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Relief for NYC Visual Artists: Freelance Isn’t Free Act Passes Unanimously

Posted by Rebecca Blake on October 31, 2016

Freelance Isn't FreeOn October 27th, the New York City Council unanimously passed groundbreaking legislation supporting freelancers: the “Freelance Isn’t Free Act.” Introduced by Councilman Brad Lander last December, the act redresses the growing trend of non- or late payment experienced by 71% of New York City freelancers, according to a survey conducted by the Freelancers Union. The bill requires employers to make payment within 30 days after a freelancer renders a bill, and gives freelancers recourse through the Department of Consumer Affairs or through small claims court to enforce their rights.


Below: Councilman Lander’s jubilant tweet:


Non-payment is a huge issue for freelancers nationwide, as documented by the Freelancers Union.  In a nation-wide survey of over 5,000 freelancers conducted by the Union in July of 2015, 71% of respondents reported that they’ve had difficulty collecting payment over the course of their careers, and 50% of respondents said they’d encountered that within the previous year. Of those reporting difficulty in collecting payment, 34% were never paid. The survey results indicated that annually freelancers lose about $6,000 from nonpayment, and experience late payment on an average amount of $5,743. That’s a steep financial burden for most freelancers.

The act redresses non- and late payment of New York City freelancers by several means:
•  Clients (not freelancers) are required to issue a contract for any freelance work that will total $800 or more over a 3-month period;
•  Payment must be made within 30 days after serviced or rendered, or within an agreed-upon date;
• Clients cannot press freelancers to accept a lower fee in exchange for timely payment;
• Freelancers can file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs, or bring a court action against deadbeat clients;
• If the court rules in the freelancer’s favor, the client may have to pay legal fees and fines up to double the owed amount; and
• Repeat violators may be fined by the city up to $25,000.

For the act to be written into law, it must be signed by Mayor Bill DiBlasio. However, indications are that will happen, and support for the bill is widespread, as evinced by the unanimous vote. NYC Public Advocate Letitia James is a vocal supporter of the bill, which she and 32 City Council members co-sponsored. The Gothamist also reported that in an email communication, City Hall spokesperson Rosemary Boeglin indicated support for “laws that protect all New York City workers.”

In addition to conducting the payment survey, the Freelancers Union ran an extensive campaign to publicize and promote the act. Union founder Sara Horowitz co-wrote an op-ed on the issue with Brad Lander, the Union marshaled freelancers to rally at City Hall, and Union members testified before the city council. The Freelancers Union also ran an online petition supporting the act, published freelancer payment horror stories, and posted “The World’s Longest Invoice,” a running tally of the amount owed to freelancers.

Now that the act is practically a reality, the Union isn’t done. They’d like to take the initiative national, encouraging freelancers to propose similar legislation in their municipalities. They’ve kept up their petition to “Bring the Freelance Isn’t Free Act to your city.” So far almost 10,000 freelancers have signed it. The Graphic Artists Guild was proud to back the Freelance Isn’t Free act in New York City. We hope to have the opportunity to do so elsewhere.

The Power of the © Notice

Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 15, 2016

Leslie Burns copyright noticeIn June, we reported on attorney Leslie Burns’ article on CMI: copyright management information. Burns advised visual artists to put a visible copyright notice on  work they post online, since doing so provides the artists with additional tools to bring to bear, should the work be infringed. In her follow-up article, “Your © is More Than CMI,” Burns goes into greater detail on how to effectively use the copyright notice, and why doing so is such a good practice.

First, Burns explains that the copyright notice must include the copyright symbol, the date of publication, and the copyright owner’s name. (For those confused on what the date of publication is, she goes into a bit of detail.) She then explains that if an infringer uses a work that had a copyright notice removed, the infringer can’t claim “innocent infringement” – even if the infringer got the artwork from another source, and had no idea that a copyright notice had been removed. Burns cites two copyright cases that support this rule: BMG Music v. Gonzalez and Maverick Recording v. Harper
Infringers who have used works from which the copyright notice of watermark was removed have violated §1202 of the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act). Burns calculates that the infringer could be looking at a minimum of $3,250 in damages ($750 for the infringement, and $2,500 for the DMCA violation), and possibly attorney’s fees.

Of course, none of this will apply if the visual artist hasn’t first registered his or her work with the copyright office. Remember, a work must be registered before an artist can sue for copyright infringement.While an artist can register work after detecting that it's been infringed, damages are limited if the work is registered after the infringement occurs. WIth a background in business and marketing management for a photography studio and a design firm, Burns is huge advocate for visual artists. Her website, Burns the Attorney, features a steady stream of articles on legal issues creative types need to be on top of.

National Design Policies: Why They Matter

Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 06, 2016

For the past year, I've headed a workgroup with ico-D (the International Council of Design) on national design policies. The choice of a Graphic Artists Guild board member to head the workgroup seemed odd; the United States, despite a recent effort, has never had (and probably never will have) a national design policy. So why would a USA-based visual artists’ association care whether national design policies are implemented in other countries?

A national design policy is a systemic and strategic government plan to support its design sector, develop design resources, and utilize those resources to achieve various ends. A design policy can attempt to develop a national brand, increase the global economic competitiveness of a country’s exports, raise design education standards, encourage small and medium-sized businesses to invest in design, leverage design thinking to find sustainable solutions to public sector problems, etc. Countries at different levels of economic development have invested in national design policies – South Korea, India, Finland, and Singapore, among others, have national design policies in place, and policies are currently being developed in Malaysia, Indonesia, Iceland, and Australia.

In the United States, design anthropologist Dori Tunstall attempted to jump-start a national design policy initiative in 2008. A two-day conference of representatives from design associations, educational accreditation bodies, and government agencies resulted in a 10 national design proposals, which were presented to the incoming Obama administration and Congress. Despite a second conference and calls to designers to press their Congressional representatives to support the initiative, no national design policy resulted from the effort.

The reasons are myriad, but tellingly, designers considered the initiative with trepidation. Remarks submitted by designers on the project indicated that many thought a policy would consist of government telling them what to do, a reflection of the US’s culture of public mistrust of a strong central government. (Tunstall doesn’t consider the initiative a failure, since many of the proposals were adopted in part by government agencies, such as NEA’s comprehensive survey of the contribution of the arts, including design, to the US economy. The initiative also deepened ties between agencies and the design sector.)

So, if a national design policy is highly unlikely to ever be adopted in the United States, why should US designers care about national design policies? While design policies do support national designers, making them more competitive internationally, design policies also promote best practices. These include establishing professional design standards, providing resources to educate designers on non-design skills (such as running a business or communicating with clients), and promoting the protection of intellectual property.

The result is a population of designers who are less likely to infringe copyrights or respond to work on speculation projects. Additionally, by promoting best practices, a government discourages ethically questionable business practices, such as design crowdsourcing campaigns. This is particularly important in emerging economies, where the recognition of design as a profession is relatively new, and intellectual property rights are not often generally understood or recognized. The ripple effect of educating a nation’s generation of designers and business owners reaches beyond borders, and benefits all designers (and visual artists, in general). 

Below: The SEE Platform (Sharing Experience Europe) tracked design policies globally from 2012-2015, and published an interactive map showing countries which either adopted a national design policy, or were working a design policy initiative.

SEE platform design policy map
 

An Open Letter to Political Candidates on Copyright

Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 03, 2016

Copyright Alliance logoThe Copyright Alliance has published an open letter to the 2016 political candidates, advocating for a strong copyright system and a safe and secure Internet. The letter asserts that strong copyrights protect free speech by “...preserv[ing] the value and integrity of what one creates,” and that protecting copyright is complementary to Internet freedom. The letter also warns that entities claiming to be pro-creator are funded by online platforms and have worked to block efforts to protect creative content from infringement and piracy.

The letter stresses that stronger copyright protection is a non-partisan issue: “The creative community stands united in support of a copyright system that will continue to make the United States the global leader in the creative arts and the global paradigm for free expression.” Individual creators are encouraged to show their support for the letter by signing a petition on the Copyright Alliance's website.

World Design Summit – Montréal 2017: Call for Speakers

Posted by Rebecca Blake on May 20, 2016

The organizers of the World Design Summit – Montréal 2017 have an ambitious vision: to bring together designers across all disciplines with government representatives, industry business leaders, NGOs, and the media to address how design can shape the future. The event will be a 10-day affair taking place in October, and will tackle issues such as environmental sustainability, societal pressures, and political instability. The program is summarized as, “More than a mere celebration of design, the summit will demonstrate the tremendous power of design to create viable solutions to global social, economic, cultural and environmental challenges.”

To that end, the Summit organizers have issued a call for speaker proposals. Practitioners of all design disciplines – architectural, landscape, graphic, communication, experiential, user interface, industrial, interior, etc. – and stakeholders are invited to submit proposals. Interested parties are encouraged to address the major themes of the summit: Design for Participation (participation in the political process and public discourse), Design for Earth (environmental sustainability), Design for Beauty (promoting well being), Design for Sale (commodities created with the greater good in mind), Design for Transformation (responding to environmental and societal changes), and Design for Extremes (supporting sociological, economic, and political migrations). Speaker proposals are due July 29th, and should include a 500-word abstract, 40-word summary, and five key words.

The Summit agenda will include an accredited conference for students, professionals, and stakeholders; a summit of over 50 organizations; a festival taking place in over 30 locations around Montreal, and an exhibit of design-related products and services. The Summit of organizations will seek to produce a joint declaration of intent and proposal for the design community to effect positive change (social, economic, and environmental) through multidisciplinary means.  The Summit founding partners are ico-D (International Council of Design), IFLA (International Federation of Landscape Architects), and IFHP (International Federation of Housing Planning), with support from the governments of Canada, Quebec, and Montreal.

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