Your Notice is More than CMI


Recently, I wrote about the importance of your CMI (copyright management information) and mentioned that using your copyright notice as a watermark is your best CMI, because it kills two birds withone stone, so to speak. In that other post I talk about the DMCA and CMI removal issues (one bird). Here’s the skinny on the other…

But first, a little about a proper copyright notice. People get the notice technically wrong often, and it matters. So, here’s what it should be, in plain English:

1.  the symbol © (that’s control + g on a Mac) or the word copyright
2. the year of first publication (see here for more on “publication” as defined by the Copyright Office)
3. the owner’s name.

An example is the image above. Since I am first publishing this article here in 2016 and I created the work and own its copyright, the proper notice for this article is as you see there. In the post about CMI from late June 2016 I mentioned earlier, I included a photo (a selfie, actually) that I shot when I was in law school in, I think, 2010, but which I had not published (meaning that it had not been offered for license or given to a client for potential further use or otherwise made available to others, as well as in the sense normal people think of published) until 2015. So, the notice there is correct: 2015 Leslie Burns. If I wrote ” 2010 Leslie Burns” for the photo, the notice would be incorrect–the year in a proper notice must bethe year the work was first published.

Okay? Cool. Now to the good stuff…

If you publish your work with a proper notice, that is a proper and visible notice (not just buried in the metadata), then an infringer of the work can’t try to claim “innocent infringement” in mitigation of statutory damages. It can’t even go there! Here’s the super good part of that: this is true even if the infringer got the work from some other source, without your notice! There are several cases that support this rule (and the rule is in 17 USC 401), but here are just two for your attorney’s dining and dancing pleasure: BMG Music v. Gonzalez, 430 F.3d 892 (7th Cir. 2005) and Maverick Recording Co. v. Harper, 598 F. 3d 193 (5th Cir 2010) (cert. denied). The second one is particularly helpful as it looks at the issue in more detail, but both make it clear that the defense is barred if the work is available with proper (and visible) notice, even if the infringer never saw that particular publication of the work.

So, going back to the CMI thing, if you use the proper copyright notice as your watermark, you get the protections I just described and, if the work gets infringed and the watermark is removed, the infringer just committed a violation of 1202 of the DMCA. Putting the pieces together, then, and assuming you have properly registered the work prior to this, your infringer is looking at a minimum of $750 (infringement) + $2500 (DMCA) in damages to you, plus maybe your attorney’s fees.

Those birds must not be chickens ’cause that’s not chicken feed.

Get it in Writing

This NYTimes articleabout the legal limbo of some Avedon prints just breaks my heart. Besides the obvious part about the amazing work done by all, including the printers, being stuck in boxes, mostly unseen, the stories about why there are issues now make my downright twitchy.

Artists of all kinds are notorious for being crap at paperwork and many so-called great artists often offer(ed)their favors like Raylan Givens asking “one more time” with a smile, while puttinghis hands on his hips,revealing his badge and sidearm. That combo of sloppy business practices or, worse, intimidation by the Artiste, and fear of the employee/contractor to ask for something more concrete or as filthy as actual paymentwill likelyleadto situations like those described in the article, long after the artist is dead and gone.

It even happens when both sides actually like and respect each other but just don’t bother to putsomethingin writing. The road to hell, and all that.

Don’t let this happen to you and, almost more importantly, don’t put your minions in impossible situations.This means having open communication with the people you work with–interns, employees, vendors, whomever–so that you each can offer solutions about how to make something happen, without any one feeling taken advantage of or stuck in ambiguity about what s/he gets for her/his efforts. Intimidation is not becoming to anyone, even an artist. Having your minions fear you only makes you an ass (and generally makes them poor workers).

When you hire employees or independent contractors, pay them actual money whenever possible. Also, have signed agreements describing the relationship, the duties of each party, and anything else that comes up like “InternBetty gets to keep one set of the prints she makes for PhotoBob as a part of her compensation.” Veryimportantly, those agreements should describe what happens when and if the relationship turns bad and someone wants out.For individual projects with special circumstances, take the time to lay out the relationships involved so that everyone is, quite literally, on the same page.

And, whatever you do, put it in writing. A formal contract is best, but anything that lays out the understanding of the people involved and is signed (and preferably dated) by everyone is better than nothing.

Sure, you (like Avedon) won’t have to deal with whatever happens after you die, but I suspect you don’t want to leave your loved ones with big legal expenses to sort out your messes, either. Besides, it’s better business to treat everyone with respect. An agreement is the documentation of that mutual respect.

Excited and humbled

Today is the first day of this new practice. My new practice. It is the culmination of a lot of dreaming and a lot of work and many years of patience.

I wanted to go to law school for a very long time. In fact, I took the LSATs 3 times, not because I did poorly (the opposite, actually) but because my scores expired before I could get all the pieces to work so that I could attend. Scores last for 5 years so you can do the math there. Finally, everything came together and I happily did the work of being a full scholarship law student. I graduated a trimester early and passed the notoriously difficult California Bar on my first try. Then Istarted lawyeringwith Carolyn Wright ( which was outstanding training in exactly the work I wanted to do (she is a great mentor to whom I owe so much).

And now, today, I get to hangmy (virtual)shingle. Burns the Attorney. Wow. It’s very exciting for me.Thank you to everyone who made this possible. I’m humbled to get to do this.

Thank you also to the clients who have already contacted me for new representation (and it’s not even 9am here as I type this!). It is my intentionto serve you all well, honorably, and as much like a decent human as any lawyer can be.

Let’s do this.