Melville Bernard Nimmer, Law: Los Angeles


Among the tributes to UCLA Law School Professor Melville Bernard Nimmer that were published shortly after his death at the age of 62, one, entitled “In Memory of Melville B. Nimmer,” consisted of comments by 10 lawyers and law professors who had known or had some professional involvement with him. Several of those comments capture the essence of Melville Nimmer, the scholar: “Surely the law of copyright is synonymous with the name of Melville Nimmer....”; “Mel Nimmer's writings on copyright... have been cited by the judiciary at large as the most reliable authority on almost any phase of the subject”; “His work was an inspiration to me and to numerous teachers and scholars who were interested in the field of intellectual property law”; “[His] study of [the first amendment] will continue to enhance the weaponry to be used in our constant battle to preserve free expression”; “It was Mel who pioneered the exploration of the near-cosmic conflict for the... `interface' between copyright and the first amendment”; “Nimmer's work will continue to inspire and guide all... who seek to approach any area of the law with the passion and quest for understanding that Mel Nimmer obviously possessed and demonstrated throughout his career.”

Other comments described his qualities as a teacher and human being. “Mel's longest reach will be through the generations of students whom he touched with the qualities of his mind and who, through their own careers in practice and academe, will perpetuate those qualities, shaping future decisions and the lives of future lawyers”; “He achieved so much in his profession as a scholar, as a teacher, as a practitioner, and as a writer. He achieved so much as a person--as a husband, as a father, and as a friend”; “Mel Nimmer was an outstanding person. He was also, and will always be, a distinguished legal institution.”

Mel Nimmer was a native of Los Angeles, who started his undergraduate career at UCLA, but after it was interrupted by service in the United States

Army, obtained his B.A. at UC Berkeley in 1947. After graduation from Harvard Law School in 1950, he returned to Los Angeles, where his law practice centered on the entertainment industry. While still a practitioner, he undertook and substantially completed what became his world-renowned Treatise on Copyright, itself a prodigious task, and doubly so, given the requirements of a busy practice, and his decision to do the entire work by himself, without the use of research assistants.

He joined the UCLA law faculty in 1962. His scholarly accomplishments were truly monumental. His four-volume Treatise on Copyright is the definitive text; it is relied upon by all whose activities take them into the world of publication--authors, producers, lawyers, professors and all levels of the judiciary, up to and including the Supreme Court of the United States. His seminal work in the fields of intellectual property and right of publicity determined the course of development of those areas of the law.

Nor were his contributions limited to the scholarly arena. He served as an adviser to the U.S. and foreign governments and to United Nations agencies in his chosen areas of specialization. Indeed, he lectured in practically every part of the globe on these topics, and shortly before his death had undertaken to write a book on world copyright.

A devoted defender of civil rights and civil liberties, he became intrigued with the relationship between copyright law and the First Amendment. His Treatise on the Theory of the First Amendment, published shortly before his death, is a powerful interpretation of that cornerstone of our democracy.

He left his mark on the law in other ways. He was a consummate legal advocate, and successfully argued a number of landmark free speech and intellectual property cases in the Supreme Court of the United States, the Supreme Court of California, and other appellate courts.

His teaching, like his scholarship, was grounded in both theory and reality, and his copyright casebook evidenced the same quality. Students interested in copyright and entertainment law applied to the UCLA Law School because Mel Nimmer was on its faculty, and their expectations were more than satisfied. He mixed his intelligence and authoritative knowledge of the law with an affability and humor that students thoroughly appreciated.

Despite the many other demands upon his time and energy, he was a stalwart citizen of the University, providing, in addition to the usual range of committee activities, special assistance in matters of faculty concern in the areas of copyright and intellectual property.

A warm and extraordinarily decent, gentle human being, always concerned for his fellow humans, he was appreciated and beloved in the many circles in which he moved: by his academic colleagues, the members of the practicing Bar, a vast range of friends, and by his loving family.


Mel Nimmer is survived by his wife Gloria, his children, Laurence, David, and Rebecca, and five grandchildren. They and we cherish his memory. He was a very special human being.

Norman Abrams William Alford Kenneth L. Karst Murray L. Schwartz