The Importance of Doing Things the Right Way

By Steve Pederzani

As a creative and an attorney, one thing I often encounter is the phrase red tape. It’s used by many to describe anything that deals with paperwork, legalese, seemingly arbitrary rules of law and so forth that creatives can’t be bothered to deal with. The most common reasons for this point of view are usually some mix of “I’m not a lawyer,” “I don’t make a lot of money,” or “it hinders my creative process.” Unfortunately, ignorance of the law is generally not a defense, and while some creatives ride on the “it hasn’t happened yet so it won’t” belief, many face a ticking time-bomb of legal action or worse.

You can afford to do it right. Let’s be real: there’s a ton of resources out there to help you be a better artist doing things the right way. There’s a reason we go to a dentist for cleanings or doctors for regular check-ups. It’s called preventative care and as a creative, you need to do preventative care for your art if you want to keep it healthy. Small creatives may Google search lawyers and click a few BigLaw businesses only to find exorbitant prices and make a blanket assumption that getting legal help is unreasonably expensive, but that’s not really the case.

There are an abundance of organizations and services out there that offer easily accessible free or low cost help. Try searching [Your State] Lawyers for the Arts for example. Many states including New Mexico have arts legal entities that are created to give educational and legal services for creatives. Sometimes it’s as simple as filling out an intake form or picking up the phone and making a few calls. Some law clinics, such as when I attended Seattle University School of Law, had a suggested fee of $25 for the consultation. Even if the process is overwhelming, just call your closest law school or call a local legal aid office.

Of course some situations, such as litigation, may go beyond what a one-stop clinic can offer, but regardless, there’s a ton of people who volunteer or work every day simply to point you in the right direction, so contact them! The worst that can happen is they can’t help you and they refer you to another person or number the same way you might have to check a few different doctors offices to get one that’ll take your insurance. You can do it if you just try!

You can’t afford to gamble. Not only do platforms with custom means of dealing with copyright issues lead to questionable scenarios, but something as harmless as making infotainment using some reaction videos can land you into deep water. Rather than get into the multitude of weird copyright-and-contracts situation you can get into between monetization features and Terms of Service, let’s just say things get weird in a way that makes it harder for laymen creatives to understand how to fight bad claims and recognize true claims. Maybe you’ve had a video up for a while and get some bizzare forced monetization claim from some label saying that a portion of your audio was taken from a musician they represent when your audio is entirely original content. Maybe you’re the unlucky person who performed a public domain Bach piece that Sony decided to claim it owned.

The reason you can’t afford to gamble is because how complex some of these situations can be and because sometimes it’s not easy to tell a false claim from a legitimate claim, especially when Sony is making mistakes. When you go after these claims, you’re risking copyright strikes on your YouTube account which puts your channel at risk. If a company decides to pull the same stunt but doesn’t let up when you contest the false claim, you need to know what to do to protect not only your current work, but all your past works. That’s what Twitch users are dealing with now as many of them are getting clips removed over something that could have easily been prevented.

Don’t wait until you’re next like the Twitch users getting hit for unlicensed music use right now. Take advantage of the free resources out there at the very least, or if you’re strapped on income, set aside some of your revenue and scout out an creative-minded lawyer you can trust to help detail the basics for your craft under a limited arrangement, specifically so you don’t wind up in some heavily billed arrangement you didn’t intend to sign up for.

There’s a lot to learn, but you don’t have to go it alone. It can become overwhelming to some. There’s a whole bunch of other areas to consider even if you’re a relatively new creative. You may have heard some people throw around, “should I become a LLC?” That’s not always a simple yes-or-no-then-file-it answer depending on what you do, if you have or want a team and so on. You need to learn about the rules that impact you day-to-day to properly protect your earnings, your business and your personal stuff. There’s employment laws to consider if you’re a for-profit that often get overlooked that you should be aware of as your business grows. There’s reporting and tax obligations at every level. What if someone starts stealing your stuff? How do you go about it the right way to get results?

Don’t be afraid to talk to someone about your professional needs even if you feel you’re not in a place to be planning it yet. Doing things the right way now means you don’t have to worry about them in the future. Getting your professional needs taken care off off the bat means more time spent being creative instead of fussing over paperwork down the road when it suddenly becomes necessary.

Think of it like part of your creative process. You had to come up with your ideas and practice what it is you do, right? You probably continue to do upkeep for your creative skills. Take care of your business the way you take care of your art.