Michael C. Donaldson, Partner

Michael C. Donaldson, Partner

Michael C. Donaldson is an entertainment attorney who has been fighting for independent filmmakers for over 30 years. In addition to working on films by such industry icons as Oliver Stone, Davis Guggenheim and Lawrence Bender, Michael serves as General Counsel to Film Independent (home of the Independent Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival) and the Writers Guild Foundation. He is the industry’s go-to attorney for fair use (a doctrine in United States copyright law permitting limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the rights holders) and other clearance- and rights-related issues.

Some of Michael’s notable accomplishments include:

  • Being appointed to the Executive Committee of the Copyright Society of the USA.
  • Being honored as one of Hollywood Reporter’s Power Lawyers in 2010 and 2011.
  • Co-authoring with his partner The American Bar Association’s Legal Guide to Filmmaking.
  • Being honored with the Amicus Award by The International Documentary Association – an honor bestowed on only two others in the 25-year history of the awards: Steven Spielberg and John Hendricks (founder of the Discovery Channel).
  • Serving as one of the authors of the Documentary Filmmakers Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use and being the only attorney in private practice to serve on the drafting committee for the recently released Statement of Best Practices for Online Video.
  • Serving on the Advisory Committee of the Stanford Fair Use Project.
  • Successfully negotiating with Media Professional Insurance Company and Chubb Insurance Company to offer fair use riders on the E&O insurance policies, allowing many films to be made under the fair use doctrine.
  • Assisting in the drafting and lobbying for Orphan Works legislation.
  • Being the sole American attorney to assist in the drafting of the Rome Resolution of 2007 to harmonize Fair Use across the European Union.
  • Holding the position of President of the International Documentary Association.
  • Organizing and leading the Documentary Credits Coalition in negotiations with the cable networks to prevent the wholesale migration of credits from the screen to the Internet.
  • Contributing to The Film Foundation’s book entitled City Secrets: Movies.

Michael graduated from UC Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall in 1967. His book Clearance and Copyright, now in its fourth edition, is used in over 50 film schools and has become the standard industry reference book. Michael also wrote Negotiating for Dummies (now in its second edition and translated into eleven languages), Fearless Negotiating (published in hardback in 2007 by McGraw Hill) and The E-Z Legal Guide to Trademarks & Copyrights.

Michael has worked on such projects as “This Film is Not Yet Rated” (where all 134 clips were utilized under fair use), “Wanderlust” (saving its filmmaker over $400,000) and “Expelled” (which featured the song “Imagine,” prompting an unsuccessful law suit by Yoko Ono). Michael has also worked with the Geffen Playhouse and the REDCAT, as well as representing Center Theatre Group (Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum and Kirk Douglas Theatre) for over twenty years.

Aside from lecturing frequently at law and film schools across the United States and in Europe, Michael is an avid skier, worldwide hiker and kayaker, and award-winning photographer. He also won a gold medal at the 1998 Senior Olympics for Parallel Bars and a silver medal on the rings. But what remains most important to Michael (in addition to his partner Tim Kittleson and his three daughters and three grandchildren) is his pro bono and philanthropic work.

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Lisa A. Callif, Partner

As a Founding Partner of Donaldson + Callif, Lisa Callif is the go-to attorney for all things legal-related to creating independent content. Lisa’s practice focuses on representing independent producers in all aspects of producing their projects, including financing, production and distribution. Lisa’s extensive experience in clearance, fair use and copyright issues makes her a leader in overcoming legal hurdles. She cuts through red tape for her clients, enabling films to be made and distributed, and works tirelessly to preserve artists’ voices so that they can shine a light on stories that otherwise might not be told. Lisa is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including recognition as a Hollywood Reporter Power Lawyer and a Daily Journal Top Entertainment Lawyer, as well as her ranking by Variety on the Dealmakers Impact Report. 

In addition to representing filmmakers, Lisa serves as counsel to multiple non-profit organizations, including Film Independent, which produces the LA Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Awards, and Women in Film, whose mission is to promote gender parity in all aspects of media. Lisa is also one of the few attorneys in Los Angeles to represent live theaters—she represents the Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum, the Geffen Playhouse, the Walllis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and other Los Angeles-based theater companies.

Along with Partner Michael Donaldson, Lisa has co-written two books: Clearance and Copyright4th Edition and The American Bar Association’s Legal Guide to Independent Filmmaking. She regularly publishes articles about emerging issues in entertainment and copyright law, and is often quoted in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Variety, Intellectual Property Magazine and more. Lisa and Michael were featured on the cover of LA Lawyer Magazine, for which they co-authored an article about fair use and its application in documentary films. 

Lisa graduated summa cum laude from New York University with a BS in communications, and worked in the music industry in New York and Los Angeles before obtaining her JD from Southwestern University School of Law. She previously served as an adjunct professor at Southwestern, and is a frequent speaker at Film Independent, the International Documentary Association and UCLA, where she also teaches legal basics at the UCLA Summer Producer’s Workshop.

Lisa lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Dustin, and her two children, Diggy and Liam.

Notable Projects

  • Making a Murderer (2016 Emmy winner)
  • Weiner (2016 Grand Jury Prize, Best Documentary, Sundance)
  • He Named Me Malala (2015 Academy Award shortlist)
  • 20 Feet From Stardom (2014 Academy Award and Film Independent Spirit Award winner)
  • Boyhood (2014 Academy Award and Golden Globe Awards winner)
  • Invisible War (2012 Film Independent Spirit Award Winner and Grand Jury Prize, Best Documentary, Sundance),
  • Inside Job (2011 Academy Award winner)
  • The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2010 Academy Award nominee).

Awards and Honors

  • Hollywood Reporter Power Lawyers
  • Variety Dealmakers Impact Report
  • Variety The Best and the Brightest
  • Daily Journal Top Women Lawyers
  • Best Lawyers in America
  • Southern California Super Lawyers
  • Daily Journal Top 50 Entertainment Lawyers

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Dean R. Cheley, Partner

Dean Cheley is an entertainment attorney who offers expertise in all areas of the entertainment industry, including structuring deals and negotiating contracts for individuals and corporations involved in the film and television industry.  He works with book authors, screen writers, performers, directors and producers, as well as institutions such as studios, networks, guilds and talent agencies.  Prior to joining the firm, Dean litigated numerous types of entertainment disputes, including copyright and trademark infringement, rights of publicity, breach of contract and partnership disputes.

Mr. Cheley received his law degree in 2006 from the University of California, Berkeley (Boalt Hall), where he was awarded the American Jurisprudence Award and was Executive Editor of The Berkeley Technology & Law Journal. While at law school, he interned at the Samuelson Intellectual Property Clinic, where he authored comments on behalf of media archives, filmmakers and libraries in response to a US Copyright Notice of Inquiry concerning orphan works and exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Prior to his career in law, Mr. Cheley worked as a producer and consultant for companies developing new media technologies, e-commerce, and branded entertainment.  He brings this experience to bear advising his clients with regard to copyright, trademark, licensing and other IP matters, as well as marketing and other promotional activities related to the entertainment industry.  Dean earned his bachelor’s degree from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in Digital & New Media Studies, an Interdisciplinary Program sponsored by faculty in the schools of Design, Film and Television and Communication.

Christopher L. Perez, Partner

Chris Perez joined Donaldson + Callif, LLP in 2009 and became a partner in the firm in 2014. Chris specializes in all aspects of the firm’s practice, including representing independent filmmakers through financing, production, rights clearance and distribution.

Chris has also contributed to several of the firm’s advocacy projects.  Beginning in 2009, Chris and Michael Donaldson successfully appealed to the U.S. Copyright Office to allow documentary filmmakers to secure an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for extracting material from commercial DVDs for use in their documentary films under the doctrine of fair use. In 2012, Chris and Michael were able to renew the exemption and expand access to online sources, and in 2015, they secured an even broader exemption for documentary filmmakers so they may access material from Blu-ray discs.

Chris has lectured on production, distribution, financing, and clearance issues at UCLA, USC Law, the USC School of Cinema, UC Irvine, Cal Arts, the School of Visual Arts, Columbia College of Chicago, and other institutions. He has also lectured for members of the International Documentary Association and Film Independent, and has appeared on panels at various film festivals and the Producers Guild of America. Chris has also written several op-ed pieces for the Daily Journal, LA Lawyer and Realscreen.

In 2016, Chris, along with attorney Corey Field, led a four-day seminar on the U.S. entertainment industry for students of the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, China.  The seminar covered business and legal aspects of the U.S. film industry for Chinese media executives interested in entering the U.S. market.

Chris has received the following honors and recognition:

  • Named one of “Hollywood’s New Leaders” by Variety, recognizing outstanding entertainment industry insiders in various categories. Christopher was one of eight honorees in Law & Finance.
  • Named in Variety’s 2016 and 2017 Legal Impact reports for his legal work on various productions.
  • Selected for inclusion on the 2016, 2017, and 2018 Southern California Super Lawyers Rising Stars list.
  • Named one of California Lawyer’s Attorneys of the Year in 2016 for his work with Michael Donaldson on an exemption to the DMCA for documentary filmmakers.

Chris graduated from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor with a BA in American Studies and a minor in Film and Video Studies, where he produced, directed, and wrote several student films. He earned his Juris Doctorate at the USC Gould School of Law.  Prior to working with Donaldson + Callif, Chris worked for California Lawyers for the Arts, Technicolor, and the Cyberlaw Clinic at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. 

Chris has also contributed to several of the firm’s advocacy projects and is currently a member of the Board of Directors for the International Documentary Association.

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Kate P. Serfoss, Associate

Kate Serfoss joined Donaldson + Callif in 2016. She works in all areas of the firm’s entertainment law practice, representing production and media companies in the motion picture, scripted and unscripted television and digital media industries, as well as representing producers, directors, writers and actors.  She guides clients through all stages of production, including rights acquisition, clearance, development, production and distribution. 

Kate received her B.A. in Art History and International Studies from Pepperdine University. Her experience in the art world and her studies of the political, legal, social, and economic factors that shape creative output inspired her to pursue a career in art and entertainment law.

Kate received her J.D. from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles where she concentrated in Entertainment and Digital Media Law. During that time, Kate volunteered for California Lawyers for the Arts and worked for leading media corporations, including Paramount Pictures, Viacom Media Networks, and Legendary Entertainment.

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Kathryn R. Alimohammadi, Associate

Kathryn Alimohammadi joined Donaldson + Callif, LLP in 2015.  Kathryn is an avid fan of independent filmmaking and specializes in representing filmmakers in all stages of their projects, including production legal services, rights clearance and distribution.  

After graduating summa cum laude from UCLA with a B.A. in History, Kathryn went on to receive her law degree in 2015 from UCLA School of Law.  While in law school, Kathryn was a managing editor for the UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Policy and volunteered all three years for the UCLA Reentry Clinic, where she assisted people in the community in obtaining jobs and ensuring their employers followed existing anti-discrimination laws. 

Before coming to work at Donaldson + Callif during her second and third years of law school, Kathryn worked on the documentary film The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Netflix 2014), where she learned many of the intricacies of documentary filmmaking and was first introduced to the fair use doctrine.  Once at Donaldson + Callif, Kathryn contributed to Michael Donaldson and Lisa Callif’s book Clearance and Copyright, 4th Edition.

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Alexandre M. Yousefzadeh, Associate

Alex Yousefzadeh joined the team at Donaldson + Callif in 2015.  He works in all areas of the firm’s entertainment and media law practice, advising clients through the various stages of corporate structuring, development, financing, production, rights acquisition, clearance, and distribution.

Alex received his B.A. from New York University’s Gallatin School in 2012, in the interdisciplinary study of medicine, psychology, and media. After his time at NYU, Alex moved back to Los Angeles and enrolled in the Southwestern University School of Law, where he focused on intellectual property law and practical entertainment courses.

Before receiving his J.D. from Southwestern in 2016, Alex worked at Donaldson + Callif as an intern and law clerk, where he assisted the firm’s partners with research and clearance projects, familiarizing himself with the fair use doctrine. As a law clerk, Alex also devised several guides to assist Donaldson + Callif’s clients to locate rights-holders of copyrighted materials, bridging the gap posed by the lack of orphan works legislation in the United States.

Seema G. Tilak, Associate

Seema Tilak joined Donaldson + Callif in 2017. Seema works in all aspects of the firm’s practice, including representing filmmakers and media companies through development, production, rights clearance, trademarks, distribution, and financing.

Prior to joining Donaldson + Callif, Seema litigated numerous intellectual property and entertainment disputes, including rights of publicity, privacy, defamation, and breach of contract disputes. Seema served on the legal team for Terry Bollea (p/k/a Hulk Hogan) in the landmark privacy trial, Terry Bollea v. Gawker Media, LLC, et. al., which resulted in a $140 million jury trial award.

Seema is an advocate for protecting freedom of speech and creative thought. She is registered to practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and has worked as a patent and trademark attorney to secure IP rights for clients globally. Seema is a fervent lecturer on privacy, rights of publicity, and digital media.

Seema earned her Juris Doctorate at Loyola Law School, where she was the Chief Production Editor of the Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review. In law school, Seema authored an article about online defamation, and continues to provide comment on personal rights in the digital media landscape.

David M. Fox, Law Clerk

David Fox joined the team at Donaldson + Callif in 2017. As a part of the firm’s entertainment and media law practice, David guides clients through all stages of production, rights clearance, and distribution.

David received his B.A. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2014, focusing his coursework on political theory, philosophy, and business. During his time at Michigan, David was the co-founder of the Digital Media in Business Club, and received a University Honors Designation.

David later received his J.D. from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. During law school, David was the President of Loyola’s Entertainment and Sports Law Society, a Research Assistant for the head of Loyola’s Entertainment Law Practicum, and a participant in the international law program at the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, China.

Before joining our team, David worked for Viacom, Glaser Weil’s Entertainment Department, and the State Bar of California. He was a D+C intern during his third year of law school. David’s legal experience spans both English and Spanish, as he is a native speaker of both languages.