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Written by David L. Hudson Jr., published on January 1, 2009 , last updated on May 5, 2024

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Melville Bernard Nimmer (1923–1985), an expert in copyright law and freedom of expression, contributed greatly to jurisprudence in these areas during his legal career. As a defender of the First Amendment, he is best known for his successful advocacy before the Supreme Court in Cohen v. California (1971), in which he convinced the Court that an individual could not be convicted for wearing a jacket bearing a profane word in a courthouse.


Born in Los Angeles, Nimmer earned an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and a law degree from Harvard. After graduation, he worked in the legal department at Paramount Pictures before entering private practice in Los Angeles. In 1962 he accepted a faculty position at the law school of the University of California, Los Angeles, where he remained for the rest of his life.


Nimmer published important copyright and free expression works

Nimmer’s most cited work is his four-volume Nimmer on Copyright, first published in 1963. His son David, also a copyright expert, now updates this famous treatise that has been called the Bible of copyright. In 1984 Nimmer published his definitive work on free expression entitled Nimmer on Freedom of Speech: A Treatise on the First Amendment. First Amendment expert Rodney A. Smolla has updated the later editions of this work.


David L. Hudson, Jr. is a law professor at Belmont who publishes widely on First Amendment topics.  He is the author of a 12-lecture audio course on the First Amendment entitled Freedom of Speech: Understanding the First Amendment (Now You Know Media, 2018).  He also is the author of many First Amendment books, including The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (Thomson Reuters, 2012) and Freedom of Speech: Documents Decoded (ABC-CLIO, 2017). This article was originally published in 2009.​


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