You are an artist, not a lawyer (doctor, accountant, etc.)

I grew up with two older brothers who were Star Trek fans so I became one at a young age. Lately, the words of Leonard “Bones” McCoy ring in my head. He used to say “I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker!” or “I’m a doctor, not a brick-layer!” He knew what he was and he was more than confident and competent at it. More importantly, he knew what he was not.

We can learn from Bones.

The internet has made lots of information available to everyone. We have access to information that used to be essentially unavailable to people not in those professions. We can find instructions on how to build a house or even a nuclear device. We can access legal tomes. We can read medical journals. However, access to these materials has not made us architects, nuclear physicists, lawyers, doctors, or anything more than dilettantes in these arenas.

Yes, I said “we” and I am including myself. Before I went to law school, I thought I knew a lot about contracts and licenses and copyright. I thought what I didn’t know couldn’t be that much because I knew so much. I did know a lot, and a hell of a lot more than most people, but it was a cup of knowledge in an olympic sized pool. I never would have known how little I actually knew, relatively speaking, if I had not gone to law school.

Why am I bringing this up? Because there are a lot of very well meaning photographers and consultants who are posting about terms of service and releases and contracts and copyright (etc.) but they do not really know what they are talking about. Why? Because even though they may have read a bunch, they don’t know the law. It is very rare when someone posts “I talked with my lawyer and she said _____.” No, instead, it’s an authoritative sounding declaration from some photographer who, meaning to help, simply gets the law wrong.

Cries of “It’s a rights-grab!” spread through the photo community via social media like novovirus on a cruise ship. Sometimes the terms at issue are bad, sometimes not, but which is which gets lost because it’s almost impossible to fix a falsity once it’s been spread. There are just too many points of spread to fix them all, and thus bad info gets out and becomes an accepted truth. Frustrating.

So, please remember, you are an artist. Be a great and confident artist. Do your profession with all of the joy and enthusiam you have in you. Don’t let anyone tell you how to make your work and, most importantly, make your very own great work.

But leave the law to the lawyers, medicine to the doctors (and nurses), accountancy to the CPAs, architecture to the architects, etc. There’s a reason these professions require years of intense study and wicked-hard tests and are licensed by the state–because the material is complex and the issues are life affecting.

So, please, don’t share tweets or posts that offer a legal interpretation without first running it by your own lawyer. Don’t accept any legal sounding advice posted anywhere (yes, even from me) without making that same check. These issues are too important to leave to well meaning non-pros. This is your professional life, and those of your colleagues, you affect when you pass on that information.

6 Responses to “You are an artist, not a lawyer (doctor, accountant, etc.)”

  1. MarcW Says:

    They’re so cute when they’re young.

    *ducking and running*

  2. info Says:

    Yeah, I know… idealistic.

  3. Mark Harmel Says:

    Looking for your advice on this development.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/08/technology/to-slow-piracy-internet-providers-ready-penalties.html?hp

  4. info Says:

    I posted on FB about it yesterday. I think it’s a good thing. Not a perfect solution, but better than what has been going on.

  5. Martha Retallick Says:

    Not that I’ve illegally downloaded any songs or movies lately, but here’s another perspective on the situation:

    In my away-from-work life, I’m a music auditioner for a community radio station here in Tucson, Arizona. Which means that there’s a never-ending parade of CDs going through my player and my head. (I review several hundred CDs each year.)

    I suppose I could, ahem, borrow some of these CDs and copy them for my own use. Or save the files I like on my hard drive. But I’m not gonna do it.

    Why not? Because those CDs are the station’s property, not mine. And, in the rare event that I actually like a CD enough to recommend it for airplay, I’ll soon hear it on the radio like everyone else who listens to the station.

    In addition, ever noticed how HUGE music and movie files are? They make digital photo files look like slackers! And, I don’t know about you, but I only have so much drive space.

  6. Photographer in Quebec City » Friday links and news Says:

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