Showing 2018 the Door

As we show 2018 the door, and just like we did last year, now is the time to take a look at the year that was and think about the year yet to be.

In 2018, many of us were still reasonably pre-occupied by the lunacy in Washington, DC. It’s been a tough year for anyone who respects the law and has any sense of human decency. Still, while we can’t give any of that bad stuff a pass, we also need to focus on our own lives and, crass as it may sound, our businesses.

With that in mind, here is a list of some things to do, to stop doing, and at the very least to consider as you gear up for 2019.

  • Register your copyrights. Please. I beg you. If you are a creative professional, stop making excuses and start doing this. As I mentioned last year, while there are services for this, I do not recommend using any of them because they might not be anything more than maybe adequate and quite possibly 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 that hard anyway, particularly for visual artists and even more so for still photographers.
    • 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.
  • Pursue infringements. 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 simply do add up. Let’s say you have small value infringements but a bunch of those– worth $2500 average settlement, just for sake of argument. 10 of those over the year is $25K. Now, let’s say your attorney gets 35% of that: you’re still pocketing over $16K.  How about 20 cases and more than $32K in your bank? Why not see of they are worth getting a lawyer to pursue (I review cases for free)?
    • Relatedly, consider using this tool instead of some much more costly “service” to find those infringements.
  • Make the time to make art for yourself. Whatever your medium/media, make making your own work, for you, a priority. Yes, you can probably use it later in your portfolio (because work made for yourself usually is your best work, if you let yourself really be free with it) but mostly, you need to give yourself total permission to explore, play, make utter crap, screw up, take risks, and re-find the joy in your work.
    • Relatedly, (re)learn how to fail. It is through failure that we achieve the abilities to be successful.
  • Get off social media, even for (most of) your marketing. The Terms of Use on pretty much all those services really do suck for creative pros, and all they do is make promises they can’t deliver.  And they are a huge time suck. And many of the companies have actively participated in bringing us the political hell we are now in. So stop facilitating their shitty behavior and quit using them. Besides, when it comes to your marketing, it’s virtually impossible to get seen by the right people by using social media, particularly if you are relying on trying to trend/go viral. Instead, do better targeting (make lists of the clients you want to work with!) and get back to the basics in your marketing plan. Back off the electronic crap and consider investing in really good print mailers. Also, try to interact in real life with potential clients. Make calls, go to industry events, volunteer with professional organizations of your potential clients–get out there in three dimensions!
    • Importantly, instead of posting everything on Facebook, Instagram, etc., keep your work on your own server/site and post links on social media, if you insist on using social media.
  • Use a watermark on visual art. Preferably, it should be in the form of a proper copyright notice (that is © year of first publication Name, for example: ©2018 Leslie Burns) but if not that then the copyright owner’s name (not your URL). For non-visual art, include the notice somehow like in the audio file for a podcast or both on the doc and in its metadata). I’ve already written about the wizbangery that is the CMI-related part of the DMCA–don’t ignore those protections!
    • Also, if you don’t know what metadata is or how to edit it for the digital forms of your works, learn now. Everything digital has metadata and that metadata can be crucial evidence in a lawsuit (it may also be CMI).
  • Make plans, including for death. Life changes, including the ultimate one, will affect your business and assets. That is basic reality. I lost my own father this year and you can trust me, having things properly organized and documented before the fact is a huge help in the grieving process. Take the time to look at where you are and what might happen, and plan accordingly (see my previous article on this, and this one on marriage, too).
  • Most of all, make time to be with those you love. Be fully present, and not just during the holidays. Also give to those who are worse off. Time and caring are things we can’t bank or buy; being present with those whom we love and who love us, and giving to others who are struggling somehow (and there are plenty of those these days) will do more for you than having another thing to own.

Here’s hoping 2019 is a happy, healthy, and prosperous year for us all.

Holiday Gift

To my dear clients, today as my holiday gift to you all, I sent a donation on your behalf to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Today, we need to do all we can not only to protect our livelihoods, but also to protect our democracies.  A strong free press, both in verbal and visual media, is our greatest tool to keep America, and other countries, free. When combined with an independent judiciary, the greater good always wins.

The CJP is not just about the American press, of course. Journalists are under threat all over. Still, I suspect that many of my non-US clients would like us to get our ship righted so that we can once again be the beacon of liberty, backed by our strength of purpose and resolve. I am happy that I have the resources to make this donation to help this cause.

I would not be able to do this if it were not for you, my clients. Your continued trust in me is deeply appreciated. I am proud of the work I do for each of you and honored that you choose me to help you protect your rights and run your creative businesses.

Here is to a better 2019 for us all.

And thank you, every one of you.

-Leslie

Mojave and New Tools

I just switched to the newest Mac OS, Mojave, and although I’m not a techie, I want to encourage creatives to make the switch when they can[1], because it offers some good tools for evidence gathering.

First, the OS displays more metadata, and does so without having to get into Photoshop or the like. It’s all (well, lots) right there in the finder. This will be helpful in checking metadata in discovery-produced materials.

Sadly, some people will try to fake evidence[2]and the metadata can help prove it when that happens. It’s also a great way for you to prove up your ownership, creation dates, modifications, and copyright management information, too, especially if combined with the second goodie: video screenshots.

Shift-Command-5 enables you to record your screen while you, say, scroll down on the page of a website or click to get CMI info from a photograph. This is a great tool and one which will be really helpful in negotiating settlements. Imagine having an infringer claiming that the work never appeared on their site. Now, you can click to that site from somewhere else and do it while recording your screen so, boom, there it is!

I highly encourage anyone who is gathering evidence to use this video tool to make short videos showing the work in its infringing uses, live. Still screenshots are still needed (sorry, bad joke), of course, but the videos will be very persuasive.

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[1] I hear some creative apps aren’t Mojave-friendly yet.

[2] I had this happen a couple of years ago when a defendant asserted a doc had been made years before it actually had; I busted him with the metadata that showed the original doc was first created the night before it was produced. The case settled shortly after that.

Google Images Does a Right Thing (Finally)

I’m no fan of Google. Like the other big internet companies (and many small ones) they have played dumb about the harm they have caused to creators all over the world. One of their big falsehoods has been that they have acted like it was virtually impossible for them to help prevent infringements by making copyright notices and other ownership data more evident.

So, this morning, I was thrilled to see that they are finally doing something about that. According to that article, Google will now be displaying authorship more clearly and, importantly, some of the metadata in the photos in a Google Image search. Huzzah!

This does mean that you, as photographers and other creators, need to be better about managing your metadata. Take the time to add not only your name and contact info into the metadata in your work, but also a proper copyright notice.

I think this may make a significant difference in future infringement claims and may even result in fewer infringements, but the trick is to make sure your work is clearly attributed to you. Ask your clients to maintain the metadata and clean up your own files, too.

Now if we can only get companies like Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, etc., to do the same.

I Bake Bread…Really Good Bread

The photo is of the sourdough boules I made last week. They are from scratch, from a starter I started months ago, and comprising nothing more than flour, water, and salt, including the starter.

I bake almost every week, never less than every-other week, and it has been a couple of months since we’ve purchased bread of any kind, except for hamburger buns once when we had a last-minute guest to dinner and I didn’t have time. It takes me all day to make the dough and shape the boules, which then have a final proof overnight and get baked the following day. It is a discipline and, for me, an exercise in mindfulness, presence, and perseverance.

I grew up cooking. I literally cannot remember a time when I didn’t cook. My mother was a gender traditionalist and, being the only daughter, it didn’t matter that I was substantially younger than my brothers–I had to cook for them, first with her then on my own, later. From my very beginning of my own consciousness, I remember being in the kitchen or the grocery. I actually have (and often use) the cast-iron flat small oval pan I remember trying to make pancakes on, by myself for the first time, when I could not have been more than five [1].

Mom was a very good cook and so am I, and I (like her) cook intuitively rather than by following recipes (see “there is fat in the batter” thinking in FN1… ha!). When my brother took cooking lessons as an adult he asked for my recipes and I could not give him more than a rough “some of this, a bit of that” kind of litany. Honestly, I don’t know how I make a lot of what I make–I just make it.

I’m one of those people who can look in a fridge and cupboards and, no matter how bare, will be able to come up with a couple of tasty “peasant food” meals. I learned this ability from Mom, and our poverty. It was a great tool for surviving college, grad school, and law school.

Anyway, Mom, for all her cooking, didn’t bake much and so neither did I. Basic cakes, yes, and the occasional cookie, but those are pretty forgiving if you stray from the recipes. Breads, though, require a certain scientific discipline she never could (or, perhaps, would choose to) grasp. I think some of it was because her mother was such a good baker that, just to be difficult, Mom chose not to follow Grandma’s baking tradition. My very Polish grandmother would rarely appear from the east (Wheeling, WV–we lived in Columbus, OH) but, when she did, it was always with paper grocery bags filled with enriched, yeasty, often raisin-filled, tasty baked goods. I can still remember the smell of her and it’s the smell of the goods in those bags. Sadly, we never baked together and thus bread making was fairly foreign to me. I wanted to learn so I did, later in life.

Cooking is like shooting photography–you can play a lot with and stray a lot from the recipe and still get good (sometimes great) results. Baking however, especially bread, is like traditional photo printing in the darkroom–you have to mix hard science with the art and if you stray too far from the science, you get crap results. In other words, you need to understand and respect the science of bread-making (yeast, heat, gluten formation, proteins, etc.) in order to make decent bread and to learn the science to the point of mastery to make really good bread.

For me, baking bread well is also like being a good lawyer: the more you learn about your particular field of law, the better you create. You have to respect the traditions, statutes, rules, and the processes, but you’ll make better lawyering when you have internalized how the law works so, for example, you can know the feel of that right spot in any of your drafting. Just as a Tartine sourdough loaf is to Wonderbread, so is a beautifully crafted document to a boilerplate one. When you know the specific law in real depth, you can find the hidden issues in a case and the winning legal points. It’s like learning how bread dough feels when it’s been worked enough or proofed right.

So why am I sharing all this? Because I think there is a lot of Wonderbread in my profession, especially in copyright law these days. I want you to know that is not what you’ll get with me. There are large firms who have a gazillion associates and paralegals who will take your case and treat it like it’s debt collection. They don’t know any more than the minimum about the law; they are competent, not obsessed. I’ve read the complaints and other papers they file and I don’t know how some of them can look at themselves in the mirror and call themselves “good lawyers.” I can tell you there has been more than one where I feared the client would get stuck with paying the other side’s attorney’s fees because the case should never have been filed.

Moreover, these massive firms won’t care why this particular image means more to you than another or look at the case in any depth, they’ll just do the minimum to get something and often not even remember your name. Worse, there are companies not owned or run by lawyers and so they care first and foremost about making their own bank, not you or your case.  But they’ll be happy to take about half, if not more, of your settlement for their efforts.

That ain’t me. I know and care deeply about the law and how it works. I’m a dweeb, a nerd; I read case law and journals not because I have to but because I love it. I’m a passionate lawyer and obsessively so about copyright law. I agonize over my drafting, the rules, and making sure the law I cite is the best for the issue. I file only a few cases at any one time because litigation is time-intensive and I refuse to take on more and maybe do any less well.

Also, I build relationships with my clients and I take pride in that. I know about their families and they know about me and those close to me. I know the history of the works they ask me to protect, whether that is a work made for a client or personal work, and why it matters. While I get paid (usually much less than the infringement mill companies, by the way), I also sometimes get gifts from my clients–usually their own art–and that is something that has brought me to tears more than once.

If you want Wonderbread, I suppose you may be satisfied with the big firms or infringement “enforcement” companies. You wouldn’t be a good client for me, then. But if you want a relationship with a lawyer–something more than just a form and a rotating list of associates for your cases–shoot me an email and let’s get to know each other.

You might even a bread recipe out of it.
Really good bread.

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[1] Sadly, they were a bit of a fail as couldn’t remember if you needed to grease the pan and I errantly decided that, since there was fat in the batter, I didn’t need to. Mom came in as I was trying to scrape off the first batch.

New Tool! (For infringement searching)

I’ve been hearing from clients how they are frustrated that they can’t find a decent service that actively monitors multiple images for possible infringements. That is, one that doesn’t then require them to use the monitoring company’s services to pursue claims, like ImageRights or Pixsy (etc.) do.

Lots of photographers don’t want to have to pay 50% or more of their settlements, often on top of subscription fees, and I don’t think they (or you) should. It’s your money and fees like that, in my opinion, are outrageous. It’s like when stock agencies went from the photographer getting most of the licensing fees to the photographer getting practically nothing–it’s your work and you deserve to keep most of the money collected!

Anyway, like I said, clients were asking for options and I didn’t have a good one to present. So, I started digging.

The usual suspects of Google Image or Bing Image are strong tools but aren’t for monitoring. You can’t upload a bunch of images then get a report about them–you can only do one-off searches. There is a Russian site called Yandex that a client recommended, but I honestly do not trust any Russian site not to then take your images and re-sell them behind your back[1].TinEye has been around for some time, but they’re way pricey, especially for a solo artist.

Finally, after some Reddit hunting, I think I have found the answer: a UK company called Infringement.report.

Infringement.report’s service is a subscription, web-based tool at a ridiculously fair price point. Seriously. How does $25 a month grab you? That level will cover many of you but even if you are the busiest and want to track a ton of images, the most expensive monitoring plan is $150 a month.

They have no contracts, no limitations on who you can work with, and they specifically do not pursue claims. In their own words, “We don’t pursue infringements, leaving you free to choose your own lawyers and keep 100% of settlements.”

Huzzah!

And, most importantly, it works[2]. I did a small test (you can test drive for free with up to 3 images) and was stunned at the results. One of the images I tested is a client-friend’s that I knew had been ripped off before. In an hour it found at least 19 uses of that photo, most of which were unauthorized.

You can get reports emailed to you. You can download the data as a .csv file to put in Excel or your own database. It’s got an API (maybe you have software it can talk to directly?). The results are dead easy to read and understand. And you don’t have to be a geek to figure out how to use the tool. Payment is made via PayPal and the terms of service are not sneaky.

Honestly, I keep looking for a big negative but, so far, I can’t find one.

So go forth and monitor your work[3]. When you find infringements, hire your own, personal copyright attorney (like me) with whom you can build a relationship. And keep most of your own money.

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[1]Go ahead and call me “racist” if you want–I know what I’ve seen in my practice and Russian sites are some of the worst infringers.

[2]Okay, I have to admit (1) there was a little bug that gave me a warning about having uploaded too many images for the free trial, when I hadn’t, but it worked anyway; and, (2) I having been testing it long, yet.

[3]Register the copyrights first, m’kay?

Blockchain is for Blockheads

Remember what I wrote recently? Seems a respected investment hedge fund agrees:

The use of blockchain in operating an image copyright platform accomplishes nothing. KODAKOne intends to utilize smart contracts and a crypto-asset to solve the problem of copyright infringement, but the business idea is flat-out silly. Cryptographically hashing an image into a blockchain doesn’t prove the provenance of intellectual property, a blockchain does not reduce the resources necessary for copyright enforcement […]

It’s definitely worth reading the whole original post on this, from the UK’s Mr. David Gerard, as he shares more on what a total scam blockchain is for photographers overall.

Look, if you want to protect your copyrights, REGISTER your work with the USCO and hire an attorney to go after infringers (it costs much less than you may think).

New Rules! (for photo © registrations) UPDATED

Back in December of 2016, the US Copyright Office (USCO) proposed new rules for group photo registrations, including significant changes to registering a pile of unpublished photos. I wrote about the proposed rules then. Now, the final rules are out and they mostly match up with the proposed ones, but not completely.

The new rules make two categories of group photo registrations (leaving out databases, which are a different kettle of fish and most individual artists will not have to address those, so I’m skipping them here). The two categories are GRPPH for Group (of) Published Photographs and GRUPH for Group (of) Unpublished Photographs. Now, most of the rules are the same for both, making life a little easier as you will have to learn, essentially, one system.

First, though, you’ll notice that you still have to keep published and unpublished separated. The USCO looked at the issue and they simply can’t change that as it is not a “rule” but rather part of the law itself. The USCO has the authority to create and modify rules, but it can’t change the underlying law or create rules that conflict with those laws. It does sound like they think the split should be dropped, though, so maybe that will come sometime in the not terribly distant future?

Oh, and about the unpublished photographs… you will no longer be able to do the unlimited number of photos as a collection option. It is GRUPH only from here out.

Anyway, the new rules… first, the commonalities. These are the rules for both groups:

  • must have a title for the whole group
  • must have titles for each photograph in the group (can be just the file names, but with character restrictions)
  • limit of 750 photographs per registration
  • all photos must have the same author[1]
  • must register online–no paper registrations will be accepted
  • must pay the $55 fee
  • must submit digital deposit copies (jpeg, gif, tiff only), preferably in an uploaded .zip file containing all the photographs (that must be <500 megabytes total[2]);[3]
  • must submit a separate document that lists the photos in a very specific manner (more on that below) that should be included in the .zip file.

For published photographs, the pilot program is ending with these new rules. If you’ve been a part of the pilot program, the USCO should be contacting you about the changes. As for the registration differences, published photos have these additional rules: they all must be first published within the same calendar year (i.e., 2015 or 2018, etc.), same as the current rule; but, and this is new, they do not have to have been first published in the same country. Also, you will need the date of first publication for each photograph.

Now, about that list document… this is going to be a bit of extra work, but it really will be helpful in the case of an infringement as all the information about the deposit copies will be easily accessible. For this document, which the USCO says should be either xls (an Excel file) or a pdf, there are nitpicky rules. I suggest making a template and sticking to it.

First, the document itself must be named in a very specific manner: the title of the group plus the case number assigned to the application by the electronic registration system. Yes, that means you can’t name the document until after you have created the application online and get a case number, but you can still prep the document (that will be uploaded with the deposit copies) and have it ready, just add the case number to the title. An example for a group registration of unpublished photos that Photo Betty is making from her trip to Hawaii might be Group Unpublished Hawaii Photographs Case Number 123456789.xls. Or, for published photographs from the same trip, Group Published Hawaii Photographs Case Number 987654321.xls.[4]

The contents of the document need to be, in order:

  • sequential numbering (i.e., 1, 2, 3…)
  • title of the photograph (this may be the same as the file name)
  • file name of the photograph (no characters other than letters, numbers, and spaces).

So, for example, the contents of the document for unpublished photos might look something like[5]:

  1. title: Maui at Dusk 1 file: Maui1.jpg
  2. title: Maui at Dusk 2 file: Maui2.jpg
  3. (etc.)

If the photos are published, then you add the date of first publication. So, the example above, if Betty published them on her stock photo site on January 15, 2018, would be:

  1. title: Maui at Dusk 1 file: Maui1.jpg pub. date: 1/15/2018
  2. title: Maui at Dusk 2 file: Maui2.jpg pub. date: 1/15/2018
  3. (etc.)

That’s it and, really, it’s not that terrible.

More importantly, the rules specifically state that photographs registered as a part of one of these groups will each be individually covered by the registration. That is a very big deal. That eliminates one of the biggest arguments defendants make–that is that any one photograph is only a tiny part of the whole registration and so the damages must be less or, even, that fair use applies. Nope, now it will be clear that each photograph in the group gets the full measure of damages and is fully protected as its own self (not a part of a greater whole). Huge benefit there, especially for unpublished photos where this has been a particular problem.

These new rules go into effect on February 20, 2018. For the detailed information, go here (pdf).

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UPDATE: The USCO has come out with help pages that include links to templates (Excel) for making the lists. Go here for unpublished and here for published.

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[1] “Author” does not necessarily mean “photographer” although it can. If you are an individual photographer then you are the author of your photos. Easy-peasy. However, for studios with multiple photographers and other employers of photographers, the employer is the author of all the work, even if created by multiple photographers.

[2] The photos may be compressed to fit the file size requirement.

[3] You can send flash drives or DVDs or similar instead, but it’s really easier (and much faster to get your certificate) to upload the files.

[4] While the rules do not specifically say you must say “group” in the title, it has been preferred that one do that and I suspect that preference will continue. It won’t hurt to use that format so I suggest sticking to it, at least for now.

[5] The new rules state that the information I note must be included, as I have it here, but it doesn’t say what the preferred format is. This is a best guess for how they want it from the description in the rule. I expect the USCO will clarify in the instructions on their website soon. For example, maybe the Excel sheet can have the words “title” and “file name” (and “pub date”) in the column headers rather than in the text.

Blockchain Copyright Services: Seductive, but Unwise

Kodak is joining the list of companies offering blockchain-related services for photographers. While I applaud the idea of photographers getting paid, I’m not a fan of these services. Mostly, the financials are not, in the long run, good for photographers.
Not by a long shot.

I know exactly what many people are going to say: without much effort, photographers will get paid for uses they didn’t get paid for before. Thing is, that may not be true at all; and, even when it is true, the amounts will be less than they could get if they pursued these infringements, and they are infringements. Most of all, photographers will be giving up way too much for the convenience these services are selling.

Let’s back up a bit and look at the process and the financials…

First, a photographer makes a photograph and registers the copyright in it using one of these services (any of ‘em–let’s call our hypothetical company “Block,” just for ease). Block submits the registration to the USCO and, hopefully, doesn’t make any significant error on the registration application (this is the first problem, in my book, because registrations are not just “fill in the blank” easy and if it gets screwed up… ouch). Anyway, Block also assigns the work its unique ID via blockchain. It also incorporates all sorts of things that sound fabulously whizbangy and techno-impressive, like connected thumbnails of the deposit copy and the registration.

The big selling point is that the services will patrol the interwebs looking for your image and, if the image is used, will pursue payment if previously unlicensed. These uses are billed for, through Block, who then collects on these “post-use licenses” in part because the blockchain ID will “authenticate the image.
In theory.

The reality is not so fabulous.

First, what the hell does “authenticate” even mean here and what good does it do? I mean, seriously, is an infringer going to bend over and pay just because you have blockchain proof it is your registered-copyright photo and, thus, that they infringed? Nope. No more than infringers do now when confronted with existing forms of evidence (evidence, by the way, that has been used by courts long before blockchain came into being[1]). Infringers, and these are infringements we’re talking about, will refuse to pay just as they do now.

Maybe there’s one exception: infringers might pay more often, but only if the amounts demanded are tiny. This is the business theory, at least, for these companies: they will collect something for more of the infringements and that those amounts will add up. While this is great for those companies, who will make lots in volume, this is short-term thinking at best for individual creative pros (who will not make it up in volume and who lose more…keep reading).

Let’s say that Block bills a whopping $50 per blog use infringement (again, they are calling it a “post-use license” to sell it to the infringers, because it sounds nicer than calling them infringers). If you are a pro, I think you should NEVER sell a license for $50. Ever. Even for a personal blog use. It lowers the value of your work. I don’t care if it’s used on some tiny not-for-profit or personal blog, if you are a pro, a license to display your art is worth more than $50. But still, let’s stick with that amount (which, I suspect, may even be high for these services) because, at that number, Block (etc.) will get a bunch of these “sales.”

The individual artist, however, will have to collect on 15 of these $50 “licenses” to earn the minimum statutory damages owed, under the law, for a single infringement ($750)[2]. Worse yet: I’ve heard that some of these “services” charge 45-55% of the fees collected (a ridiculously high percentage, by the way), so now you’re looking at double that 15, just to get the minimum the law says you must get for a single infringement of a photograph whose copyright was registered before the infringement. And remember, the first thing you did here was register the copyright with the US Copyright Office so, um, yeah.

In other words, you’ve done the (allegedly) hard part–registering the copyright–so why in the hell are you giving away all the financial benefits of doing that?!?

But it gets even worse on the financial side. Let’s say you, through Block, have granted a bunch of these $50 licenses for online use. In fact, let’s say Block even billed and collected $500 for a “post-use license” for use on a small business commercial blog (extremely unlikely, but still). Now, that same photograph gets used by MegaCorp on its website and, in the negotiations, MegaCorp says it will pay $2500 to settle–five times the largest amount you ever got for a license for that photograph. You know that the license is worth more like $10,000 so you refuse (assuming you can–the agreement with the service may have you waive the right of refusal) and the case goes to court. Not only is it very possible that the court will not award you more than $2500, because, in part, of your low price history, it is unlikely that you will collect attorneys’ fees since you refused what appears to be, in that context, a reasonable offer, pre-suit[3]. You have, in essence, set your value at almost nothing because Block licensed your work (post-use!) for almost nothing, over and over. Even if you have licenses that you have issued that are more valuable, you will have to fight it out in court because your own evidence shows you will accept less. Ugh.

Now, as if the financials could be balanced by the services provided, let’s look at the blockchain proof these services are touting: short answer is you don’t need it. Really, it is of no added benefit to you, although it might make Block’s work easier. Sure, if you are asking for essentially a micro-payment and can wave the evidence of registration, etc., at the infringer, you might get paid quickly. However, in fact, in some ways by doing this, Block (and thus you) is doing the work of the defendant and that removes a tactical tool for later (litigation) use.

For example, assuming you registered the copyright shortly after creation of the work, you don’t need to prove that the work is validly registered. Under the law, if you registered the copyright to the photograph before or within 5 years of its first publication, then the legal burden is on the defendant to prove that the work is NOT properly registered, not on you to prove that it is[4]. It’s expensive to get deposit copies and the defendant should bear those costs since it bears the burden of breaking the registration. So, actually, you aren’t making it easier for them to pay you, you are taking away some of the tools your attorney can use to pursue them.

Oh, and about “your attorney,” if you use one of these services you likely agree to use their attorneys for any litigation resulting from a use they found. Their attorneys are contract attorneys who are getting paid very, very little to handle your case. I know because I have been approached by and refused to work with some of these companies as the rates offered were unreasonable.

Finally, and not for nothing, at least Kodak is using its own cryptocurrency for payment. This fad is not a good thing, as Warren Buffet has noted, and I agree. There is way too much uncertainty in the values, including the very likely possibility of total loss. Get paid in real currency, if for no other reason then you know that it isn’t financing North Korea or human trafficking or other crimes[5].

Look, I totally understand that creative pros want the business side of their lives to be easier. Technology can help with that. It’s easier than ever to register your copyrights yourself and to track your works for infringements, again by yourself. If you don’t want to do the work of pursuing the cases, you can hire someone in-house to handle a lot of it, like a studio manager or even a (paid) intern. You’ll still end up way ahead of what you would get with these services. There are also lawyers like me who will help you, even for many of the small cases, and (usually) for a lower percentage than these services charge.

In my opinion, if you are a creative professional, you owe it to yourself to treat your business like a business, and that means making decisions not on the basis of “how easy is it?” but rather “what will benefit my business the most?” When it comes to infringements, that means not giving away the farm for seductively easy now.
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[1] Like, for example, you can (and should) make copies of the deposit copies yourself and keep them in your own files with the registration. The metadata in these files will authenticate them.

[2] For a timely registered work, statutory damages must be between $750 and $30,000 for non-willful infringement, and up to $150,000 for willful. 17 USC §504.

[3] Courts have wide discretion in the award of attorneys’ fees under 17 USC §505 and, these days, are less likely to award them if a plaintiff has refused an objectively reasonable settlement offer.

[4] 17 USC §410(c): In any judicial proceedings the certificate of a registration made before or within five years after first publication of the work shall constitute prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.

[5] See, e.g., http://www.businessinsider.com/why-bitcoin-and-other-cryptocurrencies-will-inevitably-become-tools-of-the-rich-powerful-and-criminal-2013-12; http://www.springfieldnewssun.com/business/crime-and-cryptocurrency-how-local-criminals-use-bitcoin-illegally/ispfn3mqvwWcsPRI1AKC0L/; and, https://www.inc.com/will-yakowicz/startups-law-enforcement-agencies-catch-criminals-who-use-cryptocurrency.html

One Year

Yesterday, July 1, was the first anniversary of Burns the Attorney.
Ive been incredibly lucky. Its been a really good first year.

I have wonderful clients, both new and old, who honor me with their trust. I take very seriously their reliance on me to do my best for them because, in very important ways, it means I help them focus on being creative professionals. Think about it: which would an artist rather do, make new art or chase down people who have used existing art without permission or payment?

That is most of what I do, helping artists with copyright infringement matters. But I do other legal work as well, of course. In the past year, Ive helped clients with contracts and releases, discussed business formations and the effects of community property on clients copyrights, and, well, lots of other things too.

Not everyone gets the opportunity to do what she really loves. I do, and I am so grateful for it.

I want to thank all of my clients and, in advance, all of those who will call on me to help in the future. I intend to be here for some time, serving artists of all sorts.

If you ever need me, you know where to find me.

And thanks.