Famed First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus is leaving the firm he founded — Frankfurt Garbus, Kurnit Klein & Selz — to join intellectual property firm Davis & Gilbert.
Garbus, a fixture in New York legal circles, is expected to take his extensive client list with him and to help his new firm expand its entertainment and litigation practices.
“Entertainment litigation is now worldwide,” said Garbus, explaining that the move was prompted by his desire to be at a bigger firm. “We’re at around 40 lawyers, and Davis & Gilbert has about 100 lawyers. That means more mass and diversity and more technical skills.”
Garbus had not been looking to leave his firm, but when Davis & Gilbert recruited him, he realized the advantages of a larger litigation department. “I was not on a fishing expedition,” said Garbus, who added that it was a difficult decision to leave a firm he had helped found.
At 100 lawyers, Davis & Gilbert is a midsize firm with a fairly low profile. While there are much larger and more prominent New York litigation firms, few of them would be a good fit for Garbus and his eclectic, sometimes controversial, client list. Garbus said, “Culturally, they wouldn’t have worked.”
Despite his status as a First Amendment heavyweight, Garbus still sparks controversy with his choice of clients and issues. In a case that drew that wrath of the movie industry, Garbus represented a hacker magazine, 2600, when it was sued by the MPAA for posting the decryption code that protects DVDs from piracy. A New York federal judge and the appellate court rejected Garbus’ arguments that banning publication of the code was unconstitutional.
Garbus also represented the estate of “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell, which claimed that Alice Randall infringed the copyright with her parody “The Wind Done Gone.” He lost when a federal court judge found a right to publish. Garbus also represented Pia Pera, the author of “Lo’s Diary” when she was sued by the son of Vladimir Nabokov. He claimed that her book — written from Lolita’s point of view — infringed the copyright in the original “Lolita.” The suit was settled and the book was published.
In his lengthy career, Garbus has represented most of the major book publishers and media entities, including Penguin-Putnam Books, PBS and Warner Bros. He also repped the publishers of Salman Rushdie and Henry Miller, director Spike Lee, Richard Gere, Robert Redford, Lenny Bruce and author David Halberstam.
Garbus is working on a copyright infringement case filed against Eminem and Interscope Records.
Garbus is the author of several books, including most recently, “Courting Disaster: The Supreme Court and the Unmaking of American Law.”