There is the saying about the man who one night dreamed in sequences of five. Five swings, five trees on a hill, five people running for mayor . . . . Throughout the rest of the day, he wondered what the dream meant because certainly the number 5 in his dream meant something. Then, all it once, it came to him. He hurried down to the racetrack and arrived precisely at 5:55 — just in time to bet on the fifth race. He ran to the fifth window and placed all the money he had on him ($55.55) on the fifth horse. He watched the race with incredible anticipation and as the horses crossed the finish line he looked up at the standings board to see that his horse finished fifth . . . .
There are a lot of things in law that are not intuitive and yet, the wrong assumption is one you may regret for a long time. For example, a common misperception about copyrights is that “if I change X% (you pick the percent, but I’ve heard anywhere between 20-40%) of the original work, I’m safe”, i.e. the original owner can’t successfully sue for copyright infringement. Yet, the fair use defense to a copyright claim is much more nuanced than that. Today, artists need to be more than talented. They also need a firm understanding of the business and legal side of the art world.
I had the good fortune this weekend to spend time talking to some very talented artists about the misperception of when someone can use fair use as a defense and other misperceptions at a seminar through the KCArtistsLink. My session? It was Zen and the Law of Art: business structure, intellectual property, and basic legal issues facing artists. Certainly not as sexy as the latest printing technique or tricks to quickly create musical loops. Yet, the Beatles need to wait until 2018 before they can begin to reclaim the copyright in some their songs (longer for others) and many other artists have run into problems over one or more of these issues.
If you are an artist, look to join a Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts organization which put on low-cost or free workshops and can put artists in touch with a network of lawyers and accountants. (Disclaimer: I’m a board member of the KCVLAA). If there isn’t a VLAA near you, look for other local organizations that serve artists like KCArtistLink, or join an organization that serves your specialty like the Professional Photographers of America. However you decide to do it, take a workshop or two to learn the business and legal side of creating and selling your art. Once you learn some basics, you can focus again on creating new and exciting art!