Are You The Problem?

Okay, I usually try not to get political here; but I believe that, as a good American, I must stand up and speak some hard truth to you, the creative community. It’s going to look political but, really, it is so very much more than that.

Here is that hard truth: if you want to help keep the orange monster in the White House and people like him in power, losing any social benefits or chance at upward mobility and ruining the future for the next generations, please, continue using Facebook and Instagram (for ease, I’m going to call them collectively “FB” because you know, or should, they are both owned by Zuckerberg*). If you don’t want that and are using those platforms, wake up: you are the problem.

FB not only enables the worst of the worst—anti-Semites, racists, homophobes, sexists, revenge-porn incels, the whole host of uglies—it actively encourages them. Do a search of “facebook incels” if you don’t believe me. FB makes a lot of money from these twisted people and their hate groups. Zuck hides behind the idea that blocking these groups would be against the first amendment, but that is bullshit: the first amendment does not apply here. Free speech is about the government silencing or compelling speech, not a private entity doing so. So, the first amendment argument is a total fake. It is FB (etc., see Google, EFF…) using a powerful symbol of our fundamental rights (the phrase “first amendment”) as a manipulative tool to make us think it is doing the right thing, while it’s actually taking that right (and others) from us, the regular folk. 

Rather, FB/Zuck have an interest in promoting one rule of law for the rich, white, and powerful, and another for all the rest of us. Zuck loves money and power. He has made it clear, over and over, that he is lacking anything resembling actual compassion—he wants what he wants and will run over anyone or anything that gets in his way. Trump and his similars are his (and others like him—see, e.g., Ek, Musk, Thiel, et al.) ticket to this new America; they will never de-platform him or those who use terror and cruelty to support his “reign.”

By using the FB platforms you make it financially possible for FB’s continued promotion and support of Trump and his followers. In short, every time you use FB, you are helping keep Trump in the White House and people like him in power. That is not an exaggeration. You are trading your freedom and the opportunity for yourself and your children to live in safety and freedom, for the convenience of the platforms’ reach. That’s it. 

It’s bad enough if you use FB just to stay in contact with friends and family, but if you are using those platforms as a part of your business marketing, you are very much literally providing the content (I hate that word) that drives the whole machine. You are providing the fuel for this cross-and-book-burning-deep-state-conspiracy-make-the-rich-richer-dumpster-fire. You are enabling and enriching those who do not want you to succeed; in fact, they don’t give a shit about you except for how you can make them more money and be used to help them make America a whiter, christian, hetero-only, male-centric safe place for their greed. They want to put a sexist, homophobic, racist, (pseudo)theocratic oligarchy yoke on you and your descendants. And you are helping them.

So just stop.

If FB lost the photographers, illustrators, filmmakers, musicians, etc., it would not be able to get the advertising dollars it does. I believe that losing the creative class as users would mean FB would eventually fail, and probably sooner rather than later. The quality of content would drop dramatically. Fewer people would be interested in visiting. Remember MySpace? Same thing can, and should, happen. Besides, at the very least, by quitting, you could go to sleep at night knowing you were not contributing to the problem. 

We need to stop thinking about what is easy and begin not just thinking about but doing what is right. By writing this, posting it, and posting links to it, I am risking backlash to my business; but I cannot ignore this basic-yet-hard truth and raising attention to it is the right thing to do. If I lose some clients, I can live with that. Staying silent? Not so much.

Rather than getting pissed at me for pointing out this hard truth and maybe making you uncomfortable, I hope that you’ll recognize that what it means is that you have incredible power. Each of you, when working together, absolutely can change this. Voting, yes, of course, but economically, when we work together, we are a huge force! In 2017, the arts added almost 900 BILLION DOLLARS to the US economy and independent artists made up over 50 billion of that (see for lots of arts-and-money stats). Those numbers don’t include the money your work generated for the tech companies/platforms—numbers we’ll probably never get, since the platforms never want you to know the truth of your power.

Speaking of your power, the other side of this truth is that those now in power, those like Zuck and Trump, are terrified of us. They know we can wake up to our ability to get our shit together and stop their exploitation of us. They know that, when we do, many of them are going to see their money lost or seized and, better yet, the inside of a jail cell. We can do this, it just takes the internal fortitude to make the choice (and a little more effort in your marketing)

So I call on each of you to reclaim your power and stop using the platforms. Also, I call on the professional organizations who represent each of the creative industries to (1) stop using the exploitative platforms themselves; (2) encourage their members to stop using the platforms; and (3) put more efforts into providing members alternative tools to use for their marketing.

While this is a political issue in the sense that it is manifested in Trump, and perhaps an organization doesn’t want to play politics, at its foundation, this is much greater than that and organizations should recognize that.

I would go so far as to say that we can and must save these United States; we must stand together to do it. True republicans don’t want this corrupt, greedy reality any more than true democrats (or socialists, or greens, etc.). Once we get past the current crisis and restore the actual checks and balances both in our governmental system and our economic one, we can move back into our politely apolitical postures.

So, in closing, I say: cut off Facebook and Instagram from their content-fuel! De-platform the platforms! Take your power and wield it for the greater good. 


[* Yes, there are shareholders, but he has the only real power because of how the shareholder voting rights are structured.]

Bad Registration Advice

Recently, I was approached by a photographer about an infringement matter. It was a good-looking case, until I checked the registration. The work had been registered as unpublished, but it was admittedly published before being registered; in other words, it was knowingly registered wrongly. That makes a big “No, can’t take this on contingency” from me.

When I explained this to the photographer, the response was surprise if not full-on skepticism. Seems the photographer had been told, allegedly from several sources including at least one major national photographers’ organization, that one could register a work as unpublished if registered within 90 days of publication. 

Yikes. The amount of wrong there is worrisome.

Let me make this perfectly clear: one must never knowingly register a published work as unpublished. Ever. There is no way around it, short of lying, and lying is a very, very bad idea. Full stop. 

Registering under the wrong publication status is bad; but registering work you know was published as unpublished is a fast route to having the registration voided for that work. Now, if you are litigating and you get busted for the “error,” you will quite possibly (I’d say probably) end up paying the other side’s attorneys’ fees when you lose your case. Ouch.

Look, we pretty much all hate the published/unpublished thing—lawyers, artists, everyone. It’s an administrative hoop that is, in my opinion, arguably outdated and unnecessary. But, it is very much still the law. 

When a work is published, one must provide the US Copyright Office with additional information about that work in its registration application (date and place of first publication). That data is included in the certificate and USCO records. Registering the work as unpublished omits this information. That’s why it’s particularly bad.

So, where did this photographer’s misinformation come from? Hard to tell, but I suspect it was started by someone trying to get around certain limitations in order to register more works for less money. See, before the recent-ish changes in registration procedures, one could register a virtually unlimited number of unpublished photos in one “unpublished collection” registration. The limit was one of upload size, not number of works. However, published photos were limited to 750 per group registration (as well as other limiting factors, like the photos must be published in the same calendar year). In other words, it would cost more to register 1500 published photos than unpublished ones. 

This irked photographers. I know, I’ve been asked at talks I’ve given about copyright registration, back when those rules applied, “Can’t I just say the work is unpublished so I can do everything in one registration and save money? Who’s gonna know?” Of course, I pointed out the errors of that line of thinking, but I’m sure some may have errantly given it a try. Thing is, the USCO relies on you being honest so if you do misrepresent the work as unpublished, you will still get your certificate. But that doesn’t mean it will hold up in court. Anyhoo, once someone did it and got his* certificate, the info likely got shared and, boom, bad info gets out to the photo world.

Now, the rules are more equal. There is no more “unpublished collection” for photographs but rather Group Registration of Unpublished Photographs (GRUPH). That registration, like for published photos, is limited to 750. Like it or not. So, the incentive to misrepresent a work’s status is much less now. 

The 90 days thing, though, in the photographer’s response above? Well, that is extra rules-bolluxing. Contrary to popular thought, there is no 90-day anything in copyright registration for photographs. There is, however, the 3-calendar-month safe harbor for registering published photographs. It is NOT 90 days, but many people have wrongly said/written it as such. Remember, three months does not equal 90 days (hello, February) and you can get bitten if you get that wrong. Anyway, I think that safe harbor got mixed into the mess and we end up with this strange idea that there is a way around the publication status-related registration rules. 

You can fix bad registrations, but it is a process and it will cost you both USCO and your own attorney’s fees. Oh, and when the error is like what I’ve been talking about here, you’re almost surely going to get a new effective date, too (that can affect statutory damages for some cases). 

This stuff can be complicated. Remember, while your creative friends may think they know the rules, if you have any questions regarding your registrations, your best bet is to hire a copyright attorney for legal advice.

What Are You Waiting For? 2020

[NOTE: This is a re-working of an old post of mine, from 2013–you’ll see it’s fitting today]

When I first wrote this piece, it started off with this:
Yesterday, I saw that a promising reporter was killed in an auto accident in Los Angeles. He was 33. This morning, there was news that a best-selling novelist had died of an aggressive cancer. He was 47. And now, as I sat down to begin writing this piece, the news confirmed that James Gandolfini (star of The Sopranos) had died. He was 51.

Today, we see the same kind of news, plus all those lost from the pandemic. As of today, almost 70,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. Young and old, healthy and not. Gone.

I share this data with you not to depress; but rather to remind you that life is unpredictable and often way the hell too short. We don’t have much time–and yet we spend so much of that in fear and acting our of that fear. That, as the saying goes, is a god-awful shame. In the words of Mame Dennis Burnside (see Auntie Mame): LIVE! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! So, really, what are you waiting for? Do you expect all the planets to align to suddenly show you a safe path that will lead to happiness? That’s stone stupid. Won’t ever happen. You have to let go of your habitual reaction to living with fear. It’s always going to be there, but what you choose to do about it, well, that’s up to you.

Are you afraid of failing? Why? What is the worst that will happen? You’ll lose your home and end up living under a bridge someplace, and you have kids?
Lame excuse.
You read me right, that is just lame. Guess what! You can do everything right and that dark, bridge-living future can still happen. Have you noticed lately how many people are facing that or worse? One pandemic and, boom, the business is dead. So, it doesn’t do any good to be afraid of failing since not failing won’t save you.

You have one chance at this life (well, one conscious one, if the Hindus and Buddhists, et al., are right) and you have no control over when it will end. So, I ask again, What are you waiting for?

You chose to be an artist and with that came the requirement that you have faith. Not faith in a god (not that you can’t have that) but faith in yourself, in your art, and that somehow you’ll make it all work. That’s fabulous. It’s amazing. It’s actually empowering, if you stop shaking in your boots long enough to remember it.

Being an artist requires you actually acting on that faith. You can’t say I choose to be a photographer/designer/writer and then play it safe. You have to do. You have to leap. You have to try and fail (or succeed) and try again and fail (or succeed) and keep doing that over and over again. Success and failure will cycle throughout your business, just like in the rest of your life. So you have to risk and push and do and try and fail and keep the hell at it.

For the rest of your life.

That is the bargain you agreed to when you chose to be a professional artist. You have to make, and do, and (sometimes) make do.

The one thing you cannot do is wait for things to be perfect before taking the next step. I’m sick of hearing artists say I can’t send the promo because the site isn’t perfect or I’m not sure my list/promo/portfolio/edit/studio/haircut is perfect so I can’t____. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

If you make some excuse for not doing, even now in the pandemic, then (when you can) get a “normal” job; you don’t deserve to call yourself an artist. You don’t have the guts.

I say that with love (you know that, I hope, by now), but it is true. Besides, I bet dollars to doughnuts you do have the guts. You must have had at some point or you never would have chosen to be an artist. You just need to re-find ’em. Now is the perfect time for that.

Now, in the pandemic, is the perfect time to take a good, long, hard work at your work and your business. Are you making YOUR work, not chasing someone else’s (including the “market’s”) trend? Are you valuing it enough? Ask yourself, What would I do differently if I knew there was no way to play it safe?

Frankly, this is true for any profession. It’s as true for me as it is for you. We have to get out there and do. We can’t be bound up by the fears of getting stuff wrong (which, by the way, has much worse ramifications in my profession than yours) or failing. We have to do and leap and try. Every bloody day. And these dark times give us the downtime to check in on ourselves to make sure we are still honoring the choices we made, like to be an artist.

Not only will doing this give you your best shot at being successful (and it will), it will make you happier in the process. Following your dream, doing what you love, isn’t that worth the risk of trying? Why be an artist if you never make your own art, the stuff that lurks deep in your soul? Do it.

Life is (sadly) short for too many people. We are really learning this truth in this pandemic. We don’t know when our last breath will come. No matter how well we treat our bodies, it is ultimately out of out control when Death will say “Howdy.” So we can’t control that, but we can control what we do while we’re here on this Earth. Each of you deserves to love the life you have, every bit of it but especially your work in it. The only way for that to happen is to try, to do, to make your art, to follow your dream, to risk, to fail, and to do it all again the next day.

So, what are you waiting for?