Black History Month and Intellectual Property
With Black History Month coming to a close, we can reflect on the many opportunities October has provided to educate ourselves about Black British history. It is also been a chance to celebrate the excellent Black British artists, authors, designers, musicians, and film-makers who continue to mould and enhance our cultural landscape.
It is crucial to ensure that the lessons learned from Black History Month and the BLM movement are not forgotten. Organisations like The Black Curriculum – for whom our Joshua Schuermann is an Advisory Board member – are doing exceptional work towards achieving greater awareness of Black British history in schools and work places, and there are many other excellent initiatives and charities working towards the same goal.
But efforts to end discrimination must extend to all sectors, and the creative industries are no exception. As Obioma Ugoala pointed out in his poignant video, fighting racism also means ensuring that black artists, writers, and speakers are listened to, commissioned, and paid.
Now more than ever, it is important for creatives to understand how intellectual property works, so that they can identify, protect, and commercialise their rights. Whether you are an established creative who already relies on the commercial exploitation of your work, or an aspiring artist taking your first steps towards making your creative endeavours your livelihood, this understanding of IP – and its immense value –is indispensable.
Here is a brief reminder of the basic knowledge every creative needs.
Understand ownership of IP rights
If you are creating something for someone else, make sure you both understand and agree who will own the resulting work. Understanding the differences between an assignment (in which you transfer ownership) and a licence (in which you retain ownership but allow someone to use your work) will allow you not only to ensure you are paid appropriately, but will also prevent costly disputes arising in future.
Know the value of your work
Creative work is real work – and you should be paid for it. If you are asked to work for free, or for the promise of “exposure”, remember that exposure only gives you frostbite.
In the right circumstances you may consider working for free or for reduced rates – while this should always be approached with care, this excellent flow chart may help you decide whether to go ahead with the project!
Harness the power of social media
Don’t be afraid to call upon the power of social media to call out injustice or discrimination – and this goes for intellectual property rights too. Social media is a powerful tool allowing artists and their followers to expose large companies when they use independent creators’ work without paying or crediting them, and the resulting PR pressure often helps to secure some form of compensation for the small artists whose work was taken.
Just make sure you don’t say anything defamatory or untrue, as this may well come back and bite you…
Ask for specialist advice
Finally, in some cases it is important to take specialist advice to make sure that you are taking all necessary steps to protect your rights. Whether you are negotiating contracts, or have seen someone infringing your rights online, it is always worth having an initial discussion with a specialist lawyer who can give you some preliminary, free advice about your position, and what your options are to take this forward in the safest and most cost-effective way.
As lawyers for the creative industries, at Briffa we embrace our responsibility to advise and work with creatives, and give them the knowledge and support they need to navigate any legal issues they may be faced with throughout their careers. For an initial discussion about identifying, protecting, and enforcing your rights, feel free to contact any of our specialist solicitors for a free initial consultation.
Written by Joshua Schuermann, Associate