April 16th, 2011

Photo courtesy of the Salt Lake Art Center. The use of this image is legal, because this blog is educational. Learn something every day! Artist: Lenka Konopasek: Letting the Light In

The Salt Lake Art Center has taken an exciting new direction (yay for Utah Arts!). In the last few years I’ve seen the programs, shows, and events “elevated” to a new standard. It’s not always easy to get away from my Park City gallery and head down to SLC, but I try to when there’s an art event that I think will not only benefit me, but also my artists and collectors.

One such event was last week, an Art Talk put together by Utah Lawyers for the Arts. Utah Lawyers for the Arts members provide pro bono legal services on art-related matters to low income Utah artists and arts organizations. They also strive to promote arts education and the involvement of lawyers in the arts community. The lawyers who volunteered to speak at the event were passionate about local artists and the role that art plays in our society. I left with the overwhelming feeling that we are fortunate to have such a group here in Utah.

As the audience was (mostly) filled with artists, that is to whom the lawyers were (understandably) speaking. But I discovered some curious prejudice against galleries in general, and Park City galleries in specific. Why? And I’ve run across this lately– the idea of The Gallery being, well, “The Man,” trying to take advantage of artists. Where did this com from? Unfortunately, not all galleries are as scrupulous as Gallery MAR. But to generalize an entire business group certainly doesn’t seem fair, especially since the livelihood of many in the audience depends on the very same galleries that the speakers were belittling.

The presentations reminded me that perhaps the worlds of art and law aren’t so separate. There are many ways to interpret the law, and opposing sides can have very different views of what they “see” in a code or law. Interpretation is in the eye of the beholder. As some lawyers plead their cases, so do many artists, as they try to sway their own audiences and get their own opinions and thoughts across. And, from my perspective, lawyers are the ultimate salespeople!

I learned more than I anticipated at the SLAC event, and am looking forward to the new Utah Lawyers for the Arts talk.

And so, a few Art Law Copyright pointers…

  • When you sell a piece of artwork, you keep the copyright on the piece. It is not automatically transferred to the new owner. This means an artist has the right to create a print or giclee of the work, even if it’s in your dining room!
  • You can copyright a Piece, or a Thing but not an Idea. The Expression or the Thing is what you can copyright.
  • All work is automatically copyrighted after a work is finished, if it is an original work.
  • The copyright gives you exclusive rights… to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies, to perform the piece, and to display it publicly. You also have the “moral right” to prevent the destruction of a work.
  • You can, of course, transfer the copyright to the owner, but the owner doesn’t have the right to change/mutilate the piece. The artist still holds “moral rights” on the piece, after a sale.
  • A copyright is valid 70 years after the author’s death. And copyrights can be assigned to an heir.
  • You can register the copyright on your art, online, with a “VA” form, to the date of creation. It costs $35 and allows you to sue (if you have to because someone used your work illegally) and have the right to collect attorney’s fees and damages if you win. You can also register a “compilation” as one registration. For example, you can register one sheet with many paintings, all for $35. Here is a form with instructions: http://www.benedict.com/info/Law/Forms/formva.pdf
  • Facebook is NOT responsible for copyright infringement.