Know your rights

Monday, 21 December 2015

On Wednesday 28 October, Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres partners with the Arts Law Centre of Australia to present a series of free legal clinics for artists.

Artists working across all platforms will have the opportunity to meet with Robyn Ayres, Director of Arts Law, in a 30 minute appointment to discuss legal matters surrounding their practice.

Robyn has been a lawyer for over 20 years and the Executive Director of Arts Law since 2002. She is committed to ensuring that artists and arts organisations properly understand their rights as well as their legal responsibilities and are fairly rewarded for the work they do.

We caught up with Robyn to find out more:

Hi Robyn, we look forward to welcoming you to Gorman Arts Centres next week! Can you tell us a bit about what you do at the Arts Law Centre of Australia?

Arts Law provides legal advice to a wide range of creators and arts organisations about the many issues which affect their arts practice or organisation. We do this through our telephone legal advice service (mostly free for artists) and our document review service (available to subscribers). We also provide a whole lot of resources, mainly through our websites and   which we have developed for artists and other creators about issues which affect them. These include information sheets, checklists and guides, and sample agreements. More recently we have been developing short videos and case studies highlighting issues for artists. Arts Law also provides a lot of education to the arts community – about 100 workshops each year. As the Executive Director, I am responsible for overseeing all of Arts Law’s services and maintaining our funding and other relationships with all of our stakeholders so we can keep delivering a really valuable service to Australia’s creators.

Why is it so important that artists are clued up on the legal matters affecting their practice?

Arts Law understands that most artists and arts organisations are focused on the creative side of their business. Unfortunately if they neglect the legal and business side, they can end up with their rights not properly respected and not being fairly rewarded for their creativity. If someone has done the wrong thing by them it will make them feel unhappy and exploited but they are not sure what to do. Arts Law wants to empower artists to understand their legal rights and responsibilities so they can be on the front foot. We want artists to know what to do if something goes wrong (and where to get good advice) but also how to be proactive and put in place sustainable business practices (as well as make great work).

What are the most common legal matters that artists encounter?

Copyright and contracts are the most common issues that Arts Law deals with but there are loads of other issues that artists encounter including their moral rights, consumer laws,  business structures (eg should I set up a company or am I OK as a sole trader), business names, defamation, insurance, debt recovery, trade marks, wills and estates to name but a few. Some of the ‘hot’ areas where legal issues are arising are collaborative projects and everything to do with online projects. 

Can you provide some short examples of situations where you have advised artists?

Joe Betros, a freelance film writer and director from Melbourne, had found a story in an anthology of Australian short stories which he wanted to adapt into a screenplay. He wanted to know what sort of permission he needed and so, in 2014, he approached Arts Law seeking legal advice. Arts Law sourced a pro bono lawyer from Herbert Smith Freehills to assist Joe who worked through the issues and the permissions he would need to develop the screenplay – see the case study here.

Susan Schmidt is a Queensland-based fine-arts painter, graphic designer and award-winning illustrator. Her works have featured in numerous exhibitions within Australia and overseas. Susan approached Arts Law after she saw one of her artworks reproduced on a book cover without her permission. Susan explained to Arts Law that she literally stumbled upon the unauthorised use of her work in the local library.  Susan said that she thought it wasn’t right that some other party had used her work without her permission, and that this feeling irked her for some years, but it was not until she spoke to a friend in the publishing industry that she finally realised she might be able do something about it. Susan received initial advice from Arts Law on the unauthorised use of her work and drafted a letter of demand to send to the publisher of the book. Susan then used Arts Law’s Document Review Service to review her letter before sending it off. Susan and the publisher corresponded and with some further assistance from Arts Law, Susan was able to come to an agreement with the publisher for payment of a retrospective licence fee for use of the image. See the case study here.

Thanks for speaking with us Robyn, is there anything further you would like to add?

Often artists don’t really pay attention to the legal side of things until something goes wrong. Arts Law would like artists to feel empowered about the legal issues affecting them, and to know that the staff at Arts Law are really approachable, love the arts so wants artists to get a fair deal so they can keep on making wonderful work which makes us all the better for it.