Inaugural Lightspark Media Summit unites U alums with passion for entertainment law

The University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law is partnering with the Utah-based Lightspark Foundation to host the inaugural Lightspark Media Summit on March 3.

The day-long symposium aims to bring together fellow digital artists, musicians, directors, producers, actors, business people, students and attorneys to explore emerging trends in the film, TV and music industries. Designed to maximize both learning and networking, the summit is designed to blend presentations, interactive panel discussions, performances and live demonstrations. The event features a keynote address from actress Maria Bello. The day is centered around a Stewards of Story theme, in which conversations will be guided to explore what taking responsibility for ethical storytelling means today.

The event is the brainchild of several law school alumni, including Jared Ruga, a 2016 graduate, who co-organized the event and is now vice president for film and television at Sentry Financial Corporation in Salt Lake City.

The event features speakers from around the country, but also includes local participants, including Michelle Kennedy, a 2013 alumna from the law school who specializes in entertainment and art law.

In advance of the inaugural event that is bringing together several alumni who are passionate about the field, Kennedy recently participated in a Q&A session with the S.J. Quinney College of Law about her path to law school, her activities since graduation and why she’s excited to be a part of the upcoming Lightspark Media Summit.

Q:   What made you interested in going to law school?

A: I grew up in the entertainment industry and the arts, and really wanted to pursue a career in music and filmmaking. However, I decided to pursue law school after I had a bad experience while trying to record demos in college. It was my first time in a studio on my own. I trusted the producers that their services would be a “work for hire”, so we recorded my songs without signing any contracts or discussing rights in depth. When I asked the producers to sign a formal contract, it turned out that they wanted rights to my music, which I had not agreed to and was not okay with. I tracked down legal help, but resolving the issue wasn’t cheap on a college student’s budget and the process was extremely stressful. I went to law school to learn how to protect myself and other creatives like me.

Q: What do you do today? How did your time at the law school shape and/or help what you are currently doing?

A: I am the founder and CEO of Kennedy Art Law, a law firm dedicated to providing creators and innovators with smart legal strategies. I work with talent and companies at the intersection of entertainment, tech, and digital media. In law school, I sought out internships and fellowships because I was hungry for practical experience. My 3L fellowship with the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute is a perfect summary of my diverse law school experiences. My Lassonde team picked real devices coming out of the University of Utah’s medical community and learned how to evaluate a market need, conduct due diligence on intellectual property, formulate a business plan, and decide when to scrap the product or soldier on. I use those skills every day to help my clients build and protect their work.

Q: What is one memorable experience from law school that will always stay with you? (From inside or outside the classroom?)

A: My friend Pete ran the Brio coffee cart at the old law school building. One day I asked Pete if he had any life advice for me based on what he had seen while running a coffee cart in a stressful environment like a law school. He basically told me that coffee can fix your energy, but it can’t fix your attitude. It didn’t matter if it was mid-semester or finals — the folks who chose to be miserable always showed up to the coffee cart feeling down, and the folks who chose to be positive seemed to weather it all. Pete’s advice inspired me to be more proactively positive in my studies and my legal career.

Michelle Kennedy

Q:  You are a part of the inaugural Lightspark Media Law summit coming up at the law school on March 3. What made you want to be a part of this project? Why is this an interesting time to be practicing in the entertainment law field in Utah?

A: I wanted to participate in Lightspark from the moment I first heard about it because of my passion to educate creators on their basic legal rights. I have also served the Utah creative community through the SJQ Art Law Alliance (co-founder), Utah Lawyers for the Arts (past board member), and Utah Arts Alliance (current board member). I regularly present to talent, business owners, and professionals on intellectual property issues.

The entertainment industry is going through a major shake-up because of advances in technology and the internet. It just so happens that Utah is full of talent and tech, which makes it a prime player in the future of entertainment. My background in business, experiences in entertainment, and understanding of new technology have put Kennedy Art Law in a unique position to help our clients navigate this new legal territory in Utah. I am excited and honored to share my experiences in this exciting new area of the law with the Lightspark community.