Things to do During Stay-at-Home

If your state or city hasn’t issued an official stay-at-home order because of COVID-19, it’s likely only a matter of time before it does (or it is being run by a terrible leader, and you should stay in anyway). If your work is usually not at home or even if you are someone who usually works at home, you can make good use of this time “off.” I have some suggestions…

  1. Review your standard paperwork. Estimate forms, invoices, contracts, releases, licenses… if it’s paperwork that you use in business, now is a good time to review it and make updates and changes. Maybe you’ll need legal help for this, maybe it’s just a case of fixing the format so it reads more clearly; whatever, this is a great time to get your paperwork in better shape.
  2. Consider updating your business insurance. One thing lots of people have already learned in this crisis: not having business liability insurance or disability insurance (etc.) is unwise.
  3. Related to #2, inventory your gear and update (if needed) your insurance coverage. Whatever your gear is, take photos, update serial numbers, make sure you have enough coverage for your critical tools and gear, including computers and software. At worst, doing the inventory will give you a clean list you can have for later claims (keep a copy off-site!).
  4. Register a bunch of your work with the USCO. Now is a great time to play catch-up with your copyright registrations.
  5. Work on a (new) marketing plan. Eventually things will start to work again and you want to be top-of-mind with your targets when that happens. Now is a good time to look at what will get you there.
  6. Check in with clients. Don’t contact them to solicit work but rather call or email your contacts, personally, and wish them well. Simple, generous, kind human interaction now will be remembered later.
  7. Check in with your vendors/crew. Like clients, your vendors and crewpeople will appreciate the kindness, even if you can’t hire them or buy from them right now. If, though, you can buy something from them now, consider doing so to make sure they are around later.
  8. Give yourself a personal project to work on. I mean a creative project, whether that is in your usual medium or not. Some photographers and other creatives are using their art to document their experiences, which is fine, but I suggest something that is non-virus-related for this. You can do both, of course, but something creative that isn’t about the crisis would probably be good for your stress levels, too.
  9. Give yourself permission to do less. Lots of people are trying to work full-time from home and do all the other stuff that they now have to (like taking care of kids, for example) and are getting burned out fast. Give yourself a break and be flexible.
  10. Related to #8, give yourself permission to be imperfect. Too many people are trying to be perfect in this crisis–stop it. You’re going to have days where you won’t get any “work” done or that your kids won’t have formal lessons or the dishes don’t get washed… if you hold yourself up to your usual standards of perfection (like you do in your creative work), you will burn out faster. Embrace the suck, as a good friend says.
  11. (because of course it goes to 11) Do something specifically for your mental health. Meditate. Take long walks/runs (alone). Do yoga or other exercise. Watch a comedy film. Sing to the radio. Dance in your living room. Play with your dog/cat/kid/lover. Write a journal. Bake cookies. Eat cookies. Simply find something that brings you peace and equanimity, and do it. Yes, this is good for your business as well.

There are difficult times, sure, but they will not last forever. The suggestions above can help you feel more in control even when we seem to have little of that.

Wishing all of you well, safe, and happy.

COVID-19 and Your Taxes

You may have already heard that your federal tax return is not due on April 15, as it usually is. The deadline is now July 15, 2020. You can file now, and probably should if you are due money back, but you don’t have to.

Relatedly, and maybe even more important for we self-employed folks, the first quarter federal estimated tax payments are also being deferred to the same July 15, 2020 date. Huzzah! Note, however, that (so far) it is only your first quarter estimated tax payment that gets deferred, even though the deadline is after the second quarter’s due date (June 15, 2020).

For more info, see here: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/payment-deadline-extended-to-july-15-2020

Coronavirus: What To Do

No one teaches us what to do when there is a crisis like now. I’m not going to lie to you: it is very likely that your business is going to take a hit from the coronavirus. No one can effectively predict how big or how bad it will be, but there will be an effect. The worst part for many of us is feeling the lack of control we have over any of it, especially because creatives, like lawyers, are notoriously control freaks. 

I don’t have good legal-y advice to give you here. This is very much uncharted water for everyone. You can’t contract your way out of this (so to speak) so, as a lawyer, there isn’t a lot I can do to help you through it beyond my usual service offerings. But I do think there are things we can do now that will make this difficult time a bit better, both individually and for us all, so I’d like to suggest them here.

First, breathe. I know, that sounds patronizing but, seriously, take a conscious, mindful breath now and then. If you meditate, keep it up or even add some extra sessions. If you don’t yet meditate, consider starting a practice. Calm breathing and meditation help to reduce stress and does all sorts of good for your body and mind. This is science, not superstition (see, e.g., https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm). Exercise works, too.

Second, if business is slow, use your downtime well. Get up, get dressed, go to work, and create. I think one of the best things you can do for your business is create new work and this slow time is an opportunity to play creatively—take advantage of it! Creating new work now will make you more competitive when things start picking up, because you will have fresh work to show your targets. Besides, playing creatively will make you feel better now, when things are tough. It will give you something else to focus on, something you can control more, and keep your head out of the doom and gloom of the news.

Third, read books. Put down the news, the social media, and pick up a book—preferably a novel (at least occasionally). Most people complain that they want to read more—now is your chance. It also will help keep you out of the dark places our current reality inflicts. 

Fourth, and maybe I’m burying the lede here, but this is really important: support others however you can. It may sound counter-intuitive but, helping others will help you more. It’s easy to fall into the fear-based and selfish hoarding behavior, but you can’t buy enough toilet paper (or potatoes or milk…) to make yourself safe. During WWII, people understood that hoarding was one of the worst things you could do while buying war bonds, donating, recycling, growing victory gardens, and generally thinking about the greater good would win the war. They were right. It’s also right now.

You can support other small businesses now by doing things like buying gift cards for later use. The businesses get the revenue now, to support them while their customers can’t or won’t visit. This is particularly needed for small service providers like salons, spas, as well as artists of all sorts. You can buy music (actual vinyl, cds, or downloads—not streaming) and merchandise from musicians, who now can’t even make money touring. Buy books (or gift cards) from indy booksellers, many of whom will ship, to help support writers. Buy a subscription to a decent newspaper, to encourage and support their reporting. 

And if you want to get really massive karma points, buy (some of) these things and gift them to people working in healthcare right now. Those people are risking their lives for us. You could order some pizzas (or whatever, especially anything chocolate) for your local ER staff, just to thank them for being on the front lines. 

Things are going to be tough for many people. You won’t be alone if you struggle. But, if you keep in mind that we are all in this together and that the virus and its effects are not permanent, you’ll get through it. 

You Are the Cause of Your Own Suffering

I heard a dharma teacher speak those title words on a podcast this morning. A related Buddhist phrase is “Pain is inevitable; suffering is a choice.” In my spiritual practice, I think about this idea often. It is, roughly speaking, that bad things happen to us all the time and we can never protect ourselves against all of these bad things (not even most of them); however, how we react to the bad things in our lives is directly related to the suffering we feel.

I also think about this idea often in my other practice, my legal one. What does this have to do with the law and, more importantly, your business? Lots! 

For example, when you find an infringement of your copyrights, like your art on someone else’s website, that is painful. The infringer has violated your rights and it seems perfectly reasonable for you to feel angry and upset. Instead, as an attorney, I counsel quiet acceptance of the way things are. This isn’t flakiness, it’s wise legally. I mean, you can’t control the infringer’s behavior and the infringement has happened already: no matter how angry or hurt you get, you won’t change those facts. But if you get angry and strike out, you’ll definitely feel worse, not better. So, take a breath and, gather your thoughts… and your emotions. 

If you strike out at the infringer in anger (even righteous anger), that will make things worse. You might send an email that amounts to legal threats/extortion, or publicly shame someone and later find out you had the wrong “bad guy,” or lose a client because you embarrassed it. But even if none of that bad stuff happens, attacking like that will not make the infringement go away or get you made whole. Instead, you’ll just suffer more because you’ve behaved badly and you haven’t made the pain go away or changed the reality of the infringement. 

Playing the victim won’t help either. It won’t make the infringement stop, it won’t punish the infringer in any way, and it won’t get you paid (if that’s what you want). You’ll just feel worse. There is your suffering, brought on by your own choices.

Now, “quiet acceptance of the way things are” doesn’t mean “do nothing.” Instead, after you take that breath and gather your thoughts, gather evidence. Here’s a post I wrote on that. Even if you decide to do nothing now (one option), you’ll have the evidence if you change your mind (you have three years from when you discovered the infringement, usually, to file suit). After you get the evidence, think about what will make you feel better, feel whole now. Then, take the calm and rational steps to make that happen, like hire a lawyer to get you money, ask the infringer for a credit line and payment yourself, filing a DMCA Takedown, whatever.  

As for protection, you can’t stop determined infringers. You can let go of feeling guilty, like it’s your fault they infringed–it’s not– and feeling guilty is choosing to suffer. However, you can make it easier to get satisfaction after they do their bad deeds if you take the right steps like using watermarks (especially in the form of proper copyright notices), registering your copyrights, using good metadata in your files, and getting good evidence.

Things like infringement are going to happen to you. When they do, there is no reason for you to suffer.

On Doing Right.

You make art, right? And I bet you find your work being infringed. You (probably) get upset about someone taking your work and using it without your permission. That’s totally rational. Then you get into your Uber, with its underpaid driver without any benefits or job security and go home where you listen to music on Spottify which hardly pays the artists or, worse, stream or download it from some free service, ripping off other artists just as you have been ripped off.

You’ve just blown your moral high-ground for your infringements. But worse than that, you’re contributing to the cultural acceptance of “the world is a shit place and if you don’t do it someone else will.” Stop. Now.

Here’s the deal: even when other people do spectacularly shitty things to you, that never justifies you doing the same to them or (yikes!) to others. Civilization (particularly its laws) only works when people refrain from doing the wrong things even when it makes things harder for themselves or when others won’t or don’t. If it were easy to always do the right thing, we wouldn’t need to regulate things with laws. But laws only work when we respect them, even when it doesn’t benefit ourselves. 

This rise in ethical failings is one of the great harms of the Trump administration: Trump flouts the law, over and over. He does horrible things, breaks the law, and the senate doesn’t hold him accountable (as it should under its constitutional mandate). He gets away with it. We all get screwed and frustrated. For people who follow the law and act ethically regardless of the law, it seems so unfair. 

Then, we are faced with a much smaller moral choice and it becomes far too easy to think things like “Why should I suffer when he gets away with it?” or “Well, the corporations don’t have to pay taxes so why should I?” or “It costs too much to rent the movie on iTunes—I can watch it for free on this other site.” We choose to do something that is objectively wrong, like buying our kid’s way into an elite college rather than making the kid actually earn that entrance, and justify it as not being as bad as, say, ripping kids from their parents at the borders. “My bad isn’t really that bad; look at what other people do!” we justify.

No matter how horrible the horribles are that are done by others, choosing to cheat or steal or lie (etc.) is still wrong. 

Long story short, every day we get to make choices. Every day we’re faced with problems and often the solutions are not very pleasant, unless we cheat somehow, like so many other people do. Regardless of politics, regardless of income or social class or race or gender or anything at all, there is right and wrong. We all know this—we just have to stop being willfully blind to our own actions that fail the test.  

Moreover, we have the power (if not the moral obligation) to choose to do right. 

A friend of mine (and, full disclosure, a client) recently announced that he is quitting all things Amazon because of how that company is abusing its workers. He noted that it will cost his family more and it will be more inconvenient, but it is the right thing to do. Bravo. Facebook has and is contributing to the rise of white nationalism, anti-LGBTQ groups, and the general thwarting of democracy. We can choose to quit it (I did quite some time ago). We can choose not to use the music “services” that pay the artists virtually nothing—claiming poverty while buying penthouse offices in NYC and partying on mega-yachts in Cannes. The list goes on and on. 

Of course, doing right isn’t always easy or convenient; do it anyway. You want a better society? You want more decency? Then do the right thing as often as you possibly can, regardless of what is done by others or to you. Treat others with more humanity than they treat you. The more of us who do these things (like quitting Amazon), the better the world will be for us and generations to follow.

Buddhist + Lawyer… Why?

As you may have guessed, I call myself a “Buddhist” and, obviously, I’m a lawyer. Why does that matter? Well, in short I think my Buddhist practice makes me a better lawyer.

I had my first formal lesson in meditation decades ago, back in my home state, when I went to a small dharma center near Ohio State (aka THE Ohio State University). There, a pudgy, kind, bald-headed, white man in saffron robes told me how to sit and taught me to pay attention to my breath. We sat for maybe 20 minutes all told and it was lovely. For lots of reasons, I never went back, but I did remember the instructions.

I started reading books about Buddhism, especially those written by the Dalai Lama and later Pema Chodron; but it took me many more years before I made meditation a regular practice. Luckily, I did so in the years before I started law school. Mindfulness, learning to be in the moment, and accepting what you cannot control—those tools alone helped me survive not only the pressures of law school, but the spectacular death of my marriage which occurred at the same time. 

Law school, much like the profession itself, is competitive by nature. Virtually all law students want to be the best and this is made tough since each course’s grades must fit the bell curve (meaning one top student only, per course). One’s grades and rankings matter for large (lucrative) law firm hiring later. I had no interest in joining such a firm, but I had to make grades for another reason: my full-ride scholarship depended on it. 

Some people take law school competition as a sort of blood sport: attack and destroy the others so you end up on top. Cheating, stealing/hiding research materials, refusing to help other students who miss a class for illness or something—those behaviors run rampant in some schools. Luckily, my law school wanted all the students to do well and did what it could to make that happen, mostly very successfully. My classmates were generally kind, shared information and class notes, and were supportive of each other. We competed, but respectfully. Rising tide lifting all boats, as it were.

Still, I wanted and needed to do well. Buddhism taught me that I had no control over what my fellow students did but only over what I did. Further, I had the power to reduce my own suffering when things did not go well by not reacting mindlessly. These ideas were liberating. It meant it didn’t matter if Ashley studied until 2am every night while I was asleep by 8:30pm (to get 8 hours sleep), or that Christina’s outline for Crim was 5 times as long as mine—I could only do my own work, my own way, and try to be as prepared for classes and exams as I could be. I also couldn’t control the professors, so when I was told by a (female!) legal writing professor that I came off as too masculine in my oral argument assignment and (I believe) got downgraded for it, I didn’t get in her face but instead shrugged it off and make sure I did better on some other part of the graded materials; because my goal was to get a good grade, not make her like me or my style.

Finally, Buddhism taught me about impermanence: nothing is solid and permanent, everything is constantly changing; so, even if something is really good, it won’t last; but neither will the really bad thing. That meant I could celebrate successes without trying to hold onto them and that I could suffer less through the bad things, knowing they wouldn’t last. I loved it every time I made the Dean’s List and I hated it when my marriage blew up, but both came and went.

Fast forward to my actual practice of law, now: I use my Buddhist practice every day in it (and yes, notice that we call each a practice). Most of my law practice involves negotiating with infringers or their attorneys (or insurance people). They want to pay as little as possible, I want to get my clients as much as I can, reasonably. Unfortunately, sometimes some people call me names and I have even been threatened with rape and death, just for standing up for creators’ rights. I know those names and threats aren’t actually about me—those are about the other person feeling out of control and trying to reassert it through bullying and fear. My Buddhist practice lets me be mindful enough to remember that none of this discussion with the nasty infringer or his rude lawyer is about me, it’s about my client’s case, so who cares if they call me names? I just stay on the actual topic, the law and the facts of the case, and try to work to a reasonable solution. Those people can sling all the monkey poo they want at me—I’m poo-proof—because I am focused on my client’s best interests, not my ego/feelings. This means I am less distracted/-able and so some lawyer’s other flashy technique will simply fail to move me off my point of focus: my client’s case.

Buddhism taught me that it is better to slow down and do less, better, than to do lots only okay. For example, I don’t take every case that is brought to me or make promises about the huge settlements/awards I will get my clients, not just because that behavior isn’t technically ethical but more because it is just wrong. Some cases should not be pursued because they are bad cases. No amount of bravado is going to save a client from paying attorney’s fees to the other side when the lawyer lies about the registration status, for example, and gets caught by the court. Sure, maybe trying that would work sometimes to get a defendant to pay up out of fear, before the status is discovered, but that is a horrible misuse of the law. I don’t want clients who think that is okay. You shouldn’t work with an attorney who thinks it is.

I don’t use generic templates for the filings I draft, because I draft with intention, including arguing the specific case’s facts and the appropriate law. Same with emails and letters to infringers and their counsels. This process is slower and as a result I probably do not make as much money as others might who have more clients and cases, but I know I’ve done my research and made the best arguments possible for each client in each document I write.

Besides, I do just fine, thank you very much. I am proud that many of my clients have been clients for many years. This wouldn’t happen if they weren’t happy with my work and its results for them. I’m always happy for new clients and cases (please do tell your friends about me), but I respect the honor of having long-time clients. I blame my Buddhist practice for that. 😉

Although I am tenacious, I am not what some people call a “bulldog” kind of lawyer. All bluster and ego makes famous (and often infamous) lawyers, but it doesn’t make them good ones. Good lawyers work with deep respect for the truth and logic, and in the service of their clients, not for fame; Buddhism respects rational logic, the truth, and wants to be of benefit of others.
Interesting how similar those are.

Now, I’m not trying to suggest that any of you start studying Buddhism—what you do spiritually is totally your own business. But after reading this, now you understand why I talk about my Buddhism and its relationship to my work: I think it makes me a better lawyer for my clients.

Ah, Love… in California

If you’re in a non-same-sex relationship, 2020 brought you a new option if you live in California: domestic partnership. Before now, if you were not a same-sex couple, you could get married or stay completely single (even if you co-habitate—there is no common law marriage here). Now, you have the option of being in a civil union, without the marriage part.

For opposite-sex couples, this option was available before only when at least one person was 62 or older. For the general opposite-sex population, it was marriage or singlehood, period. 

Forming and living in a domestic partnership is very much like a marriage, legally-speaking. You have to be 18 or older, file a short document (pdf) just like you do a marriage certificate and pay a small fee ($33 for the non-aged), but you don’t have to have any sort of ceremony so no officiant is needed. Of course, if you want to do something to celebrate the union, you can. 

You can change your name(s), but you can’t pay taxes jointly (must do “married filing separately”). You also get the rights and privileges of marriage. In California, that means community property rules apply, although I wonder if the weird California treatment of copyrights will apply (see previous link). You also get to avoid real estate revaluation (for property tax purposes) if one of you dies, and you’re officially next-of-kin in emergency/medical situations. 

Ending a domestic partnership within five years can be much easier than getting a divorce, but only if neither party owns real estate or has too much money or has a lease that won’t expire for more than a year. Once you have any of those things, you have to go through the same process as any dissolution of marriage. But without those things and within the 5-year window, you can end the partnership by filing a document and waiting six months for the split to be final. 

Last thing: once in a domestic partnership, you can still get married to your partner, if you choose to at some later point. However, just like with marriage, you can’t marry someone else without legally dissolving the partnership first. 

You can learn more on the California state government website, here.

Regret

I started running in March, 2010. I was in law school and dealing with a painful divorce and I come from Polish folk who, over-40, rapidly turn into, well, very large people. I needed to do something to prevent or at least postpone the babushkafication of my body and to keep depression at bay. In short, drastic changes needed to be made to keep my sanity and my health. So, I bit the bullet and started running.

To be clear, I am no runner’s runner (even today, I am slow as hell) but, back then, I had never run at all before. Still, I went from never having run more than a block to doing a 10k without stopping, in just a few months. Later, I even did an accidental half-marathon one Saturday morning at Torrey Pines State Park (although there was walking involved, as well as lots of hills). I even inspired one of my law school classmates to become a runner. It was a bit of a miracle.

I loved the discipline of doing it regularly and the meditation of actually doing it. No music, just the sound of my breathing and the prompts from the running app “Run… walk.” Even though I sucked hard at it and I never got the runner’s high from it, I loved it. It was, for sure, work, but I never regretting running, even when I fell hard once and looked like I’d been in a bar fight.

And then I got an injury, and had to stop for a while. But I went back to it. And then I had GI issues, and had to stop for a longer while. In fact, I had to stop for almost a year, last time, and it sucked. A lot. I did yoga and weights, but it wasn’t the same. I missed my pre-dawn discipline, and its effects.

On my last visit to the doc (October) the scale revealed that I was at my highest weight ever. This I already suspected, but hadn’t wanted to admit. After all, my clothes didn’t fit right any more and, despite the boyfriend assuring me I looked great and the flexibility I had from the yoga, I didn’t like how I looked or felt. That large number just sealed the deal.

The next morning, before the sun was up, I put on my Nikes and my running shorts (that were much tighter on my thighs than I’d recalled) and hit the road. Restarting the practice, again. Despite the very short (and slow!) running intervals and the short total time of running/walking, I was panting like a kick-boxer by the time I was done, soaked in sweat. I was a mess. But I was happy. No regrets about how much work I had to do to get back in shape. No regrets about a slow, sweaty run. Just happy that I did it. And then 2 days later, I did it again.

Two months later, I’ve lost inches off my body (I should note I’ve changed my diet too) and, with each run, I do a little better. Every run day, no matter how much my brain says it doesn’t want to go out in the cold (it was 44º this morning) and the dark, or that I’m old (over 50) and parts ache, I throw on the togs and go. I never regret it by the time I’m rounding that last turn for home, if not sooner.

So why am I sharing this story and what does it have to do with your creative business? What I hope you get from this is not that you can lose body fat if you run (although you can) but rather that we have the power to change our lives, every day. It’s never too late. It’s not the drastic, big change things but rather the every day small choices we make that reflect our power to do more, be better. Even after distractions that take us off our path, even with aging, worries, busy-ness, responsibilities, and world news that could make a saint drink vodka at 9am, we can choose to do one thing we know works for us. Then choose to do it again. Then, rather than live in the regrets of not doing, rather than each morning complaining about how hard it is out there and dragging yourself to work, you can recognize that you choose do what you do, what you love, what you know, and you can develop the discipline to push yourself to be just a little better at it. A little better at life. A little better at your work. Today.

Your 2020 To-Do/Please Don’t List

As we wrap up 2019 and start to look ahead, I thought I would give up some of my best thoughts on both business and legal issues, for creative pros, in list form. I think I should to warn you, though, I’m not holding back on the language. I think someone needs to play Carol Kane in Scrooged to the creative industries and, well, I’m just the broad to do it.

So, here’s what you should/should not do for your business in 2020:

  1. If anyone talks about ROI or value propositions or anything else that smacks of weasel-in-a-suit when it comes to your marketing, run away. All that shit is dead. Sure, you want to get the best bang for your buck, but the most effective marketing for a creative business is simply not quantifiable. Lest you forget, you are not selling widgets or some service that anyone can do, but rather a very specialized service that has virtually no competitors. Much of that MBA mumbo-jumbo just doesn’t apply to highly specialized service providers, and all artists are (or should be) exactly that. Despite our hyper-image-based social media world, your marketing today needs to be honest, real, and a reflection of who you really are. I sure as hell hope you are not a “suit.” Stay away from buzzwords–don’t use them and be skeptical of those who do.
  2. Forget about old selling tools like “elevator speeches.” Look, when you shill, no one gives a shit who you are or what you do. It’s totally off-putting to get the spiel–be that at a party or (yikes) in an actual elevator. Car salesman-esque. Fake. Ew.
    My “elevator speech” is I’m a lawyer for creative professionals. That’s it, because all I’m doing is answering the question “What do you do?” Why only this? Because I’m not pushing the sale (that is very old and disliked) and I leave space for a dialogue by NOT answering all the implied questions (see #3). I’m letting go of trying to control the interaction and, in so doing, get better results.
  3. When meeting someone new, especially a target, after saying that you are a commercial artist of whatever stripe you are, always follow up with a question (or more than one) about the other person: Do you work on the Widget campaign? What other ones? Who’s your dream to work with? etc. And respond honestly to their responses and use follow-up questions: I love the Widget work–where did you find that actor? You are a hell of a lot more interesting to a potential target when you are interested in her/him, especially (in this context) his/her work (it’s good to do research on your targets ahead of time so you know enough to have questions).
  4. SEO is a waste of your time. People who sell SEO services are the used-car salesmen of the 21st century. The reality is that Google has like 97% of search traffic and it manipulates its results something wicked. Really, chasing that SEO goal is wasted effort. Moreover, good buyers are not using Google to find their creative providers. At best they may do an image search of some kind (mostly for inspiration, not to hire) and then that’s going to be more about effectively using your work’s metadata than “optimizing” your site.
    Yes, we all know of someone who got a great gig from Google: and that person is the exception, not the rule. It’s like what we do often with dating: we hear about the one friend of a friend who ended up getting happily married after the guy/woman didn’t call forever and we think that can happen to us. We could get hit by lightening, too. Probably better odds of that.
    4.a Anything blockchain or AI-related as some sort of saviour tool for creative businesses is also total crap.
  5. Put on your big boy/girl panties and, for the love of Buddha, stop whining that you can’t do X or Y. I’m so tired of hearing “Yeah, great idea, but I can’t do that,” like you’re somehow different. That attitude is bullshit: yes, you can do it, whatever “it” is. It might be hard and it may be risky, but you can do it. I don’t care what it is, almost always you can find a way. Just get a set already. Look at me: I started law school when I was over 40 and had my marriage blow up before my first set of exams; I started my own business first in 1999, then again as a lawyer. Life ain’t always easy, but it’s worth it. Business is often hard and there are no guarantees. You want a guarantee, buy a blender. You want to be a creative pro? Accept that it is tantamount to doing the flying trapeze, without a net. Let go and have fun with that. You chose to be an artist–stop whining about the risks. Be a friggin’ ARTIST, unapologetically.
    5.a. The answer to the question But what if someone doesn’t like my work? is always Fuck ’em. In short, they aren’t your target audience.
  6. The “trick”to business is finding the right people to market to. Actually, this isn’t that hard: when you see work you love and that you wish you could have been a part of, research who made that work and add them to your marketing lists. Like attracts like. See Number 3, above. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those people–it’s not like they’re going to have you killed if they’re not interested in working with you; they’ll just say “no.” More importantly, they might say “yes.”
  7. Make art for yourself, as often as you can. Don’t create for any other reason (like to specifically make something for your portfolio) but rather create for the love of creating and for making the work that excites you. Don’t worry if it’s good or right or what you should be doing, just make some damn art for you (see 5.a. above). That is your job and you have to do it for your business just as much as you have to pay your web hosting bill.
  8. Get out of your office/out from behind your computer and interact with people. Social media is a form of connection but it’s a weak and highly manipulated one. You want to get work, you need to meet people in real life. Yes, that means actual meetings. It means traveling to the places where your targets are and meeting with them there or putting on events to get them to where you are. Go to portfolio shows. Oh, and at the end of any portfolio meeting, do NOT ask for a job on the spot. They hate that. You are not selling, you are marketing–it’s a long game.
    Getting out also means going to events connected to your targets, like AIGA presentations, Ad Club events, or even lectures by lawyers (look up your closest Lawyers for the Arts chapter). Take people to lunch (or bring it with you), throw studio parties, put yourself out there. And have fun with it!
  9. Register your damn copyrights. Please. I beg you. If you are a creative professional, stop making excuses and start doing this. There are services, but I don’t recommend using any of them because the resulting registrations might not be anything more than maybe adequate and they might possibly be deficient. A well done registration can make a potential defendant in an infringement matter settle fast and for more money. A wonky one may be challenged by a wily defendant or will at least give one pause. Registration is not hard anyway, particularly for visual artists and even more so for still photographers.
    9a. Relatedly, stop thinking about the cost of registration as a reason not to register–first, it is a legitimate business cost and so you can write it off and, second, it is like insurance that you pay for once but off which you can make many claims (and for much more than the original cost). You will (almost assuredly) make more money in your business if you register your copyrights, and do number 10.
  10. Pursue Infringers. Not every case has to be worth 5-figures or more to get legal help. Some attorneys, like me, will take on small cases because they believe in fighting for the “little” artist and, besides, small cases simply do add up. Let’s say you have small value infringements, but a bunch of those that are worth $2500 average settlement (that number is just for sake of argument). 10 of those cases over the year is $25K. Now, let’s say your attorney gets 36% of that: you’re still pocketing $16K.  How about 20 cases and $32K in your bank? I have clients who make 6-figures annually because they register their work and go after the infringers–some bring in $2500, some bring in much more. Don’t wait for the CASE Act (which may never pass)–you can register work today and for infringements that start after that registration, you can wield the enhanced remedies stick!
  11. I don’t care what any consultant or other artist tells you, separate out your Usage Licensing Fee from your Creative Fee. Better yet, make sure the License Fee is where most of the “cost” lies. As more and more work is getting ripped off you need to be able to prove the value of your license (even if you are going for statutory damages–it helps) and you just can’t do that if you use a combined fee on your estimates and invoices. The other side will have a great argument that most of that number is the Creative/Shoot Fee and you get screwed a second time. Why do you think buyers say they want them combined? Because it benefits their companies, not you. They are protecting their asses–you need to look after your own.
    You can do this if you want to make sure not to piss off a buyer: on the cover/summary page of your estimate (and invoice!) you lump your numbers together into two main categories (Fees, Production Charges) so that there is a simple, one-page overview for the buyer to glance at. Inside, however, you break out every Fee and Production Charge, line item by line item, and make sure to line item the License Fee separately.
  12. Speaking of fees, increase your rates in 2020, especially your license fees. Every creative pro who does this is terrified the first time. I have, however, never heard anyone regret it later. You may lose some clients, but really, you needed to kick those cheapskates to the curb already. Ever notice the inverse relationship between budget and pain-in-the-assishness? Why bend over backwards for the clients who nickel and dime? Just stop. Demand more money and you will get more money and you will respect yourself more.
  13. Watermark your visual art. Do this and, for bonus points, make it a proper copyright notice. See here for the details but, the short answer is that if you do that you (a) have a stronger case for willful infringement (more money); (b) eliminate the “innocent infringement” defense; and (c) if it gets removed, then you may have a good case for a lawyer to help with even if you have not registered the copyright and can’t prove your damages!
  14. Get your paperwork in order. Yeah, I know, contracts are not sexy but they are a very necessary evil in business. Get contracts drafted for you by your own lawyer so that your interests are in first position. If the other side insists on using theirs (yeah, big companies can be bullies), get those reviewed by your own lawyer. Have releases and licenses crafted for your needs. Think you can’t afford that? Think more about how signing one bad contract can wipe you out. Besides, not all lawyers demand insane retainers to be there for you. Check out my Burns Less program for a very cost-effective option (by the way, I am not the only lawyer with alternative fee structures!).
  15. This last item is the most important: be yourself and be proud of yourself in everything you do. Honesty, ethical behavior, and real connections are what will make your business successful now. Have convictions and don’t apologize for them. Most of all, be passionate about your work. That’s what I’m demonstrating here. Sure, some people are going to be offended by my language and/or say it’s inappropriate in business, but in creative businesses (including lawyering for creatives), being real beats convention, every time. So here I am: I swear (in multiple languages even), I’m passionate, and I’m unconventional, but most of all I want y’all to succeed and I work hard to make that happen. I love my work, even though there are days when I want to throttle certain infringers and set fire to certain online platforms. I’ll tell a client when I think s/he/they are making a bad choice and I’ll fire a client who isn’t ethical. A few years back I decided to be more real and open with my thoughts and opinions–I’ve never regretted it and most of my clients and readers have appreciated it.

    For the others who don’t, well, see number 5.a., above.

Registration Needed, or Not?

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court clarified that a work’s copyright has to have been registered (or had registration refused, but let’s not go there for now) in order to bring a suit for copyright infringement. [1] No longer would applying for the registration be enough–you had to have that certificate in hand when you file suit. So there will likely be a ton of confusion when people start talking about the ruling that came down in Texas last week [2] in which the court ruled that a failure to register a work didn’t kill a copyright case.

Not to bury the lede: the Texas case was not an infringement case, technically; it was a case with a claim for improper removal of the owner’s copyright management information (CMI) under Section 1202. Hence the different result.

In the ruling, the Texas court points out that, although Section 1202(b) includes language about how the removal must be connected to an infringement, it is not a claim for infringement. The court then explains that the plain language of section 1202 does not indicate that the registration requirement under Section 411 applies and that, furthermore, a claim under 1202 is not an infringement claim but rather a claim for removal or alteration of CMI. While there is an infringement underlying the removal of CMI, the claim under 1202 is about the scienter (a fancy legal word for “knowledge”) of the infringement, not the infringement itself. The court then explains (citing the same SCOTUS opinion mentioned above):

Although a DMCA claim requires the defendant to know of potential infringement, such requirement does not necessitate registration because infringement can occur absent registration. A copyright owner’s exclusive rights vest at the time of the creation of the work, and infringement occurs any time those rights are violated, even if registration has not occurred.

This is going to confuse lots of non-lawyers (and probably more than a few lawyers). Let me try to explain, roughly. Infringement happens whether or not a work is registered. That is, the copyright in a work comes into creation the moment the work is made (“fixed in a tangible medium”). At that moment, the creator (usually) owns the copyright in that work and has the rights in and to that work. When that work is copied illicitly, the copyright is infringed. However, an artist whose copyright is infringed cannot file suit for that infringement unless that work’s copyright is registered before the case is filed. The registration is the key that unlocks the court’s door, so to speak, for an infringement claim. Registration gives an artist standing (legalese for the right to bring a specific claim to court). So, the artist has to register the work, even after the infringement, to get to sue for that infringement[3]. However, since CMI removal (or the addition of false CMI, under subsection a) is not a claim for infringement, the artist does not need to have registered the copyright in the work to have standing for the CMI-related claim.

Now, standing is claim-specific, so just because one has standing for a CMI related claim under 1202, one doesn’t get to throw in an infringement claim. No sneaking around the rules–each claim needs its own key to unlock its own door, to continue the metaphor. If you filed a complaint with a 1202 claim and an infringement claim, without a registration, the infringement claim would get dismissed for lack of standing but the 1202 claim would stay. Got it?

So, the skinny is that you still need a registration to sue for infringement, but you can bring a claim related to your CMI without registration. While the statutory damages are from $2500-$25,000 for each 1202 claim, less than the max $30,000 for non willful or $150,000 for willful infringement (assuming the registration was timely, i.e., before the infringement or within 3 months of the work’s first publication), it still isn’t nothing. Proving a CMI claim is more complicated because of that scienter requirement I mentioned earlier, but it’s worth considering the next time you find your unregistered work infringed. But, as mentioned, that’s only if you have visible CMI on or immediately adjacent to your work in the first place, as I explain here.

This stuff is complicated. Please seek personal legal advice before proceeding on any of these claims, including sending that angry email you may really want to send when you find your work being used without your consent. You can run any infringement/CMI claim by me for free review by using the form here.
__________________________

[1] Fourth Estate Pub. Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC, 139 S. Ct. 881 (2019).
[2] Diamondback Industries, Inc. v. Repeat Precision, LLC, et al., Case No. 4:18-cv-902A (ND Texas 2019), available at https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.txnd.309307/gov.uscourts.txnd.309307.83.0.pdf
[3] Unless you register the work (a) within three months of its first publication anywhere by you, or (b) before the infringement started, you won’t be able to get statutory damages or attorney’s fees, but you will still be able to file suit.