Legal Bear in the Woods

Lisa Dowling
There are hundreds of stories of how mainstream professionals find their way into the adult business. Most will admit it's by accident. Renowned litigation attorney Paul Berra is no different. His path into the adult industry certainly was accidental.

As one of the outstanding litigants at the high-profile entertainment law firm of Los Angeles-based Lavely & Singer, Berra successfully represented a number of celebrity clients who found themselves in the embarrassing position of having unauthorized, explicit videos splashed across the Internet.

He repped Rick Salomon when he battled against Paris Hilton and their much-publicized sex tape, helping Salomon acquire property rights when the tape made its Internet debut. Berra has also been involved in a sex tape lawsuit for Colin Farrell and unauthorized videos involving Cameron Diaz and Carolyn Murphy.

Berra currently represents XPays, the company that acquired Internet enforcement rights of the Hilton tape. In 2004, XPays officially obtained selling and marketing rights to the video and subsequently filed copyright infringement lawsuits against several sponsor programs. At present, the Hilton videotape case is still deep in factual investigation. Each of the defendants has been served and Berra is scheduling depositions.

"Because of the proliferation of these videos on the Internet and various adult sites, it forced me to understand Internet law, copyright infringement law, DMCA law and other adult industry issues," Berra said.

Berra has taken that desire for understanding to remarkable heights. He has recently left Lavely & Singer and opened his own firm in Santa Monica, Calif., that specializes in intellectual property litigation, first amendment litigation, copyright litigation and understanding of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

2257 Specialty
"I also specialize in 2257 issues, the section of the federal law that concerns proper record keeping for adult content," Berra said. "This area of the U.S. Code is essentially a record-keeping requirement to ensure that people who appear in adult movies are over a certain age. It's a big issue."

How did this Detroit-born boy become such a shining legal star? It all began for Berra at the University of Wisconsin Law School. From the moment he graduated in 1996, Berra began successfully litigating cases, spending his first six years as an attorney at a large firm in downtown L.A. Finding general business litigation a bit boring, he moved on to Lavely & Singer and spent the next four years honing his litigation skills with top entertainment clients.

"For me, it's all about fighting and figuring out ways to solve complicated problems," Berra said. "Litigation is about finding the most efficient way to solve problems. It is incredibly challenging and I like a challenge. Entertainment litigation is very cutting edge, very high stakes and [is] definitely very challenging."

Berra has first-chaired a number of jury and court trials, including a complex environmental case against one of the country's most powerful land use firms, and obtained favorable judgments in each case. He's argued legal motions of every type in federal and state court, deposed persons from corporate execs to high-powered celebs, and has settled cases both informally and through mediation. And now he's on his own.

"I decided to leave Lavely & Singer for a number of reasons," Berra said. "Just not having a boss was a big appeal. Not having to be at work at the same time is also nice but being on my own has allowed me to be flexible as to the types of business I work on. I'm developing business better now. I'm moving more into the adult industry. It's been a lot of fun and a learning experience for sure.

"The adult business, especially with regard to the Internet, is becoming more and more mainstream. I find it a really good thing to be involved in, not only for business but also in terms of development of law [regarding] privacy rights and intellectual property rights."

At present, 50 percent of Berra's clients are adult industry- oriented with the other 50 percent involved in mainstream entertainment. How does he choose a client?

"I'll take on anybody that I like and, of course, any client that I am confident we can maintain a healthy relationship together," Berra said. "The kinds of cases I will accept are essentially any type that is not involved in a specialty area like divorce or criminal law.

"As a civil litigator, you can do any number of things, but if you don't have the necessary experience, such as divorce law, you can't do well by your client in certain situations."

Berra does very well by his clients for general business litigation, entertainment litigation as well as intellectual property law and privacy rights issues. His core philosophy is all about the end product.

"First and foremost, I immediately look for reasonable, efficient solutions," Berra said. "If that doesn't work, it quickly becomes very aggressive, hard-hitting litigation. I am very mild mannered, but I've learned that in order to get results expeditiously, you have to be very up on the issues. You have to spend hours reading law and be very, very aggressive — otherwise you won't last."

If his stellar track record is any evidence, Berra is sure to last. His short-term goal is to make sure that his new firm grows and stays healthy. Long term, this competent counselor hopes to become one of the most recognized and respected attorneys in both the mainstream entertainment and adult industries.

"I would also like to be recognized as an expert on Internet law and the various cutting-edge issues that spring up every day," Berra said. "I want people in the adult business to know me, trust me and have good things to say about me as a lawyer and a person. Someone they'd like to hang out with at events."