Nimmer graduated from UCLA, UC Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. He was admitted to the California State Bar in January 1951. He was professor at the UCLA School of Law from 1962. One year later, he published the two-volume treatise that would become the leading secondary source on copyright law, Nimmer on Copyright. In 1984, he published a one-volume treatise on freedom of speech, titled appropriately Nimmer on Freedom of Speech: Treatise on Theory of First Amendment.
As a lawyer, he was best known as the winning attorney in the 1971 case Cohen v. California. In Cohen, the Supreme Court of the United States, by a 5–4 vote in an opinion written by Justice Harlan, held that a state cannot criminalize speech absent a "particularized and compelling reason." The Court struck down the conviction of a 19-year-old man who had walked into the Los Angeles courthouse with a jacket reading "Fuck the Draft." Cohen became one of the leading cases interpreting the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protection of freedom of speech.
Melville Nimmer is the father of David Nimmer, himself a legal academic, who has made some revisions to the original version of Nimmer on Copyright.
- Nimmer, Melville B., and David Nimmer (1997). Nimmer on Copyright. Albany: Matthew Bender.
- "Attorney Search". State Bar of California. Retrieved 2008-10-29.
- "Georgetown Law Library: Copyright Law Research Guide". Georgetown University Law Library. May 2007. Retrieved 2008-10-29.
Nimmer on Copyright is a 10-volume treatise that is considered the leading secondary source on American copyright law. For decades Nimmer on Copyright was the only substantial copyright treatise. There were four-volume and two-volume works, but only in 2007 when William Patry issued a copyright treatise was there a treatise of comparable length and depth as Nimmer's work.
- Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971).