Photo by Joe Gratz, Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal

"Many lawyers do some sort of pro bono work or offer reduced rates for causes they are interested in.

I recommend finding a lawyer even if you're just starting out. At least, keep one on your radar and understand that lawyers aren’t there to just help you out of a jam. It’s good to have one on board as a counselor or trusted advisor.” - Kathleen Alt

Your studio is flooded. All your work is destroyed. And you don’t have insurance. Most artists begin relationships with lawyers when something catastrophic happens. Don’t wait! It’s much better to find a lawyer before you find yourself in hot water.

From trademark dilemmas to litigation woes, it’s important for artists to know when and why to consult a lawyer. Attorney Kathleen Alt explains 5 common situations when an artist should seek legal counsel to protect his or her creative output and livelihood.

1. Contract Review - Make Sure You’re Getting What You Deserve!

There are lots of different types of contracts an artist could come across. For instance, artists need a contract when they rent out studio space. Art galleries often present contracts to artists participating in their art shows. Art gallery contracts have some element of commission that needs to be laid out, as well as the safety of the art that is in their possession.

Artists often need help setting up a contract template they can modify. And if something unusual occurs, it’s helpful to have a lawyer that you can call. If you didn’t have a lawyer create a contract, it’s a good idea to have them review the contract. You don’t have to have a lawyer on retainer, but it’s nice to have someone you can call who can do a quick contract review. You don’t want to be searching for a lawyer for the first time when signing a contract with a gallery, museum, buyer, etc.

2. Insurance - Be Prepared for the Unexpected!

Insurance is a big issue. Artists need to have good insurance for when their art is being transported, if there’s a business interruption, and for their studio. Artists should have commercial general liability insurance - it protects them from legal action if there’s an accident in their place of business. Insurance is honestly not that expensive. Some artists starting out think they can’t afford it, but it can be as low as $300 per year. It really saves you if you have a catastrophic event, such as someone getting hurt in the studio or if a piece of work is stolen.

I remember two years ago, an artist delivered 15 pieces to a studio in New York that was doing her show. It was during a bad hurricane and all of her artwork was destroyed. We hadn’t consulted on the gallery contract and the art wasn’t properly insured. A few pieces were insured by the gallery, but they were underinsured - there was flood exclusion in the policy. There was nothing in the contract about what would happen if the pieces were lost. The artist lost a lot of work - and money - and was not compensated. Lawyers can review insurance policies - just like any other sort of contract - and make sure they’re acceptable.

3. Trademark and Copyright - Prevent Others From Using Your Work.

Artists need help doing a trademark or copyright. They need that type of advice from a lawyer or they can find themselves in litigation. People will also take artists’ art, design, or photos and post them on social media channels or web pages. It’s something that you need to monitor because you need to defend trademark or copyright or you can lose the right to assert it. It can be resolved with a demand letter for payment to the person who’s using your art inappropriately or illegally. You can also send a cease and desist letter to have your work removed.

4. Litigation - Try to Avoid a Lawsuit.

Usually litigation surrounds someone not paying you. It doesn’t necessarily mean a lawsuit, but some artists don’t explore the alternatives. You can engage a lawyer and tell them the facts. They will spend one to two hours drafting a demand letter to the offending individual. It’s nice to have someone that you can go to because issues will arise.

5. Slander and Libel - Remove the Online Attacks.

Artists can be involved in slander and libel on social media. You have to be careful. Be aware anything can be posted about you and many things you post can be accessed by many people. If you have a bad transaction with a gallery or buyer, people can post about it on social media. These comments can be considered slander. Artists can use a lawyer to draft a cease and desist letter - essentially saying stop doing what you're doing.

Don’t Wait!

These small measures and expenses can save you a lot of money and headaches down the road. Also, most lawyers do some sort of pro bono work or reduced rates for causes they are interested in, like art. So, find a lawyer you can call before issues arise.

Ready to take the plunge? Here are some tips on finding a good lawyer for artists.