Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Arts Council program gives freelancer’s insight into their rights

David Paxton

David Paxton

David Paxton, an attorney with Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore gave 25 writers and photographers pointers on who owns the “works of journalistic art” they produce. Paxton is council for The Roanoke Times.

Thanks go to Dan Smith co-owner of Valley Business Front for pulling it together. It was the fifth edition of the writers workshop held at the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge at Center in the Square.

It all stemmed from my calling Dan out on using one of my photographs on his blog. Dan singled that point out to those assembled … thank you Dan. Seriously it was all in good humor and Dan is a fine fellow.

It seemed that working under a contract with a publisher was foreign to a majority of us. We were just happy to serve up our beautifully spun words appreciative of any publisher’s stipend. But the good news is that with no contract your article, book or photo is yours forever to do with as you please. Paxton’s advice was to file formally for copyright protection to make it winable in court should you decide to sue. It is still considered a copyright infringement even if you don’t file.

My hint is should you find your work somewhere else publicly expose the perpetrator. Word of mouth can do significant damage to a reputation. Speak up and loudly!

Paxton pointed out that though you could shop your work around to more than one publisher you run the risk of alienating your primary content publisher. He said ideally a contract should include the dollar amount, a “dead head” dollar amount (if not published after all your hard work), rights to publish your work elsewhere and an indemnity provision (protection from lawsuits as a result of your work).

The gray areas are wide and deep – an idea is not copyrightable but a conceptual subject can be copyrighted.

For liability protection Paxton recommended insurance which could cost upward to $2500 a year. In lieu of that he suggested incorporation or setting yourself up as an LLC (Limited Liability Company) to protect personal assets.

Incorporating could raise a red flag for your locality to slap you with a business license requirement.

Well, that’s about the depressing size of it. If nothing else remember that if you want to use any part of someone else’s work and photo get their permission – even if it seems obvious that you don’t need it. It’s not so hard and in most cases you get permission for free if you are a nonprofit or explain your pauper status.

Don’t defame – make stuff up – in other words get your facts straight. If you want to express your opinion state it as such – not as fact. Be prepared to backup what you write. Be sure photos are taken in public settings or with permission of the subject.

Paxton gave an example of a defamation case – the infamous “butt-licking” case that ended up in the Supreme Court. You can ask him the details of that. You can call someone a “scumbag” if it is clear it is your opinion. Dan asked the “scumbag” question so you better look out.

One other point I’d like to make – there is an unwritten code among bloggers that if they refer to each others content – it should be attributed to the blog author and link provided. You’d think this would be common sense but it is not always the case. Again, call them out on it loudly!

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Business, Local Events

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