Seth D. Berlin

Tel 202.508.1122
Fax 202.661.2299
Washington, DC

Seth D. Berlin has represented clients in First Amendment, defamation, privacy, access, reporter's privilege, copyright, and trademark disputes for more than 25 years. He has appeared on behalf of media clients in numerous federal trial and appeals courts, and in state courts throughout the country.

Seth's clients include television and radio networks, station owners, cable television networks, production companies, national and local newspapers, magazine publishers, websites, and specialty publications. He also regularly represents advocacy groups and political organizations in enforcing and defending their First Amendment rights. He has successfully handled numerous copyright and trademark disputes for publishers, advertising agencies, and music houses, as well as for publishers focused on unauthorized access to password-protected areas of their websites.

Seth has been described by Chambers USA as one of "the firm's prized First Amendment attorneys" who is recognized for his "terrific courtroom skills." According to Best Lawyers, clients have described Seth as a "terrific and talented practitioner," noting that he "has an unusually strong ability to plot a successful path toward the client's goals and an enviable record of achieving those outcomes." He is an adjunct professor of Media Law at Georgetown University Law Center, is a co-author of the seminal treatise Newsgathering and the Law, and has testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on cameras in the courtroom.

Seth was one of the founding attorneys of the highly regarded First Amendment boutique law firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, which merged with Ballard Spahr in October 2017.

Representative Experience

  • Successfully obtained a preliminary injunction on behalf of a coalition of Maryland newspapers enjoining enforcement of a new Maryland statute that imposed various obligations on websites that publish online political advertising. The federal district court ruled that the statute is subject to strict scrutiny under the First Amendment and is unconstitutional as applied to the newspapers and their websites.
  • Successfully defended the National Jewish Democratic Council and two of its officials in a defamation action brought by billionaire casino magnate and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. The case arose from a petition NJDC posted on the Internet urging Republican candidates not to accept campaign contributions from Adelson. Seth and his colleagues secured victories in the Southern District of New York, the Second Circuit and the Nevada Supreme Court, including under the Nevada Anti-SLAPP Act, resulting in an award of attorneys' fees and costs in his clients' favor of almost $2 million.
  • Successfully represented a coalition of Canadian media organizations in challenging a request to seal the entire judicial record of divorce proceedings in Maryland involving Julie Payette, following her designation by Queen Elizabeth II as Governor General of Canada
  • Successfully defended Washington City Paper in a defamation action filed by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder over a profile titled "The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder." After City Paper filed its motion to dismiss invoking the District of Columbia's then-brand new anti-SLAPP statute, Snyder voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit.
  • Successfully defended Condé Nast Publications, Inc., in a defamation lawsuit arising from an article published in Wired magazine and concerning a proponent of mandatory vaccinations and criticism about him. After one of the critics filed suit, the court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss, ruling that the challenged statements were non-actionable statements of opinion and reaffirming the breathing room afforded to statements made in the context of scientific debate.
  • Represented CBS News in its efforts to quash a subpoena by military prosecutors for outtakes of a 60 Minutes interview with a marine staff sergeant charged with killing innocent civilians in Haditha, Iraq. The military judge presiding over the court-martial twice granted CBS's motion to quash the Government's subpoena, and the Government appealed both times to the intermediate appellate court and then to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the highest military court in the United States.
  • Successfully defended ABC and Citadel Communications in a high-stakes suit against KABC, a Los Angeles radio station, alleging that a series of broadcasts were defamatory and incited a bomb threat against a school. The court granted special motion to strike under California's anti-SLAPP statute and awarded his clients almost $200,000 in attorneys' fees and costs.
  • Successfully represented the publisher of a prescription drug database, owned by The Hearst Corporation, in a product disparagement action arising out of statements about an asthma inhaler manufactured by Schering Corp.

Professional Activities

ABA Forum on Communications Law, past Governing Board

ABA Media Advocacy Workshop, Founder

Georgetown University Law Center, Adjunct Professor of Media Law

Philip Merrill College of Journalism of the University of Maryland, Adjunct Professor of Media Law, 2006

Recognition & Accomplishments

Chambers USA, Media & Entertainment Law, Washington, D.C., 2008-2020

The Best Lawyers in America, First Amendment litigation and Media Law, Washington, D.C., 2010-2020

The Legal 500, Media and Entertainment: Litigation, 2020

Washington, D.C., Super Lawyers, 2010-2017

Selected Publications

Co-author, Newsgathering and the Law, Lexis Law Publishing, 5th ed., 2018

"Teach Your Children: High School Students and the First Amendment," Communications Lawyer, July 2008

"Planned Parenthood v. ACLA: Are the Nuremberg Files and 'Wanted' Posters Protected Advocacy or Unprotected Threat?" Communications Lawyer, Summer 2002

Harvard Law School (J.D., cum laude, 1991)

Brown University (B.A., magna cum laude, 1988)

District of Columbia


New York

U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York