What To Do, part 2

So you’ve found a probable infringement and you’ve gathered all the evidence you can (see previous post), now what? You have choices[1]: do nothing, contact the infringer yourself and send an invoice, contact the infringer yourself and send a cease and desist/demand letter, send a DMCA takedown notice to the infringer’s ISP[2], or contact a lawyer.

Of course, I’m going to say “contact a lawyer” is your best option (um, duh!), but I’d like to discuss the other options a bit here, too.

First, I think that doing nothing is not a good option, with one exception: if you are so utterly risk-averse that you can’t bear the slightest chance that you may end up in court over the illegal use of your work, then sit on your hands and seethe, but do nothing. That is, if you do anything else like the options described below, you do run a small (and usually is a very, very small) risk that the other side will file suit against you for declaratory judgment that it did not infringe. This is really rare because copyright infringement is strict liability and so, unless you missed something like a license granted to the infringer, it’s a loser case for the infringer. I had this happen once–the infringer tried to use it to scare off my client. Didn’t work and, not too much later, we negotiated a settlement that my client was quite happy with (plus, my client saved the cost of filing the suit). Still, if you don’t want to face the generally tiny possibility of going to federal court, do nothing.  Otherwise, read on.

Some people suggest sending an invoice to infringers, but I don’t encourage that. It’s likely you will undervalue the infringement and maybe even miss additional claims that will add value to the overall matter, so you sell yourself short. Worse yet, an invoice sent will virtually neverresult in you getting a check for your invoice’s full amount. At best, the invoice will be a start to a negotiation; but, if you’ve already undervalued the matter and then you end up at, say, 50% of that, you’re bleeding money. You also set your price without knowing all the facts and that could bite you if you end up in court later. Nope, invoicing is not a wise idea in most cases[3].

Similarly, I generally don’t encourage creatives to send cease and desist (aka demand) letters of their own drafting because they usually (of course, accidentally) screw them up because of language errors as well as under-valuation. If you don’t know the law, you may  (as mentioned above) miss legitimate claims that add to the value of the matter and you could end up offering to release a $25,000 claim for $5000.

As for language, there are two main areas of concern: misusing legalese and slipping from legitimate demand into extortion. The latter, first: “Pay me $10,000 or I’m going to go public with what a thief you are!” is going to get you in trouble but a demand for $10,000 to settle the claims is not inappropriate if the facts support it.  The line isn’t so obvious sometimes and, since anti-copyright folk scream Extortion! at any demand, you want to be sure you don’t actually cross that line.

Using legal language incorrectly happens often and often it is by people who are very smart but, not being attorneys, they have no clue that using certain words means something different in a legal context (like published in copyright law, for one example). To paraphrase Inego Montoya, “I do not think those words mean what you think…” and that can get you in trouble when the other side lawyers up.

Another error in artist-drafted letters is you can be a doormat: “I’m sorry, I’m sure you didn’t mean to, but you used my work. Would you be willing to pay me $100?” is differently but arguably just as bad as accidentally extorting the infringer. You’re undervaluing the infringement and groveling…ick! Overall, unless you have a form letter drafted by an attorney and you are very confident in evaluating your cases for all the potential claims and their damages, I encourage you to refrain from drafting and sending letters yourself.

Moving on… sending a DMCA takedown notice to the ISP is a tool you can wield, and it will probably get the infringement stopped, but it does nothing about getting you the money you deserve for the illegal exploitation of your work. Usually, I think it is better to notify the actual infringer first (as a part of a demand letter) and then, if it doesn’t remove the work, send the takedown notice. This can be a strategic choice that is worth evaluating with an attorney too as, for example, continued use after notice can be a factor for willfulness. Also, you do want to be sure to send a technically proper notice, if you choose to send one at all.

That brings us to the final option: contacting an attorney. A competent copyright attorney will avoid the issues described above, will evaluate your claim(s) and your opposition’s potential defenses, and will advise you on your best course of action. We have to–there are rules (actually, laws[4]) that demand it of us. So, as opposed to companies[5] that claim to help you with your registrations or infringements, attorneys, once hired, must put your best interests first, including above our own. It’s part of why we have to be licensed–to provide competent counsel to our clients.

While we attorneys can’t take every case that is brought to us, we are required to hold your information confidential even if we don’t take the case so it is worth talking with one of us before you do anything.


[1]As long as it is still less than three years since you discovered the infringement (in most cases/places), you have options. The statute of limitations is 3 years for infringement and usually that clock starts ticking when you discover the infringement. Don’t wait until the last minute.

[2]DMCA takedown notices do not go to infringers but rather to the ISPs that host the infringement. For example, if I were an infringer of the post office photo I showed in my last post, the author of the photo would send the notice to my host, not me. It gets the work removed and gives the host/ISP a legal protection (safe harbor) against being sued for infringement, but the author could (and arguably should) still go after me as the actual infringer.

[3]An exception may be with an existing client who has used work beyond the scope of a license; then, for a continuing-business-relationship reason, an invoice may be wise.

[4]See, e.g., Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §6068, including sub-section (g) that says an attorney must not “encourage either the commencement or the continuance of an action or proceeding from any corrupt motive of passion or interest.”

[5]Companies are required to make as much money as they can for their shareholders, first and foremost.

What to Do (Collecting Evidence)

When one finds one’s work being used by someone without permission, much less payment, there are some things to be done besides just swearing about it. Before doing anything regarding the infringer, especially before contacting it, do the most important thing: collect all the evidence.

If your work is appearing in print someplace, or in 3 dimensions (depending on your art), take copious photographs of it. Try to get close-ups and photos of the context (in a bank, on a billboard, etc.).

If, say, the work appears on a product, note the store where it is being sold and ask the manager for the name and contact information of the supplier, if it’s not a company you recognize. You can also buy example products (or publications) bearing your work, if that is an option.

Online? Make screenshots. Get the whole page if possible (try an app like Paparazzi) and also try to get a screenshot showing as much of the URL as possible while also capturing the infringing use. When you do that, however, make sure to hide your favorites and close all other tabs–you want a clean example of the infringement[1].

Got the shots of the work on the public-facing pages of the site? Great, now find it on their servers. In Safari, go under Develop>Show Web Inspector and you’ll see a folder called Images. Here, I have a screenshot looking at this site that way where I’ve ID’ed a photo of the La Jolla post office I made (selected in the screenshot below):

Double-click that highlighted icon and it will open the link to the work as it appears on the infringer’s server (here, on my server). Get screenshots of that as well and note the URL(s).

Okay, now do you use metadata in your images? Please say you do. If so, then check the metadata on the infringing photograph–see what has/has not been deleted or altered. Preserve that evidence as well (make pdfs of the results, for example).

Finally, for web-related infringements, preserve the infringement on the Wayback Machine at archive.org. You do that by checking to see if the page is there already (and do this for the front-facing pages and the server pages); if it’s not, then you’ll see that you can add it. Here is what I got when I put in the URL for the server page holding my post office photo, for example:

Once you’ve done all that you need to find, in your own records, your copyright registration for the work and copies of your deposit copies. If it’s not registered and it is still within three calendar months of your first publication of the work[2], register it immediately[3]! Also note where you have licensed the work to be used and where you have published the work yourself (exact URLs for everything–not just “on my site”). Basically, think of every place that your opposition may have found the work and note the URLs.

Put all of the above into a folder for that infringement, before you do anything like contacting the infringer.

Yes, this all is some work, but evidence is so important that it is totally worth it. I can’t begin to tell you how many times someone has contacted me with what sounds like a great case but, because s/he hasn’t preserved evidence of the infringement, there is noting that I can do for her/him. I may know it is an infringement, but if I can’t prove it, there is nothing I can do for you.

So, once you have all the evidence, then you can decide what to do about the infringement itself. In my next post, I’ll talk about your choices.


[1] No reason to give anyone any personal data accidentally, like that you also were looking at porn or something (yes, this happens).

[2] Remember that “publication” has a different meaning under copyright law here so if you offered it to a client for its use, even if it wasn’t used, then it is published. Also, posting the work on a site where you say, basically, “you can license this work” is publishing. However, just because you posted it on your portfolio site (no offer to license) does not make it published. If you aren’t sure, ask a copyright lawyer, not your creative buddies, for advice.

[3] If it is too late, then your options are limited for how you approach the infringement, since your remedies are limited, but it still may be worth pursuing.

Not One Month

I don’t know where this got started, but there is some bad info going around about a one-month window to register a work to get statutory damages (and maybe attorneys’ fees and costs). There is no such thing.

I thought it was just a fluke when I recently had a potential new client tell me that she had registered a work within one month of discovering an infringement and thought that meant she could get statutory damages. Then, however, I saw PDN recently publish essentially the same wrong info, so now I’m worried.

Like I said, there is no such thing as a one-month window. There is, actually, no one month anything for anything copyright registration-related that applies to most of you (especially photographers). Nada. Nichevo. Rien. Nothing. And I really don’t want any of you to get burned by learning rules that aren’t rules, so let’s get the right info out there.

Here is the law on this issue: in order for someone to be able to get statutory damages for an infringement of unpublished work, s/he must register the copyright with the US Copyright Office before the infringement in question started. Period. That’s it. No other options.

For published work, the same rule applies (register before the infringement). However, for published work only, there is also a “safe harbor”: for three calendar months after the first publication of a work, someone can register and it is as if the registration happened on the date of the first publication (thus any infringement that happens after that date of first publication is covered).

Okay, hopefully that is clear.

By the way, I’m disappointed that PDN published wrong info (and that they haven’t corrected it as of this writing, despite being told by my mentor Carolyn Wright that is was wrong). It does go to another important point, though: when it comes to the law, ask a lawyer. Though often well meaning, a writer, a photographer, any other artist will often get it wrong.

I’ll step off my soapbox now.

Exclusive Licenses and Your Business

Have you ever granted exclusive rights to your work? If so, I sure hope you got paid enough for it because you may not be able to sue for infringement of that work. Maybe. It depends. Language matters and this is (likely, surprisingly) technical stuff.

A new case doesn’t help; actually, it kind of muddies the water and I’m sure it will be debated by lawyers in filings and cases to come. In Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Lingfu Zhang, Case No. 3:16-cv-1443-SI (D. Or January 17, 2018) (“Zhang“) the court split a fine hair about standing and exclusive licensing and it has some copyright owners and licensors[1] worried.

Get popcorn, this is going to take some explaining.

Courts require something called standing in order to sue (for any suit). Standing roughly means that the plaintiff is the person who was harmed/affected by the defendant’s illegal actions. If you get punched by a jerk in a bar, you have standing to sue the jerk for assault and battery because you were put in fear and physically harmed. Your friend who, from across the room, saw the jerk hit you? She does not have standing to sue the jerk for assault and battery for that punch, because she wasn’t actually harmed by it[2]. Got it? Good.

Now, a bit about copyright… it is often described as a bundle of sticks where each stick represents an exclusive right. That bundle actually consists of six big sticks: one for each of the rights listed in the statute[3]: to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works based upon the work, to distribute copies of the work, to perform the work publicly, to display the work publicly, and to record and perform the work by means of an audio transmission. Each of those big sticks is made up of its own sub-sticks, and they can be very specific sub-sticks. For example, the right to reproduce can be made up of the sub-sticks “the right to reproduce the work in print,” or “the right to reproduce the work in the USA,” or “the right to reproduce the work for 6 months,” or those sub-sticks can be combined into the stick “the right to reproduce the work in print in the USA for 6 months.”

It’s an imperfect metaphor, but it’s about as good as we can get and it’ll be helpful here.

Anyway, an original owner of a copyright owns all these sticks[4] and can share any of them by non-exclusive licensing. After granting a non-exclusive license, the copyright owner still holds the stick. The licensee doesn’t get the stick but the license means s/he/it can’t be hit with that stick now, so to speak[5].

However, (and here’s the thing I bet you didn’t know) when an owner grants an exclusive license for any of these rights, these (sub-)sticks, s/he is handing that stick over to the licensee–and (often) letting go of it. The statutes and case law say that an exclusive license is tantamount to ownership of the right conveyed in the license[6]. For example, if you grant the exclusive reproduction right in print in the USA for 6 months, you no longer own any right to reproduce the work in print in the USA for that 6 months.

Now to bring the pieces together… to bring a suit for copyright infringement, to have standing to sue, a plaintiff has to be the person who owned the rights actually infringed at the time of the infringement. In other words, the plaintiff had to have that particular stick when the infringement happened. Let’s look at some examples to make that clearer.

Example 1
Betty makes an illustration and grants a non-exclusive license to Forbes for display use on its website for 6 months only. Sometime during those 6 months, BloggerBob copies the article and the illustration and displays them on his own website. Forbes cannot sue for infringement of the illustration[7] because it only has a non-exclusive license and Betty still owns the exclusive right. Betty still has the stick for website display during that time and so she has standing and can sue BloggerBob for the infringement.

Example 2
Betty makes an illustration and grants an exclusive license to Forbes for display use on its website for 6 months only. Sometime during those 6 months, BloggerBob copies the article and the illustration and displays them on his own website. Forbes can sue for infringement of the illustration because it has an exclusive license for website display for those 6 months! Here, Betty does not own the exclusive right any more–she has handed that stick to Forbes for the 6 months–and so Betty cannot sue BloggerBob for that infringement.

Example 2a
Now, just because Betty has handed a stick to Forbes doesn’t mean she didn’t keep all the other sticks. During this same 6 month Forbes license window, Tony Tshirt illicitly prints Betty’s illustration on clothing and sells the items. Betty (not Forbes) has standing to sue Tony for that infringement because he infringed on a different exclusive right that she still owns.


Okay, now here is where it gets uncomfortable and confusing. In a previous case[8] in the 9th Circuit (Minden, as well as other cases and in other places), the court said that a copyright owner can grant an exclusive license to a licensee and (wait for it) still keep that same stick–essentially saying both the licensor and the licensee have the stick, while excluding all others from having it. The terms of the exclusive licenses in Minden and these other cases included the owner retaining some the right explicitly or the licensor had something called “beneficial ownership” of the right (for example, was paid royalties based on the exploitation of the right granted[9]).

However, in the Zhang case I mentioned at the start of this post, the court said the copyright owner, when it granted an exclusive license for the right later infringed, gave that stick to someone else entirely and so didn’t have standing to sue. That is, they didn’t keep any of the stick for themselves (nor get any beneficial ownership), and since it was that stick’s rights that were infringed, the copyright owner could not sue. Ouch.

Yeah, I know, it sounds a lot like the same as Minden, but with a different outcome, but it isn’t, quite. The difference is very much in the wording of the licenses– technical stuff. Honestly, these issues are sometimes difficult even for attorneys to understand, and we are highly trained to understand them! Don’t feel bad if you don’t totally grok this stuff.

So why am I bothering to tell you about this? What does this mean for you as someone who licenses your work to others? Basically, you need to be very careful of your license language and, if you are going to grant an exclusive license especially, make sure you do it in a way that works for you AND that you get paid enough for it.

Too many artists just throw around words like “exclusive” without understanding that they could seriously impact rights and the artist’s livelihood. Don’t be one of them. Also, don’t sign contracts unless you fully understand all the terms and their effects.

Best practices would be to hire an attorney to draft your licenses and to read contracts offered to you by your clients. Yes, this will cost you some money but (a) you can write it off and (b) it may save you much more in the long run. Ignorance is no excuse, especially in court. Worse yet, when you throw around legal-sounding words without understanding their effects, you are still bound by their effects.

Remember: you are an artist who is running an arts-based business–you need to run it like the real business it is.


[1] A licensor is someone who grants licenses to another party (that party is the licensee).

[2] I know someone reading this is going to say she could sue for something else, and maybe she could, but I’m not going there. Just roll with the example being limited to civil assault and battery.

[3] 17 USC §106

[4] A later owner, someone to whom the copyright was assigned (transferred) may very well own all of these rights, but it’s possible s/he/it may not. To use the favorite phrase of attorneys everywhere: it depends. It can get very complicated and I don’t want to go into all that here.

[5] I mean, a licensor can’t sue the licensee for a use covered by the license granted to the licensee.

[6] 17 U.S.C. § 501(b); Minden Pictures, Inc. v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 795 F. 3d 997 (9th Cir. 2015); Silvers v. Sony Pictures Entm’t, Inc., 402 F.3d 881, 890 (9th Cir. 2005); etc.

[7] Forbes’ rights in the article may be an entirely different story–I’m only discussing the illustration here.

[8] Minden, 795 F. 3d.

[9] Broad. Music, Inc. v. Hirsch, 104 F.3d 1163, 1166 (9th Cir. 1997).


Showing 2017 The Door

As we show 2017 the door, now is the time many of us take a look at the year that was and think about the year yet to be.

In 2017, many of us were at least pre-occupied, if not downright overwhelmed by the events in Washington, DC. Many of us woke each morning with some variation of Dorothy Parker’s “What fresh hell is this?” on our lips as we fired up the news or, worse yet, Twitter. And, while I firmly believe we each must do all we can to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution (particularly since many in power are not), 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 2018.

  • Register your damn copyrights already. Seriously, if you are a creative professional, stop making excuses and start doing this.
    • While there are services for this, I do not recommend using any of them. Fast or easy ≠ better. I don’t think you can automate registration applications and have them be anything more than maybe adequate (and possibly deficient). A well done registration can make a potential defendant in an infringement matter settle fast and for more money than a bare-bones one (which may even be challenged by a wily defendant). Besides, it’s really not that hard anyway, particularly for visual artists and even more so for still photographers.
    • 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).
  • Pursue infringements for a better bottom line. Not every case has to be worth over $30,000 or whatever to get representation–I don’t know how that idea got started but it is simply not true. Some attorneys, like me, will take on small cases because they simply do add up. Let’s say you have small value infringements, but 10 of those over the year; now imagine you get an average of $2500 (a low settlement amount) per case: that’s $25K. Now, let’s say your attorney gets 35% of that: you’re still pocketing over $16K. I bet you can find a lot more than 10 infringements in a year–why not see of they are worth getting a lawyer to pursue (I review cases for free)?
  • Make the time to make art for yourself. Whatever your medium(s), get back to making your own work for you. 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.
    • I encourage actively scheduling the time now, to occur at intervals throughout the year, and to stick to that schedule unless the dreamiest dream job or a true emergency comes along.
  • Stop relying on social media like Instagram to do your marketing. Besides the fact that the Terms of Use on pretty much all those services really do suck for creative pros, it’s virtually impossible to get seen by the right people, particularly if you are relying on trying to trend/go viral. Instead, do better targeting (remember making lists of desired clients? do that) and get back to the basics in your marketing plan–print mailers are doing better than ever, at least I’m hearing that from several folks.
    • Relatedly, try to interact in human form with potential clients. Make calls, go to industry events, volunteer with professional organizations of your potential clients–get out there in three dimensions!
    • Instead of posting everything on Facebook, Instagram, etc., keep your work on your own server/site and post links on 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, like ©2017 Leslie Burns) but if not that then the copyright owner’s name (and, for non-visual art, then include it 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. 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, not just during the holidays, but all year. Time is something we can’t bank or buy and being present with those whom we love and who love us, that’s the best thing, always.

Here’s hoping 2018 is a happy, healthy, and prosperous year for us all.

Thank you

As is my custom, rather than giving gifts to my clients at the end of the year to thank them for their business, I try to do something to help less fortunate folks, in the name of my clients. This year, I had planned on doing the same thing I did last year (make kits for the local homeless) but, as bad as they have it, there are people suffering even more: the Puerto Ricans.

Our government has turned its back on these Americans after their island was devastated. It’s heartbreaking that, months after, the death toll is still unknown, more than half the island is still without power and close to 10% don’t have running water. The American people, however, have not forgotten (we’re still a pretty good bunch, despite the current leadership) and people, regular folk, are working to rebuild Puerto Rico.

There are several good charities, but I decided to go with the one recommended by the mayor of San Juan: Somebody Help Us/Alguien Ayúdenos. I figure that the locals know best what they need and who can best benefit. Plus, the organization posts all its paperwork (articles of incorporation, etc.) so there is transparency. This morning, I made a (relatively substantial) donation to the organization in the name of all of my clients.

I can only do this because of you. The trust my clients have placed in me, that you allow me to help you, and that I can help artists continue to make a living doing what they love and are gifted to do, it all means so very much to me. Yes, the money doesn’t suck (especially for someone who grew up literally counting pennies with my mom to make it through each month) but, that I get to use my knowledge to help artists and make a difference, well, let’s just say I feel lucky every single day.

Thank you.

Framing is infringement…

…at least in the Northern District of Texas. There, in a recent opinion (November 22, 2017), the court held that framing (aka inline linking or hotlinking) a work is copyright infringement[1].

This is a big deal for creatives and legal geeks like me.

See, particularly nefarious infringers have managed to get away with infringing by inline linking to a work and then claiming that they didn’t copy the work, so no infringement. Their defense is that they just provided the work on their site live/embedded/hotlinked/whatever, but the work was still hosted on the original (owner’s) site so, boom, no infringement.

This has always ticked me off as it sure seems like a clear violation of the exclusive right to display a work, provided for in copyright law[2]. Unfortunately, the courts haven’t been on our side about it. Scholars, yes (mostly), but the courts, not so much.

The big case defendants usually rely on was from here in the 9th Circuit back in 2007: Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc[3]. There, the court noted that someone has to make and possess a copy for an infringement to occur. For a website, that means a copy of the file must be on the defendant’s server, not still on the plaintiff’s but displayed on the defendant’s. Since then, however, courts have begun to take issue with that idea.
‘Bout time, I say.

In this new opinion, the court notes a copyright owner’s exclusive right to display a work and that “[t]he text of the Copyright Act does not make actual possession of a copy of a work a prerequisite for infringement. To display a work, someone need only show a copy of the work; a person need not actually possess a copy to display a work.[4]” It distinguished this case from Perfect 10 on the facts,  but also said that the court in Perfect 10, on this point, got it wrong.

While this case doesn’t mean that every case with framing/inline linking will now be a winner for the copyright owner, it does open the door a little more.


[1] The Leader’s Institute, LLC, et al. v Jackson, et al., Case 3:14-cv-03572-B (TXND 11/22/17) Doc. 195 at 21.

[2] 17 USC §106(5).

[3] 508 F.3d 1146 (9th Cir. 2007)

[4] The Leader’s Institute, Doc. 195 at 23, citing Flava Works, Inc. v. Gunter, No. 10-C-6517, 2011 WL 3876910, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 1, 2011).

Sometimes you have to begin again

Welcome to my new site!
Getting a new website was, um, not a planned event.

Sometimes things happen that push us to make changes we weren’t anticipating. In my case, it was a serious technical failure by my (now previous) hosting company that sucked my old site into the dark recesses of the interwebs and forced me to, well, to begin again.

Hopefully I’ll be able to recover some of the lost materials soon and get the info posted here for all to access. I have some backups but, like too many of us, I wasn’t as diligent with the backing-up of my website as I ought to have been.

Learn from my error and back up your website.
I suggest doing that now.

As for me, I have things running again. There will be tweaks and improvements down the line, and a lot more helpful information on legal issues that may affect you and your creative business. As they say, stay tuned…

We Are All Afraid

First, an apology for not posting anything for a bit. In my defense, I have been extraordinarily busy: on top of my practice, Im prepping for a move next week (packing is such a time-sucking chore) and have been hosting my niece for a couple of weeks while she does an externship in emergency veterinary medicine.

Im very proud of my niece. I have no right to be as Ive had nothing to do with her upbringing beyond sending presents and good thoughts across the country (shes from Atlanta and goes to the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine in Athens, GA), but Ill claim the privilege of relation. Contrary to the stereotype millennial, she has worked hard to get where she is. In case you werent aware, getting into vet school is harder than human medical school–there are many fewer schools and the competition is fierce. She will be awarded her doctorate next spring.

My niece reminds me of the value of work and a good attitude. She could have been daunted by the odds, by the amount of work, by the cost of school, by a whole host of things that could go wrong, but she did it anyway. I’m sure she was afraid, more than a bit, of failing at many points along the way. But she did it and shows every sign of becoming a very good and successful vet–maybe even specializing in surgery. Wow!

She, and my upcoming move, remind me of how facing our fears and doing (whatever) anyway is the best route to success. Speaking of which, I wrote the following in 2006 and it holds true today…


Ive written about fear in one of my Manuals[1], but there is something about fear and business that I may not have been clear about: we all have it. Every single businessperson has fearsuccessful people do, just as less successful ones do. The difference is in how one deals with the fear.

If you are afraid and own up to it, face it, and challenge the fear, you are more likely to be successful. Some call that courage, and if that word works for you, then use it. What it is, whatever you call it, is taking risks and being open to living with the results.

We do that every day. Every day we take a risk driving (accidents), playing a sport (hurting yourself) or even just eating (food poisoning). Theres a risk in taking a shower (you could slip) or taking some medication (side effects) and there are big risks in falling in love (a broken heart). And yet we do these things regularly. Why? Because the payoffs are worth it and we know that we can live with the results, even if they are painful.

Can you imagine never being in love? Sure, youd never run the risk of getting hurt. You could protect your heart and rationalize it by saying that over 50% of relationships break up, etc. Thatsoundsreasonable. But, youd never know the joy of an intimate relationship, or passion, or the sublimely absolute trust that someone is totally there for you even in your lowest moment.

So it is in business. You can play it safe, not take risks, and be like most everyone else who is trying to do the same thing, or you can try something new and risky, but whichmightpay off in a big way.

Did you become a creative to do what others have already done, or did you do it because you see things differently and/or you want to express something more in your work?

Take the riskbe your whole self and show your true vision. Be passionate. Put yourself out there. Yes, you may fall on your face, but youll be truly alive in the process and, more importantly, you can only be great if you try.


[1] For those of you who dont know, when I was a rep and consultant (as Burns Auto Parts), I use to post and send to clients articles I called Manuals.


P.S. These days we have a lot of external fears–things over which we feel we have almost no control. For many of us our country (USA) is headed in not only the wrong direction, but a truly dangerous one. We can’t let those fears stop us either. Facing these fears may mean standing up to the racist/homophobe/misogynist screaming at you without turning to violence, or running for office, or protesting, or protecting DACA kids and immigrant families of all kinds. I encourage everyone to do the right things, to stand up for the truly American way and not this hateful MAGA hypocrisy, and to know that we can and shall overcome.

Sit On Your Hands and Breathe

In some ways, law school is like learning to be Vulcan–you have to learn to think logically and keep your emotions out of it. It isn’t that we lawyers don’t feel (boy howdy, no!), but we have learned to be ledby logic rather than our emotions, at least when it comes to our cases. We learned to think rather than react. That difference can be rather crucial in legal matters.

My studies in Buddhism have helped me with this. I have learned to sit with thoughts and feelings, to observe them without judgement, and to make better choices from that. It takes a hell of a lot more to make me lose my temper than it used to. I still feel, and profoundly, but I can identify that as “feeling” and not let it interfere with my rational processing.

Creative clients are especially emotional sometimes. I think it is part of what makes you all artists–you make your livings by expressing emotions in some manner. For some of you, this can manifest as reacting before thinking. While that may be great for making your art, it can be very bad when faced with a legal issue.

Let’s take an infringement, for example. If you find your work being used without your permission, you’re going to be angry and hurt and you’re going to want to yell at someone, but that would be a poor choice. You could accidentally limit your recovery (or at least make it damn hard to negotiate a good settlement). You may throw a client under the bus because it accidentally shared your work (maybe if you knew that you’d forgive the client’s idiocy to keep that client). You might say something that isn’t true–my favorite is “The penalty for infringement is $150,000 per infringement!” (sigh…if only!). You may also be mistaken and the user does have a license you forgot about or it’s a legitimate fair use. If you go off half-cocked, you’re not going to catch any of that and, well, that would be bad.

So, when you find an infringement, here is what I think you should do:

  1. Immediately preserve evidence of the infringement (make screenshots, for example). Find every use you can and capture every URL, buy products that bear your work, take photos of your work being used, etc.
  2. Look up the company/person who controls the infringement, likethe website (try a Whois search, perhaps), or the manufacturer of the product. Save that info.
  3. After that, sit on your hands (i.e., do nothing) and breathe.

Do not call or email the infringer/bad actor. Do not call or email the entity you think may have “shared” your work. In fact, don’t even call or email yourattorney (yet). Nothing is going to get fixed immediately and no more harm is going to happen (in most cases)–you have time. You have three years to bring a suit for infringement in the US, so doing nothing for a couple of days after finding the infringement isn’t going to hurt your case. If your work isn’t registered and it is more than 3 months since you first published it, registering it now isn’t going to change anything for the better, even. So just sit and breathe.

After you have calmed down, maybe days later if you are really upset, look at the evidence you gathered. Search for any license you may have granted that might cover the use. Find your registration materials (assuming the work is registered). Basically, get everything together to make your case file. Then re-evaluate your case and set your goals to make you whole. Then you can plan on how to achieve thosegoals. And then you can begin to act.

This is true for many matters–that is, nothing bad is going to happen if you don’t act right that very second but you can do harm by reacting without thinking. Instead, record the evidence; sit on your hands and breathe; think/re-evaluate; set goals; act.

Now, “act” may very well be “call/email my attorney” but, by taking the time to let the emotions cool off, you haven’t hurt your case and you have thought about what really matters to you in it. The slap-in-the-face you felt will have calmed so that you can think more rationally about what you want. And you have all the materials together to help your attorney evaluate your case.

You don’t have to become Vulcan-like, but if yousave most ofyour emotions for your art, you’ll likely get better results in both your art and the law.