South by Southwest (SXSW) is an organization that explores all things music, technology, film, education, and culture. Its annual conference in Austin, Texas, features a healthy list of panel sessions for creatives and those who work with them. It’s a place for the convergence of ideas, from some of the top names in industry and many up-and-comers in cultural spaces. The festival holds space for some lesser known but dynamic personalities whose voices are essential to emerging ideas. 

For lawyers, it’s an opportunity to gain new insight into new legal trends, network with other attorneys, and connect with artists, musicians, and filmmakers who want support with their creative endeavors. SXSW also features a number of panels and legal events that connect issues of social justice, artificial intelligence, alternative substances, and more that are having a deep impact on the culture. 

SXSW takes place over nine days, March 8-16, 2024, at various venues around Austin. For detailed information about registration, how to pick up your attendee badge, and so much more, you can visit SXSW’s Attendee Services Hub

Conference organizers have a handy daily schedule of events happening by the hour, but we have taken a preliminary dive into what’s happening to find the speakers that might pique the interest of lawyers. Here’s our pick of five panels and legal events you might want to check out:

  • Annual Legal Update – Indie Film (March 8, 2024 2:30pm-3:30pm CT)
  • Prison to Politics: Running a Campaign from Behind Bars (March 9, 2024 4:00pm-4:30pm CT)
  • The Bar’s New Top Shelf: Elevation Over Inebriation (March 9, 2024 4:00pm-5:00pm CT)
  • Film Production: Legal Essentials (March 10, 2024 11:30am-1:30pm CT)
  • Rewards and Risks of Multimodal AI (March 12, 2024 11:30am-12:30pm CT)

Read on for a bit more information on SXSW for lawyers: who’s speaking and why you might want to have a listen. 

Annual Legal Update – Indie Film

March 8, 2024 2:30pm-3:30pm CT

Austin Convention Center; Room 15

Partners at the law firm of Donaldson Callif Perez LLP, Michael Donaldson and Chris Perez, offer an update on recent legal developments that have a direct impact on independent filmmakers. These artists are navigating a challenging environment, especially in the light of shrinking pools of film buyers and strikes by Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) members. 

The session will explore the recent Supreme Court cases about fair use (Warhol case) and trademark law, and also recap the current state of the Small Claims Copyright Court. This session welcomes questions from interested parties who want to delve deeper into these important issues.

This session might interest entertainment lawyers and those who work with independent artists, filmmakers, or those who have an interest in copyright, intellectual property (IP), trademark, and fair use.

Prison to Politics: Running a Campaign from Behind Bars

March 9, 2024 4:00pm-4:30pm CT

Hilton Austin Downtown; Salon B

Justice consultant Joel Caston was elected in 2020 as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) in Washington, D.C., while incarcerated. Caston started the Young Men Emerging (YME) community inside the DC jail where he resided, emphasizing a “citizen mindset” to the people housed there.

Caston’s session at SXSW, “Prison to Politics: Running a Campaign from Behind Bars,” focuses on restoring the voting rights of people inside prisons and jails. Caston’s view is that civic engagement makes a community that is more informed and conscious. It also helps people to better adjust when they come home after incarceration.

This session might interest lawyers who practice criminal law, civil rights, or who have an interest in social justice and on-the-ground advocacy. 

The Bar’s New Top Shelf: Elevation Over Inebriation

March 9, 2024 4:00pm-5:00pm CT

Austin Convention Center; Room 18AB

In response to public demand for more experiential options besides alcohol, there’s increasing focus on alternative substances. This four-member panel includes lawyer Joshua Kappel, medical nutrition and wellness industry consultant Dr. Jacqueline Jacques, founder and CEO of nonalcoholic events company Elixart Colter Merrick, and applied research scientist in plant medicine Dr. Lisa Offringa. The session will explore the safety, legality, and regulatory roadblocks of substances such as Kanna, Kava, Psilocybin, Kratom, Coca, Damiana, Mescaline, Cannabis, Ketamine, and GHB. 

This session might interest lawyers who practice in the regulatory and corporate spaces, as well as those who are interested in the changing social and business landscape when it comes to alternative substances. 

Film Production: Legal Essentials

March 10, 2024 11:30am-1:30pm CT

Courtyard Marriott; Guadalupe

Intellectual property lawyer and law professor at the University of Michigan, Paul Szynol, specializes in film, art, television, music, and photography. He’s also a filmmaker and photographer whose work has been featured at festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival (Kids) and on the New York Times (Op-Docs). He teaches film law.

Szynol’s two-hour session at SXSW explores some of the basics of film production, from raising money to clearing rights for work that filmmakers include in their pieces. Szynol also answers key questions like whether a limited liability corporation (LLC) is necessary. The first 90 minutes are an accessible, entertaining, and informative overview of the legal aspects of film production. The last 30 minutes are an open Q&A and discussion.

This session might interest lawyers who work in entertainment law, or who want a refresher on the legal ins and outs of independent filmmaking. 

Rewards and Risks of Multimodal AI

March 12, 2024 11:30am-12:30pm CT

Hilton Austin Downtown; Salon DE

This session is billed as a “fireside chat” with the General Counsel at OpenAI, Che Chang, and technology legal advisor Justin Haan at Morrison Foerster. The panelists discuss how businesses and individuals currently use OpenAI, risk sharing between developers and users, as well as balancing the legal risk and open expression when releasing new features. The panelists will also discuss the current state of laws that govern AI and their impact on Open AI.

This session might interest lawyers who work in technology, artificial intelligence, copyright, intellectual property, as well as the emerging regulatory landscape for new technology tools.

To check out the full scope of what’s on at SXSW in 2024, you can visit the festival website

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