Question: Who is the only Muppet to have regularly crossed over between Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, and does this have anything to do with the practice of law? Answer: Kermit, and yes, it has a lot to do with the law. Daniel Victor, who serves as the international executive vice president at Sesame Workshop, spoke at Brooklyn Law School’s Media & Society Lecture on October 30 on the topic, “Big Bird’s Lawyer: Lessons from Practicing Law on the Street.”
In his talk, Victor discussed the challenges faced by a small nonprofit like Sesame Workshop in protecting its valuable intellectual property in a business more often controlled by large corporations with seemingly bottomless resources. He shared the lessons learned in a media industry composed of huge competitors, ensuring that a smaller player can oversee and protect its intellectual property effectively on a global basis.
In 2001, Sesame Workshop wanted to buy the rights to the “Sesame Street” Muppets. The toughest challenge during this multi-million-dollar deal was reduced to one seemingly simple question: What is a Muppet? One of the first steps to completing an acquisition agreement is to list the assets being acquired. In order to do this, the Sesame Workshop legal team had to tackle the question of what exactly distinguished a Sesame Muppet from the Classic Muppet (which appeared on The Muppet Show) or the Fraggle Muppets (from Fraggle Rock). After weeks spent tackling this issue, the breakthrough finally came when the legal team realized that Sesame Street was not comprised of a random set of characters. Rather, the Sesame Muppets were all inhabitants of the world of Sesame Street, characters defined by the relationships they had with one another. It would be this fundamental belief that provided the rationale for determining which Muppets would be included in the acquisition agreement, explained Victor.
He also contextualized the results of this case in the larger issue of good lawyering. The identification of clear Sesame Muppet criteria gave the legal team the confidence to claim ownership of any Muppet who might have been left out of the team’s subsequent effort to identify which ones qualified. In over seven years, since this agreement commenced, Victor said that this provision has never once been disputed. Although our job as lawyers is to “record the accurate and precise meeting of the minds,” he concluded, “to make a difference as a lawyer, our job is to help those minds meet.”
As Executive Vice President, International, Daniel Victor oversees the development of international strategies for Sesame Workshop, and the overall coordination of the implementation of all international projects across divisions, including content, distribution, business development, public policy, ancillary businesses, and education and research. He previously served as executive vice president and general counsel of legal and business affairs for Sesame Workshop. Prior to joining the Workshop in 1994, Victor was affiliated with the legal department at Paramount Communications. He also served as associate general counsel of Columbia University and was a litigation associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York.