need for copyright law.”

Each semester Professor Aistars leads a half dozen students who help artists through the legal process of protecting their work. The clinic teaches students the practical skills, while artists receive the representation they could not otherwise afford.

“Artists worry that their work will be infringed on…students are invested in their problems and success,” said Professor Aistars.

While most of the cases the clinic works on never receive public attention, there is one case that became something of an international sensation. In 2017, Virginia-based filmmaker Shabnam Humphrey contacted the clinic for help protecting the legacy and work of her father, renowned Afghan musician Ahmad Zahir, known in his country as the “Elvis of Afghanistan.”

While creating a documentary about her father, Ms. Humphrey discovered her father’s work had been pirated. At the time, Afghanistan did not have treaties in place with the U.S., which harmonized their copyright law with international standards. Ms. Humphrey came to the clinic hoping they could help her.

Under Professor Aistar’s supervision, clinic students lobbied the Embassy of Afghanistan on behalf of Ms. Humphrey. Their efforts paid off: On June 2, 2018, Afghanistan became a member of the International Union for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works founded by the Berne Convention, a huge accomplishment for Afghanistan’s artists. Finally, Afghanistan would be bound by the same copyright laws that protected artists the world over. Not only could Ms. Humphrey protect her father’s prodigious body of work, but other artists in Afghanistan could do the same. This historic change was due to the efforts of a clinic of law students under the guidance of Sandra Aistars.

While not every case has global implications, every case is an opportunity for students to help an artist protect his or her work, while gaining first-hand experience in the area of copyright law. Scalia Law’s Arts & Entertainment Advocacy Clinic is making a real difference for musicians, painters, writers, and all artists, and those who love the arts.