IP Intensive: A Semester at Cineplex; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Eat the Popcorn

I love movies. And although my enjoyment of a movie can be hit-or-miss, I also love the act of going to the movies. The cultural cathedrals we call “movie theatres” are among the few remaining places you can go to disconnect from everything outside their walls. The auditorium is a bastion of civility where you can still be chastised for burying your head in a smartphone. The tranquil atmosphere is not a luxury, but a necessity. People go to the movies to forget where they are. People go to the movies to forget they’re at the movies.

 

So when I found out that my placement in Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law and Technology Intensive Program would be with Cineplex Entertainment, I was at least somewhat excited. A company that is synonymous with film exhibition in Canada, I was anxious to get a glimpse of what it’s like to work in-house in an industry I love, an experience that eludes most lawyers until later in their careers. And while the IP Intensive boasts other in- house placements, I suspected that mine would be the least focused on intellectual property. In the end, I saw a healthy dose of IP work, but my stay was still very well rounded, allowing me to develop skills I acquired in law school and get acquainted with many different areas of law. In order to discuss my placement, however, I should first debunk some misconceptions about my host organization.


Misconception #1: “Cineplex shows movies. Full stop.”

Everyone is familiar with Cineplex as a film exhibitor, of course. This part of the business entails the procurement of intellectual property licences from film distributors and the owners of film-viewing technology, but the broader entity known as “Cineplex Entertainment LP” does much more than that. As advertising continues to go digital, someone has to develop (and licence) the hardware and software that make it work. Anytime you see indoor advertising that is more sophisticated than a lit poster, odds are that Cineplex is behind it. Outside the realm of IP, the SCENE loyalty program is sponsored through elaborate commercial contracts and promotional agreements with partners from various industries. There is also Cineplex’s merchandising division that handles things like popcorn, but more on that later.

 

Misconception #2: “Cineplex must have a massive legal department.”

Despite the national scale of its operations, all of Cineplex’s in-house work (and I do mean all of it) is funneled to a mere handful of employees. A tight-knit group of lawyers, agents, and clerks, the legal team benefits from a curious cross between the familiarity of a boutique firm and the machine-like efficiency of something much bigger. There are virtually no questions as to who is responsible for certain legal matters. Every other department knows that the person to see about IP law is not the person you talk to about insurance. And although their roles are compartmentalized to some extent, no one has trouble popping their head into someone else’s office to ask for advice.

 

With this setting in mind, Cineplex Entertainment made for a uniquely engaging placement. Because of its far-reaching business model, every division of the company has its own legal habitat and triggers areas of law that are completely irrelevant to someone working across the hall. This gives the legal team (myself included) the challenge of maintaining a watchful eye on every case, statute, and regulator that could have any effect on any part of the company. Even so, Cineplex’s divisions are constantly expanding, which creates demand for legal analyses of new business proposals. While that seems like more than enough to do, the department also deals with more run-of-the-mill corporate matters like employment law and the occasional dispute. And I had the good fortune of being in the thick of it, working on litigation files, advertising agreements, compliance strategies, and IP licences, sometimes all in the span of one morning.

 

My ten-week stint at Cineplex did precisely what placements like this are supposed to do: they take what you learn in the classroom and show you that it is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. In fact, Cineplex took it one step further by situating my interests in IP law and the film industry within a much larger business model. Calling the experience “invaluable” is a gross understatement. If you are a law student who plans to practice in anything resembling a corporate environment, applications are due in January.

 

P.S. Yes, I had very liberal access to popcorn and yes, I ate all of it.

 

Joseph Cuyegkeng is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School and was enrolled in Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law and Technology Intensive Program. As part of the program requirements, students were asked to write a reflective blog on their internship experience.

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