Melville Bernard Nimmer
loving memory of Melvile B. Nimmer,
Professor Melville Bernard Nimmer was an authority on copyright and entertainment law as well as an advocate of free speech. Before his death in l985 Professor Nimmer was included by the National Law Journal on its list of the "l00 Most Powerful Lawyers" in the U.S.
He was born in Los Angeles, California and went to the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Law School. While at Harvard he studied copyright law by reading cases, as no classes were offered in the field at the time. He won the national Nathan Burkan competition in copyright while in law school.
Mel Nimmer's first job was with the legal department of Paramount Pictures and he later opened a law practice in Los Angeles, California. He was general counsel for the Writers Guild of America and acted as chief negotiator for the guild in the five month strike of l960, where the right to receive residuals for the showing of theatrical films on free television was established.
In l962 he joined the law faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles. Although he was no longer in private practice on his own he continued to practice law and was "of counsel" to other law firms. The year after becoming an academic, he published what later became a four volume treatise Nimmer on Copyright. The treatise became the "Bible" for copyright lawyers.The National Law Journal praised Mel Nimmer as the "King of Copyright". For years Nimmer on Copyright has been cited in virtually every reported copyright decision.
Although Mel was best known for his work in the copyright field, he also was a First Amendment scholar of renown. In l984 he published Nimmer on Freedom of Speech. The book deals primarily with the theory of First Amendment analysis and is the first volume of what Mel had projected as a two volume work on First Amendment theory and its application in a wide variety of contexts. Nimmer often said that his human rights cases, which he handled without pay for the American Civil Liberties Union, were the most satisfying part of his career. Over the years they involved victorious appearances before the U.S. and state supreme courts and included vindicating the right of political speech to include even words deemed highly offensive to those who hear them.
Professor Nimmer lectured and consulted on copyright and freedom of speech throughout the world. In 1969, he served a stint as an adviser to the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem. His role there was to advise the Governement of Israel as to the roots of constitutional law for the Jewish state, and to develop a "first draft" of what a written constitution might look like. Sadly, the product got stuck in committee at the Knesset. If history had turned out differently, Mel Nimmer's constitution conceivably might have averted some of the mass demonstrations that currently embroil Jerusalem.
Although highly respected as a scholar, some believe that Mel's most notable accomplishments were his human qualities . A close friend described him in the following manner at his memorial service: "Mel's spirit was many layered and complex. It was like a rare oriental treasure. Perhaps each person who knew and loved him would describe that central treasure differently. I believe it was a gentle, sweet, generous humanity. Within the precious shells of brilliance, intellect, humor, tolerance, clarity, tenacity and originality, that humanity flourished. Mel was a great teacher because he reached out to others to share with them all that he possessed."
Professor Nimmer died on November 23, l985 at the age of 62 after a brief bout with cancer, leaving behind his wife Gloria, his daughter Becca and her husband Paul Marcus, his son Larry and wife Melissa, and his son David and wife Marcia. Collectively, he is survived by ten grandchildren.
©2000 Darche Noam