Legal Challenges

When putting together a creative venture, seeking legal advice may be the last thing on an artist’s mind, and hiring a lawyer may not be considered until artists are mired in contract disputes and copyright questions.

However, a local nonprofit hopes to help artists protect themselves before legal questions arise.

Attorney Denise Glinatsis Bayer is executive director and founder of the Legal Creative Inc., a nonprofit that constructs an economic relationship between artists and their communities so that they are valued for the contributions that they make.

“The Legal Creative helps to empower artists and arts organizations so they are less likely to expose themselves to loss or legal problems by educating artists regarding legal matters such as copyright, trademark and contract law,” Bayer said.

Bayer said that some common legal mistakes artists make include not registering their creative works for trademark or copyright protection. The Legal Creative offers educational seminars for artists including “Copyright For Creatives,” and “Contracts For The Artist Entrepreneur,” as well as workshops including “Help Me Grow: Business Plans for the Budding Artist.” The Legal Creative also connects eligible artists with volunteer attorneys.

Bayer said that the biggest way artists can protect themselves legally is by setting out terms of an agreement before they start creating for a client. She said that this can be done by a letter agreement or a formal contract.

“It’s really a way of saying, hey, let’s make sure we are both on the same page and have the same understanding, and this shouldn’t be something to be feared or to shy away from,” she said.

“Of course, having a firm grasp on copyright and trademark laws is part and parcel, with artists being able to educate clients and protect their intellectual property.

”That is the primary reason why the Legal Creative was founded. I had a lot of artist clients coming to me after an agreement had fallen apart, and what concerned me was not only the lack of a proper agreement between the artist and the client, but the misunderstanding and misinformation that is circulating in the arts community regarding copyrights and the law in general,” she said.

Brian Jenkins, president and owner of the record label Riot House Records, based in San Diego, said that one of the biggest mistakes musicians make is not conducting the necessary research and steps to protecting the individual songwriter’s and band’s interests. Jenkins, who is also a musician, has played shows in Youngstown in his touring bands, Sacred Broncos and Black Jet Radio.

“I think copyrighting scares musicians off before they’ve even looked into what it means. Your song is ‘copyrighted’ once it’s recorded, but there’s methods in place to give you additional security,” Jenkins said.

“Another issue I see pop up continually is bands not creating any sort of business structure within the band. The thought ‘We’ll sort it out later if we need to’ is a terrible idea. You need to figure out ownership early on for masters, songwriting, publishing and trademark.

”When I am working with a band, I don’t want to be bouncing emails back and forth between four band members for approval. Sometimes in these cases, it can be a complete turnoff and a deal breaker.”

Brian Pennick is founder of Cincinnati-based The Counter Rhythm Group, a radio promotion, record marketing, publicity, tour management, event promotions and internal artists company. He agrees that business structure within a music group is a necessity.

“With internal agreements, it is extremely important that an artist takes into consideration who in the group (if working with others) receives the songwriting credit,” Pennick said. “Figure out what actual percentages are agreeable and be sure to get it down on paper.

”Someone in the industry can blindly stumble across your song and want to build your career overnight. You do not want to wait and see someone’s true personality once a briefcase filled with money is put on the table.”

Pennick said that the key for musicians is to take the legality of themselves as artists or a musicians seriously.

“Musicians that wait to focus on their business until they are contacted by an interested third party are susceptible to agreeing to terms in the other parties’ favor and can be taken advantage of,” he said. “Making a few small internal agreements and getting them down on paper can save a lot of heartache, stress and financial investment in the long run.”

Jenkins agreed.

“If your project is merely an artistic outlet or just for getting out and jamming to have fun, then I see no need to treat it like a business,” Jenkins said.

“However , I love a good business-minded musician. These are the folks I want to work with.

”It doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice the integrity of your art, either. Treating it like a business means setting goals, working hard, being punctual, and creating something that people will dig and support. I’ve never met a successful artist who didn’t treat his or her work as seriously as the CEO of Starbucks treats his,” Jenkins said.