Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Arts, Culture and the Law Conference

It has been over a month since I attended the Arts, Culture and the Law Conference which was hosted at the UNH School of Law. This is the 2cnd annual conference organized by the NHBCA, Department of Justice, Department of Cultural Resources, the Center for Non-Profits and UNH School ofLaw. And it was better attended and just as exciting as last year, but that might be the wonky side of me coming out.

The morning started off with a humorous presentation by Doug Verge and Dan Fink of Sheehan Phinney, Bass & Green on copyright. In a half hour they were able to convey a lot of information on copyright, trademark, and patents all while poking fun at lawyers, copyright interlopers and artists trying to find the cheapest possible route. They pointed out that while an artist automatically owns the copyright to all works but if it isn’t registered at the US Copyright Office  it becomes much more expensive to ensure legal rights to a work. This blew a hole through the time honored method of copyrighting by sending a letter to oneself with the images/titles/descriptions of artworks enclosed and leaving unopened until a suit arises. My experience in the past when ownership of an idea arises for an artist is that being unprepared leaves the artist no avenue except abandoning a signature style or idea. This can be financial disaster for someone who has spent a lot of time and effort building up a reputation around this signature idea. Some other little tidbits gleaned from this mini-presentation are that titles cannot be copyrighted, and trademarks are absolutely inviolable (think logos or catch phrases such as “America Runs on Dunkins”)

Because I am a glutton for punishment and it is a question that comes up frequently in my line of business the first seminar I attended was on Copyright and the performing arts. The presenters were Andrea Hirst, in-house counsel for Brookstones and Todd Sullivan of Hayes, Soloway PC. This was an in depth review of much of the information we received in the morning session with a real focus on publishing. It is good to know the difference between writing and an idea and which can be copyrighted. It is also very good to be clear on what plagiarism is.

During lunch there was an opportunity to sit down and informally chat with some presenters. I chose to sit with Ricardo St. Hilaire, a legal counselor specializing in cultural property and museum law. His topic was disaster planning. Most of the attendees were museums or cultural organizations which is a different perspective from a commercial art gallery. I learned that there is a specific document that cultural organizations have to draw up outlining their disaster plan. It runs several hundred pages. Mr. St. Hilaire put a lot of emphasis on short documents that are more readable and practical. He also talked a lot about employee safety. I felt relieved that I have addressed many of the items he said are key in ensuring employee and art safety. You can read his blog here.

For the early afternoon session I attended “How to Handle Legal Claims” with Joan Goshgarian of NHBCA, Connie Boyles Lane of  Orr and Reno and Bob Larsen of Sulloway & Hollis. They all stressed the importance of finding a lawyer that you like and trust before you REALLY need one. They talked about the process of interviewing several lawyers to find the one that you connect with personally- sharing that most lawyers will have informational meetings at no cost. As UNH School of Law ramps up its entertainment law focus I expect there will be more lawyers who are sympathetic to artists and there particular needs.

In the afternoon I served on a panel with Peter McGovern, faculty at UNH School of Law and Cathy Sununu, president of Portsmouth Museum of Art. We talked about artists and institutional relationships- basically covering the ins and outs of contracts for artists. While the audience did not join in the conversation, the feedback suggests they thought the panel was very informative but were overwhelmed with all the information we presented.

To wrap up this little review of the Arts, Culture and the Law conference I want to say how much I learned in one day. I cannot recommend this event enough. Last year I attended seminars on dispute resolution and estate planning for artists... and before you say you do not need to know about this stuff. I want to remind you that sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. For the $50 registration fee this conference packs a wallop.

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