Artists and Copyright Law

(thread regarding technology transfer and taking intellectual property very seriously)

So do I. There was a similar line of reasoning regarding photography
and art once, but photographers and traditional artists got smart
about it a long time ago, and many, if not all, of them use contracts
that specify that the negatives and copyrights remain with them
unless they are released in writing for an agreed upon sum. Often it
is the back of the receipt for the deposit taken prior to starting
the job, or the sales receipt from the gallery.

Copyright law is a specialty, and I am not a lawyer, but I have read
some of it in self defense, and the way I understand it, generally
speaking if you do not perform the work on the premises or with the
equipment of the buyer, you retain the copyright and it is not work
for hire. There is more to it, but as I never yet have had to do my
work on the premises of the buyer, except for maybe going there from
my own place of business in order to shoot pictures of his place of
business, I haven't looked into it. The important part is that the
copyrights stay with me and the buyer, unless I have sold the
copyright to him in writing, does not own it. I do.

With art, you are even covered in the copyright law, to the extent
that if the buyer sells it to someone else, the artist gets 5% of
the selling price. That is, of course, nearly impossible to enforce,
but it does illustrate the spirit of the copyright law ... as one
collector found out when he tried to stop me from making a limited
edition print of a painting he had bought. I told his secretary (he
didn't have the courage to do the dirty work himself) to ask his
lawyer before embarrassing him any more and that was the last I heard
of it. I don't know what his problem was, maybe he just wanted to
have the only copy, but a painting from which a successful limited
edition has been made usually increases in value and certainly gains
in recognition, so he would have benefited from it. I always give the
buyers of the painting the #1 Artist's Proof as a beau geste, but I
didn't give him anything. Not to get even; I just didn't feel like it
in his case. He took all the fun out of it.

Artists have been taken advantage of for centuries. Only recently,
halfway through the 20th Century, did some of them organize
sufficiently to gain much needed control over the use of their
creations. Musicians organized back in the 50's and through ASCAP
stopped business interests from profiting from their work without
compensating the musicians. Performing artists did it through AGVA, I
think it is called. It really annoyed those who wanted to keep them
under control and exploit them. The newspapers were full of lurid
stories about it back then, and there were even Congressional
hearings. But they won. It is still needed. Just at the end of last
week, ASCAP concluded a licensing agreement with Turner Broadcasting,
about paying for the use of musical works on all their cable
networks. You can bet your butt that Turner would have simply used
the work, made a profit for it and never paid a dime to the
musicians, had it not been for the musician's organization. I don't
know details about ASCAP, but an old friend of mine, Ted Daffan, who
was a folk/country singer and song writer of the 40's and 50's lost
his voice and had to retire a long time ago. He lived comfortably
until he finally died at the age of 82, off the royalties earned on
"Born to Lose" and 120 other less well known songs, a dozen of which
got gold and platinum records, often by other artists. For example,
"Born to Lose" was recorded by a number of other singers, notably and
most recently by Ray Charles. The checks came from ASCAP, and had it
not been for them, his work would have just floated out there in
public domain with others making money off it and he would have had
to man the cash register at a Stop & Rob to continue eating.

I think It's about time web designers and programmers formed similar
organizations. It will annoy those who wish to exploit us, but so
what. If we don't do it, they will continue to exploit us and it will
get worse and worse until nobody can make a decent living and those
who remain will all be working for large companies. That happened to
my father's entire profession. It could happen to ours in the very
near term.