Public Art Meets Courthouse Navigation

In the U.S., regardless of the jurisdiction, the court structure involves an appeals process in which a higher court can review a decision of a lower court. For many self-represented litigants, navigating the journey from court to court can be confusing and frustrating. For practicing attorneys, an appeal may not be a common task, so a resource to refresh the memory when appellate work crops up can be helpful. Our solution… public art, of course!

Not just any public art though. This summer we have been fortunate to host Helen Hartman from the Harris Commissioner Precinct One LEE Internship program. Helen’s graphic-design talents have helped us take a dry, nebulous concept and make it more approachable for patrons who need to navigate the Texas court structure in Harris County. Drawing inspiration from the Texas Judicial Branch’s “Court Structure of Texas” flowchart, we have added graphical representations of the buildings in which courts meet to bridge the gap between abstract concepts of jurisdiction and local venues where our patrons interact with the judiciary.

This public art piece is now a permanent exhibit at the Harris County Law Library. Visit Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., to see this impressive work in person.

Latest & Greatest – Make Your Own Living Trust

By Denis Clifford  Published by Nolo  KF 734 .Z9 C57 2019  Photo Credit: Helen Hartman

By Denis Clifford

Published by Nolo

KF 734 .Z9 C57 2019

Photo Credit: Helen Hartman

If you’re seeking a way to dispose of your property after your death without your heirs and beneficiaries having to go through the legal process known as probate, then a living trust might be the mechanism through which you can achieve that goal. A living trust, or an inter vivos trust, transfers property designated under the trust to your loved ones upon your death without the need for probate. Sound appealing? Then, you might want to have a look at Nolo’s Make Your Own Living Trust. Denis Clifford, an estate planning attorney, explains what a living trust is, how it works, and what its advantages and potential downsides are. With this book, you can also learn how to:

  • determine the type of trust that is right for you;

  • choose what property to place into the trust;

  • choose a successor trustee and designate beneficiaries;

  • prepare the living trust document; and

  • transfer property to the trust.

There are also plenty of sample forms to help draft your living trust and a glossary to help explain some key terms.

Before you embark on this estate-planning tool, read Make Your Own Living Trust. Find it in the Law Library’s Self-Help Collection. Other titles that you might find useful on this and similar topics are: Estate Planning Basics, Plan Your Estate, and Quick and Legal Will Book.

It's Access to Legal Information Week!

Harris County Commissioners Court recognized July 14-20 as “Access to Legal Information Week” with a July 9 resolution to encourage all to visit the Harris County Law Library to learn about the valuable resources and services available. Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan and the Law Library are celebrating “Access to Legal Information Week” with a week’s worth of event to raise awareness about legal research resources available to all at our downtown Houston location. Stop by the Law Library Reference Desk Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 7:00 pm to request a tour and learn about legal information resources available to the people of Harris County. Access to Legal Information Week events will include the following:


Sunday, July 14

Our law librarians kicked off the week in Washington, D.C. at the 112th Annual Conference of the American Association of Law Libraries to receive the inaugural Excellence in Community Engagement Award for our Harvey Recovery Resources webpage.


Monday, July 15

The Law Library will begin offering tours for patrons at 8 a.m. Stop by all week to learn about the resources and services available for legal researchers and self-represented litigants. Plan your visit with driving directions and parking information on our Contact Us page.


Tuesday, July 16

Our law librarians will be recognized at the AALL Annual Meeting with the Joseph L. Andrews Legal Literature Award for our work on the Pro Se Litigant Handbook and Manual para Litigantes Pro Se, which connect Harris County’s self-represented litigants with current, accurate information about a wealth of local legal aid resources. Stop by the Law Library to pick up a copy or visit our Self-Help page to access the digital version.


Wednesday, July 17

Join us Wednesday starting at 8 a.m. to receive a copy of our limited edition Digital Destination Passport. The Law Library has greatly expanded the digital resources available to all legal researchers in Harris County. The Passport takes patrons on a journey through eight new resources available for free at the Law Library and provides an opportunity for public and attorney patrons to learn about all the information available at your fingertips within steps of the courthouses at our downtown Houston location. Visit our Digital Destinations Passport page to learn more.




Thursday, July 18

Join us for a Hands-On Legal Tech Training on Thursday at 2 p.m. to learn how to Find & Format Legal Forms using the free databases available at the Harris County Law Library. Each Thursday, our law librarians offers classes accredited by the State Bar of Texas to all of our patrons for free to increase access to legal resources through our Legal Tech Institute. Visit our Legal Tech Institute Course Calendar to sign up for a free session today!


Friday, July 19

Deputy Director Joe Lawson will visit the 1910 Courthouse to lead an advanced legal research class for interns of the 1st and 14th Texas Courts of Appeals. Each summer interns from the Courts and Harris County Attorney’s Office have the opportunity to sharpen their legal research skills with training sessions from the Harris County Law Library to ensure our newest legal professionals have access to the legal information they need to move our justice system forward in their careers.


Saturday, July 20

The Harris County Law Library is closed on Saturdays, but that doesn’t mean access to legal information stops. Visit our Legal Tech Institute On-Demand Learning page to find videos about legal tech topics and access to legal information. Several videos are accredited by the State Bar of Texas and there is something for everyone.

Access to Legal Information Week: July 14-20, 2019

Today, Harris County Commissioners Court passed a Resolution recognizing July 14-20, 2019, as Access to Legal Information Week in Harris County in honor of the exemplary service to the public offered at the Harris County Law Library and the many awards recognizing the Law Library from the American Association of Law Libraries.

We would like to thank Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo for placing the item on the Court’s agenda, the County Judge and Commissioners for supporting the resolution, and Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan and Judge Daryl Moore of the 333rd Civil District Court for their kind words shared on behalf of the Law Library at today’s Court session.

Learn more about the Resolution and Access to Legal Information Week with this press release from the Office of Vince Ryan, Harris County Attorney.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack, Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle, County Attorney Vince Ryan, County Law Library Deputy Director Joe Lawson, County Law Library Director Mariann Sears, 333rd Civil District Court Judge Daryl Moore, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, County Judge Lina Hidalgo, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis recognized July 14-20, 2019 as "Access to Legal Information Week" during Commissioners Court, July 9.

Bad Blood: Taylor Swift and Artists’ Rights to Sound Recordings

Taylor Swift in 2019.

Taylor Swift in 2019.

Earlier this week, Nashville-based record label Big Machine Label Group was purchased by music industry heavyweight Scooter Braun for a reported $300 million. This acquisition includes the master tapes for all of pop megastar Taylor Swift’s six albums released to date. The Swifties, dedicated members of the musician’s loyal international fandom, have taken this particularly hard, as Braun and Swift have been at odds over the years, leading to widespread suspicion that the purchase of the masters may have been motivated in part by personal animus.

What does this purchase mean for Swift, and does she have recourse?

The term master recordings refers to the ultimate, highest quality record of an artist’s studio session. It is the base from which all production and mixing occurs to bring a final version to the masses. “Sound recordings are inevitably derivative works as they necessarily include an audible performance of a literary, musical, or dramatic work.” §8:42 Publication of Works Other Than Sound Recordings, 1 The Law of Copyright. The right to create a derivative work is part of the so-called Bundle of Rights afforded a copyright holder, and therefore in theory the exclusive right to create a derivative work belongs to the author of the underlying work. However, authors can sell or assign rights from their bundle to others, and in the music business it is common for artists to sign their rights to master recordings over to their record labels. This was the case for Swift, who signed her deal with Big Machine Label Group at age 15. Still, because Swift retains the copyright in the underlying work, Braun would be unable, for example, to license the recordings for use in a film without Swift’s permission. These limitations on Braun’s ability to exploit the masters for monetary gain may be of some comfort to Swifties everywhere.

In the two image captures immediately below from the US Copyright Office online registration database, you can see that while Swift and others own the rights to the underlying musical work “Look What You Made Me Do,” Big Machine Label Group LLC owns the right to the “Look What You Made Me Do” sound recording.

Because her contract, as is typical of record deals, apparently did not include any right to first refusal on a deal for her master recordings, nor does it appear to have required the label to allow her to match any offer, analysis by The Hollywood Reporter indicates she has no legal recourse.

Yet, Taylor Swift has to date been about as significant a force on the business side of the music industry as she has been as an artist. It is likely that a result of this highly publicized incident will be a rise in contractual language providing artists with enhanced ability to eventually purchase back their own masters from their labels. As artists have struggled for decades to find ways to regain control of their tapes, this could well prove a pivotal moment in Entertainment Law.

Besides legal rights and the ability to commercially exploit master recordings, the owner of such recordings also must tackle issues of preservation. The recent, shocking New York Times Magazine expose of the almost 200,000 master tapes lost in the 2008 Universal Studios fire explores the repercussions of leaving cultural patrimony in the hands of for-profit institutions that may not be able to ensure preservation.

An Important Day in Constitutional History: Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964)

Escobedo - Sixth Amendment.png

During Constitutional Law Resource Month at the Harris County Law Library, we are taking a look back at a landmark Supreme Court decision, Escobedo v. Illinois, 378 U.S. 478 (1964). Tomorrow marks the 55th anniversary of the decision and its role in reinforcing our Sixth Amendment rights.

Danny Escobedo was arrested without a warrant on January 20, 1960. As the prime suspect in the shooting death of his brother-in-law, he was held for questioning for more than 18 hours. Escobedo asked repeatedly for his attorney to be present, but repeatedly, his request was denied. It was only after being indicted that Escobedo was granted access to a lawyer, violating his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to due process and access to counsel. The Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966) decision just two years later implicitly overruled Escobedo, but it was, nonetheless, an important step in the process toward ensuring a constitutional right to counsel for the criminal accused.