From Hilton Head Island, to Vermont, L.A. and back to Hilton Head again, Michael Cerrati finds the Lowcountry an amenable place to continue a unique career. He’s one of only a few intellectual property (IP) lawyers in the region. He grew up in the Lowcountry, moved away and became a successful law professional in L.A., then moved back to Hilton Head Island where he lends his expertise to artists, authors, entrepreneurs, musicians and corporations here and all over the world from Europe to Southeast Asia.
Cerrati was born at Beaufort Memorial Hospital in 1979 before Hilton Head Hospital could deliver babies. His parents Karen and Al had moved to the island a few years before. Cerrati grew up in Sea Pines and attended Sea Pines Montessori, Hilton Head Prep, and then the Hilton Head Island public schools as an advanced soccer player. He left the island in 1997 to study Mathematics and Spanish, as well as perfect his snowboarding techniques at the University of Vermont. After graduating, he decided to pursue entertainment law.
Law schools in the nation that offer trademark, copyright, music and entertainment law are concentrated in New York, Nashville and Los Angeles. Cerrati chose a law school in L.A.
“Mostly for the weather – and to be in one of the entertainment centers of the world,” Cerrati said, flashing his bright smile. “You don’t see grass until April in Vermont, and it wears on you. February’s gray and cold weather was the worst.”
Cerrati earned his law degree Cum Laude in 2005 and worked for and worked at record labels, film studios and entertainment law firms along the way. Then file sharing disrupted the music industry. Downloading free songs – intellectual property – from the Internet destroyed the decades-old system that protected copyrights and gave the artist, the manager, and any middlemen a certain percentage of each record sold.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAW PROTECTS JUST THAT: CREATIONS OF THE MIND.
“None of the record labels or artists made money off of CD’s at that point. The number of attorneys in the music studios shrank. I shifted my focus to trademark and copyright law or intellectual property law,” Cerrati said.
IP law protects creations of the mind – literary and artistic works; inventions; designs; and symbols, names and images used in any industry imaginable – some preposterous. Christian Louboutin, known for sky-high stiletto shoes with scarlet soles that can sell for upward of $1,000 — has been trying to trademark the color red, arguing the design element is his recognizable signature that merits legal protection.
IP law enables people to earn recognition, gain exclusivity and financial benefit from what they create. For example, if someone uploads an unauthorized copy of a book on their website and shares the link with everyone, that’s copyright infringement. And if you download it, you’re making an unauthorized copy, and if you’ve made an unauthorized copy, you’ve violated the reproduction right of the copyright owner.
“An example of my local work,” Cerrati said, holding up a technical drawing, “is determining whether the work of a local artist, who rendered a portrait of the first patent for a Gibson guitar, infringes on any existing copyrights. I also assist businesses in a variety of industries obtain trademark protection for their names and products.”
Cerrati practices IP law in Belzer PC’s Hilton Head office, but his clients are all over the world. He counsels trademark and copyright owners on the selection, clearance, use, licensing, and protection of their intellectual property in the U.S. and abroad. He also assists startups and entrepreneurs in developing strategies for branding their new businesses.
Before returning to Hilton Head in 2008, Cerrati married fellow law student and Baton Rouge native, Jennie Swanson. They have two young sons, Jack and Ben.
“When I started to think about raising a family, I knew that Los Angeles would not be our final destination. I wanted to be close to family. L.A. is a wonderful place to be in your mid-to-late twenties. But ever since college, every time I went home to my family on Hilton Head, I’d think, ‘Oh, this isn’t so bad,’” Cerrati said in his affable, understated humor.