Friday, September 14, 2007

Legal Matters that Matter to Creative Folks

Copyright 2007 Tonya M. Evans-Walls (). Limited license granted to copy and distribute this post provided such copying and distributing is of the entire post, including author's copyright and contact information.
**Remember, this information is for educational purposes
and should never replace competent legal advice from your legal representative.**

We creative people are notorious for getting caught up in the process of creating, often at the expense of fully comprehending and appreciating the business side of our creativity. Because of our absorption in the creative process, little attention is given to the potential legalities we creative folks face before, during, and after the creative process.

But did you ever stop to consider the legal implications, rights, and obligations that may exist because of what you created? For example, have you ever …
  • guarded your manuscript, lyrics, photos or paintings, forbidding anyone to see them for fear that they might steal your brilliant ideas?
  • mailed your creative work to yourself, believing your copyright interests were somehow protected?
  • been confused about the difference between a copyright, trademark and patent?
  • pieced together a contract from contracts you found by searching the Internet? Or (worse yet) cut and pasted information (words, images or sounds) from the web and used it in your own work thinking it is “fair use”?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you may be in danger of jeopardizing your rights or infringing the rights of others. So read on. But one word of caution. This article is for informational purposes only. Do not use it in place of legal counsel by an experienced intellectual property lawyer. Get the facts from an expert. And FYI, your friend who watches a lot of Law & Order episodes doesn’t count!

Clearing Up the Confusion about Copyright

A copyright protects an author’s original artistic or literary work, whether published or unpublished. Under copyright law, the term “author” has a special meaning: the creator of an original literary or artistic work. Thus, the word “author” includes not only writers but photographers, singers, painters, sculptors – anyone who creates a literary or artistic work.

A Little Legalese Q&A

What can and cannot be copyrighted? Generally, copyright protects all original writing and artistic creations: letters, e-mail, poetry, manuscripts, songs, photographs, CDs, recordings of written works, musical scores, movies, sculptures, artwork, and even architecture. Book and song titles cannot be copyrighted. Ideas cannot be copyrighted.

What do you have to do to copyright your work? If you have created an original work in some tangible form – in writing or on film or tape or canvas, for example – then you don’t have to do anything. You automatically own the copyright. But you should register it with the Copyright Office for further protection.

Can you use a picture you took of someone else in any way you choose? Although the photographer usually owns the copyright in the picture, the person captured in the picture may hold a competing interest: the right of publicity. This right, governed by state law, gives a person (usually a celebrity or public figure) the exclusive right to use his or her name, likeness, or other aspect of his or her persona for profit, and the right to prevent others from using those aspects without authorization. Similarly, the photographer may even be prohibited from making and distributing copies of a picture that captures a painting, sculpture, or other work of art if that work is otherwise protected by copyright.

Welcome to a glimpse of the complex universe of legal matters that matter to creative folks. Perfecting your craft is important indeed. Understanding the legal side of creativity is imperative. Honor yourself, your work and the rights of others by asking the right questions and getting the right answers. Don’t leave your rights to chance. Empower yourself with information and take your creativity to the next level.


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