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Legalities…Protect Your ASSets

Remember that scene, from Office Space, when one little decimal place made the difference between a few cents and $305,326.13 (not to mention a possible stay at a “federal-reserve-pound-me-in-the-4$$-prison”)?

…I must have put a decimal point in the wrong place or something…I always mess up some mundane detail…

Well, running a business where intellectual property is your b & b is especially like this. A lesson read, learned, and relearned.

In 1998(ish), Michael Torres, co-founder of VISIONARY Photo-Graphics, owned a photography business called Bella Studios. He had a model whose photo he used for a Bella ad in the Lubbock phone book. However, when the model threatened to get a lawyer, in search of royalties, Michael simply handed her the model release that she had signed, told her to show that to her lawyer, and sent her on her way to never be heard from again regarding the matter.

This is a big deal. As an artist, you never know what might come up later. You never know, in this economy, when an opportunist might see the chance to obviate working for a living by milking you for what you’re worth…Maybe you hired someone to help shoot an event. Maybe you already knew that she wasn’t the greatest one for the job, but it was an inconsequential role, and the skilled photographers were doing the skilled work, and you felt bad because she told you that she needed money to eat. You didn’t know that she’d show up late, spend more time talking than working, nor that she’d leave early. And, you especially didn’t expect that the small gig you hired her for would look to her like a chance at gold, that she wouldn’t consider or care about the fact that your company had paid dues to be there, that you were legally obligated to the organization that your photography represents, as well as each individual attending (whom you couldn’t realistically have had sign a model release), and that that individual may or may not care for having their photo sold for personal gain, therefore holding your company accountable – not the work-for-hire photographer that you paid to represent you…you just never know.

Sure, it was a definitive “work-for-hire”, and you could probably beat it in court. But who wants that?! Who wants to read/answer 7 email threats a day or more? Who wants the discomfort later, when you’re just trying to have dinner with your lemonpop, but this thing just keeps jabbing at your ribs. A simple pre-signed agreement will not only let you rest easy, it stops the train in its tracks. Just remembering that he/she signed something will keep a person honest.

So, there you have it, artists of the world. Set aside a time, maybe make a day of it – to just tackle legal documentation. Think of several possibilities, for employees and clients alike. Sales agreements. Clients, their rights, and things you might be using photos for. Wedding agreements, commercial agreements, model releases, those precious timetables, prints, photo rights, etc.  And, if you own a company, make sure that your employees and/or constituents know what’s black and what’s white (or at least that they sign at the dotted line). It’s a one-time task, and you could be saving yourself restlessness, or grief, or $305,326.13, and in rare yet definitely possible cases, an indefinite stay at “federal-reserve-pound-me-in-the-4$$ prison”.

-Ric Torres

This entry was written by Ric , posted on Wednesday August 26 2009at 08:08 pm , filed under Tricks of The Trade and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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