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Book Review: Arts Law Conversations: A Surprisingly Readable Guide for Arts Entrepreneurs

Arts Law Conversations tackles complicated intellectual property issues in a format non-lawyers can understand. It's a great asset for all creative entrepreneurs attempting to wade through the complexity of intellectual property.

As creative shooters and editors we are constantly dealing with--and being confused by--all the rules surrounding copyrights, and intellectual property. But whatever the challenges of making sense of it all, we need to be very aware of what the law says about these topics. I’ve recently taken a job at my local State Bar Association where I webcast and record Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes. One or our recent topics was “Intellectual Property and the Law.” I struck up a conversation with the presenter, Elizabeth T. Russell, regarding the issues event video and photo shooters/editors face on an almost daily basis. She reached into her backpack and pulled out a copy of her book, Arts Law Conversations (Ruly Press, 2014). She gave me a copy and I promised to do a review for the video/photo community. The purpose of my review is not to delve into all the explanations and law about intellectual property, but rather to describe how the book helps lay people (i.e., non-lawyers) learn about the subject.

The book is written in a way normal people can grasp the content and concepts of intellectual property. It’s almost like an “Intellectual Property for Dummies” kind of writing style, with concise information in non-legalese language mixed with occasional humorous examples and explanations. Each chapter is very short and focuses on a specific legal issue. The first few chapters actually explain how part of the legal system works regarding statutes and publications. There are lots of links to sites that will help you to do some of your own research if you want about topics. There are great explanations of how to do your own research when needed, and how to interpret some of the laws and rulings cited in the book. It does cite many legal cases with the actual case codes, so looking them up for yourself is as easy as using a search engine. At the end of many of the chapters there are even small exercises for you to do try and explore the concept further.

As part of the style of writing the author uses, most chapters are laid out as a role play type of situation with dialogue going on between an artist and a lawyer. It’s actually very entertaining, and makes you feel as if you’re sitting in on the meeting they’re having. Each chapter builds on previous chapters. As a concept from a previous chapter is mentioned, that chapter is referenced so you can easily go back and re-read the content if needed.

The book covers a large spectrum of intellectual property law from copyrights, to trademarks, to licensing, public performance, and even contracts. As a videographer or photographer, I found that about one-third to one-half of the book was targeted at the issues I would have questions about.

Intellectual property law is very complicated both from the creator’s rights and the publisher’s rights perspective. Arts Law Conversations dives deep into both sides of the rules. It helps entrepreneurs understand what they need to do to protect their copyrights, and it helps creatives know what kind of rights they need to use that property.

Let me offer an example of what I learned in Chapter 24 entitled, “Owning the Piece (as Opposed to) Owning the Copyright.” I’ve modified the actual story (so I don't break copyright laws) but will convey the concept via a similar story. Here we go: You are a doctor who likes to collect fine art for display in your home. You purchase a beautiful painting from an artist well known in your community. When you purchase the artwork, you get the exclusive right to display the painting publicly without permission. You can even transfer that exclusive right if you sell the painting years later. It can legally be displayed with no problem at your doctor’s office even though you are displaying it at a for-profit location.

Here is where it gets interesting: As a doctor, you have developed a new ground-breaking procedure that saves lives and has taken the medical profession by storm (kind of like a video going viral in our business). As a result, the film industry has decided to do a documentary about your life and the journey of creating this new ground-breaking procedure. They decide to film portions of the movie right in your office so the movie is as real as possible. As part of the filming process, scenes are shot where the painting from your local artist is part of the background of scenes. When your best friend from Wyoming goes to see the movie they see that painting on the wall. However, they are viewing the painting on the wall but they are not in the same place as the painting. They are watching it on their TV via digital download from a streaming service. The producers of the video will need to purchase a license for public display of the painting, or the artist would have a case for copyright infringement. To make it more interesting, think of the implications of a tattoo on your arm when you’re being interviewed on TV because your video went viral. A tattoo is artwork, which means the tattoo artist has intellectual property rights. You can see how this could be a problem.

Arts Law Conversations tackles complicated intellectual property issues in a format non-lawyers can understand. There are almost daily conversations started on social media groups and online video/photo forums about copyrights and music. This book would be a great asset for all creative entrepreneurs attempting wade through the complexity of intellectual property. It's available from Ruly Press as well as on Amazon for $21.99.