Thinking Long

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted, mostly because my personal life has recently taken a large chunk of my time. I have an elderly parent who is dealing with some significant medical issues plus I had to say goodbye to my longtime furball companion (and imaginary law partner) Benito T. Katz-Burns.

I bring up these personal things because they’ve made me think about impermanence, my practice, and serving my clients. Basically, it all made me think that the best thing I can do for my clients it to encourage them to think long.

Thinking long means looking long term and taking small steps that can have a big outcome. For example, compound interest is a cornerstone of thinking long: a little put away early in life can be a lot later.

As the saying goes, none of us gets out alive. What you do as a creative professional, however, will live beyond you. The assets you create, the copyrights, will pass on to your heirs after your demise and they may be much more valuable than you think. Thinking long means planing for them.

Actually, those assets may be much more valuable than you think now, too. Let me give an example…
Imagine a photographer who has a ton of copyrights, because this photographer has created a ton of photos[1]. One of these photos is being infringed often; by often, let’s say at least 100 times (so far). This photo isn’t the photographer’s best work (it’s a fine photo, but the photographer has much better ones); if you had to pick out from a pile of 1000 of this person’s photos which one would be the oft-infringed one, you’d probably guess wrong, like, 990+ times. Nonetheless, this one photo gets ripped off more often than bikini wax in Hollywood.

The photographer has registered the copyright to this photograph, so that means the minimum award for an infringement (assuming the defendant cannot prove innocent infringement, which is very hard to prove)[2] would be $750. This photographer has a history of licensing and can prove up damages of more than that, but for the sake of space and time, lets just assume that the photographer settles, over some time, 100 infringements for an average, each, after legal fees, of $1000.[3]

For those of you playing along at home, thats $100,000.
Not small beans!

Now, if this photographer suddenly died (heaven forbid!) before settling those cases, the photographer’s heir(s) would get ownership of that copyright and, assuming they pursued the infringements, get the money. And that’s just the cases that exist now–that photo will likely continued to be infringed.

In other words, you could be sitting on at least one good-but-not-great creative work that, in the long run, could pay for your kids college (or a big chunk of that); or help pay off your mortgage; or provide for your loved ones after you’re gone. And don’t forget,that math is for just that one photo (and its copyright)–any creative pro has easily thousands.

This is the time for thinking long. Do the small things now that will enable you to reap rewards, long into the future.

Thinking long is why I nag at you to register your copyrights–so that you have the right to statutory damages of no less than $750. Little numbers add up over time. It’s also why I keep bringing up having an estate plan. Your work is worth more than you might think and you don’t want that going to your fundy brother instead of your beloved non-spouse.

Thinking long is also a big part ofwhat I do and the way that I do it–so that creative professionals (you) can have legal representation in a cost-effective way.

Thinking long can makea big difference in your business and your life (and your loved ones’); give it some thought.


[1] While this hypothetical is based on a real client and photo, please remember that it is a hypothetical and that you should never rely on a hypothetical or any previous results when it comes to your own case(s).

[2] See, e.g., National Football League v. PrimeTime 24 Joint Venture, 131 F. Supp. 2d 458, 476 (SDNY 2001) (noting that a defendants burden to prove innocent infringement is a heavy one).

[3] Yes, this is not scientific but rather a very rough estimate based on a bunch of facts I’m not going to go into here. Also, some matters never settle, some settle for more and others less; I’m doing some whopping generalizations to make a point. In other words, just go with it.