Going to law school was an eye-opening experience. I learned tons. Of course I learned things like the parol evidence rule (and its correct spelling… no “e”) for contracts and the difference between Past Recollection Recorded and Present Recollection Refreshed (evidence rules). But I learned so much more that applies to everything in my life and business.
Most of all, I learned how much I didn’t know about the law before. And that, my friends, is saying a lot.
For years I had been spouting off about copyright and licensing and I was considered an expert in our industry. That was accurate–I was one and what I knew I was pretty much right about. But although it seemed like tons of info, in fact, I was only scratching the surface of those topics. I know so much more now than I did before law school, when I thought I knew a ton. Moreover, I now know that there is still a ton more to learn.
This is where we get ourselves into trouble. Because photographers and other creatives intersect with the law often in the business, we think we know more than we actually do and we speak when we should defer to real experts. The law isn’t the only area where this happens, but it is the one I know best about now and so will speak to it. Someone will post a legal question on a forum, for example, and very well-meaning colleagues will answer. Others will add their 2¢. But really, even the most articulate responses can be full of legal misrepresentations.
Besides, legal advice via committee is about as good as design by committee, and we all know how good that is.
Of course, the trouble is too many photographers think they know enough about design to design their own promos, too. But that is a different story for another post.
Anyway, back to my point, in the law, language we all use every day can have radically different meanings. Words like “presumption,” “notice,” “constructive,” and “consideration” (just to name a few) each takes on a completely different sense. Let’s look at that last one, consideration. The legal dictionary definition is “a bargained-for legal detriment.” What the heck is that? Well, courts have interpreted that to mean as little as a promise, in the right context, or sometimes much more. Consideration does not have to be of equal value in a contract, but both sides must provide consideration for the contract to be valid. Where the lines are drawn? Well, a lawyer will have read many, many cases which lay the foundation for how a court is likely to interpret the meaning of the word generally and, in your case, will research your specific details to find the best, most accurate & likely result for you. But post a question about consideration on a forum and a lay person will likely say something like “you have to pay the models something–at least give ‘em a print” which sounds dangerously like a helpful answer, but may not be of any help to you at all or could even hurt you.
As was said recently in the fabulous Fuck you. Pay Me. video, you can’t be a professional if you don’t hire professionals. Lawyers, CPAs, great insurance brokers, and even designers will save/make you more money than they cost. Don’t rely on the online committee to get the help you need to be successful.
Here’s the thing: no one, no matter how much experience s/he has, can give you good advice on a legal issue except a licensed lawyer. Not even me, yet. You’d never take a prescription written by a bunch of photographers, would you? (I hope not!) Well, this stuff is just as important and specialized. Sure, we all can suggest taking an advil for a headache, but we’ll not know to ask about some other subtle symptom that makes all the difference between a headache and a stroke warning. Same goes for the law. Same goes for accounting/taxes too. There is a reason the hurdles to these professions are high–there is so much to know.
And sometimes that includes knowing what you don’t know.