Digital Media Matters

Charles Marshall works to build a digital dynasty 

Published in 2016 North Carolina Super Lawyers — February 2016

Sometimes you just need to get your foot in the door.

That’s how Charles Marshall went from a volunteer to an outside counsel for digital media needs for presidential candidate John McCain in 2008, and for Mitt Romney in 2012.

“I had agreed to volunteer early on, when McCain’s campaign was actually in trouble,” he says. “If you remember when he was an early candidate, his poll numbers weren’t doing very well.”

Then McCain won over 33 percent of the vote in the South Carolina primary, and his campaign took off. And Marshall, a business litigator at Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard in Raleigh, watched his role balloon.

“All of a sudden, they had a variety of digital media legal needs that were cropping up, because at the time, digital media and social media were still at pretty early stages,” says Marshall, noting that digital copyright, trademark, privacy and other content issues first started appearing in national campaigns around the time.

As outside counsel, Marshall answered quick inquiries on the appropriate use of potentially copyrighted material. “I think what campaigns are looking for is someone whose judgment they trust,” because successful campaigns shift rapidly from functioning like startups to multimillion-dollar companies, he says.

“Then it’s gone in 18 months, you know? The election is over.”

After the campaigns wrapped up, Marshall took what he learned and began infusing those elements into his everyday practice.

“I saw the Web become a destination for different types of businesses to start creating content on their own,” he says, adding that any business that is creating content on the Web for the public using music or video is “effectively a media organization.” Therein lay an opportunity; just as businesses needed corporate counsel, they would soon need digital media counsel.

As high-profile data breaches began to occur, more companies started seeking counsel on their own privacy practices. Now, digital privacy matters work is a growing area of Marshall’s practice.

“In helping people respond to data breaches, I started to learn a lot more about the privacy regulations that govern different industries and companies,” says Marshall. “From there I helped put a team together at the firm of lawyers from different practice areas who had experience in privacy matters for different types of industries. We’ve started to provide expanded privacy services.”

Working in an area where the rules evolve at the same rate as technology is challenging. So is convincing clients to be proactive. “The more attention they’re paying to digital privacy issues early on in the company’s life cycle, the easier and more efficient it is for them to respond to privacy issues, like data breaches, when they do occur,” he says.

Although digital media work is propelling Marshall’s practice into the future, he still takes cases rooted in the past. He’s currently working on an ongoing matter involving a border dispute between North Carolina and South Carolina that’s been years in the making.

Marshall’s client owns a gas station and convenience store that’s currently located in South Carolina, but as the two states work to modify the border, it’s been determined that the client’s business will soon exist in the northern state.

“The gas tax in North Carolina is significantly higher than South Carolina, so the gas price will go up,” says Marshall. “He won’t be allowed to sell alcohol, which he can do in South Carolina, and he won’t be able to sell fireworks. He also will have stricter environmental regulations in North Carolina.

“As a business litigator, I have to look at it from a litigator’s standpoint, but I also have to be able to go in and seek solutions with regulators and legislative leaders,” he says.

Just as with most of his digital media work, there isn’t a precedent for how North Carolina and South Carolina businesses will be affected by the shifting borders. For Marshall, it’s just a “typical example of a situation where you have to be able to give good counsel and use your best judgment.”

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