Book Review: Elizabeth T. Russell’s “Arts Law Conversations”

From the editors: Case reviews, event reviews and now book reviews. Center for Art Law frequently receives notices of upcoming publications and accepts books for review. In addition to the list of Publications, we are happy to offer comments about some of the recently published materials on the subject of law and visual arts.

Arts Law Conversations

By Melissa (YoungJae) Koo*

Elizabeth T. Russell’s Arts Law Conversation: A Surprisingly Readable Guide for Arts Entrepreneurs (Ruly Press, 2014) (the “2014 Guide”) is a must-read for young arts professionals and students who call themselves artists or creators across all forms. As stated by the author in the Preface, the 2014 edition is a revision of the award-winning 2005 Art Law Conversations: A Surprisingly Readable Guide for Visual Artists. Note from the previous book’s title that while the 2005 version focused on “Art” and “Visual Artists,” the new book included “Arts” and “Arts Entrepreneurs” in response to those creative entrepreneurs who felt that the previous version did not cover non-visual artists’ legal issues.

From a soon-to-be-graduating law student’s perspective, the book is an excellent legal resource for people in the creative communities. The book should not be taken as legal advice, however, as it is “intended to provide accurate information regarding the subject matter,” reminded by the author on the first page of the book. What is most remarkable about this book is its wealth of legal information broken down in everyday language—anyone who is not familiar with legalese could enjoy reading it. As an added bonus, this book is humorous and witty, making it a truly delightful read. This reviewer could not help but wish for other  casebooks used in law school to have been as entertaining and as informative.

The 2014 Guide consists of fifty-two “Arts Law Conversations,” divided into four sections: I. Navigating the Legal System, II. Intellectual Property, III. Contracts, and IV. Business Issues You Might Have Overlooked. Each conversation explores a topic or a legal issue that art creators could face in a script-like hypothetical conversation form, bullet points, Q&A form, or a mixture of them. First and foremost, the book opens with a conversation called “First Thing First: The United States Constitution.” In bullet points, the author narrates the background and content of the Constitution in plain English, reminding readers of the foundation of the laws in the country. The second conversation introduces readers to the concept of jurisdictions and venues, possibly the first thing new law students learn in civil procedure class, through a hypothetical conversation between an artist in conflict with a gallery and her lawyer friend.

As the first two conversations of the book give readers a glimpse of the entire book, the author endeavors to engage readers to follow and clearly understand complexities of laws or concepts that could even be challenging to law students. Throughout the book, names of important concepts are bolded and main points are separately headlined on the side of pages, aiding readers’ understanding and refreshing what they have read. Some conversations also have a practical section called “YOU TRY,” encouraging readers to engage with the material, for example, by looking up a landmark case or other important facts not discussed in conversations. Although I wished that the section had an answer key somewhere in the book, the practical exercises allow readers to interact with the legal topic. The book also provides information on how to conduct legal research for people who are not in the legal field, making it genuinely artist-friendly. In addition to the appendix section of indexes, table of cases, and Bill of Rights, the book has an extensive glossary section where it lists definitions of concepts discussed in the book, which would be helpful for readers.

The book discusses not only relevant intellectual property laws for creative people, but it also lays out important tips about contracts. For example, the author explains commissioning agreements and goes over details about fine art consignment agreements, referring to UCC and various state statutes that artists should be aware of. Arts entrepreneurs are also reminded of other important business issues that could intertwine with legal matters such as organizing business, taxation, and collection. As if the author could read the minds of creative entrepreneurs, she comprehensively covers a variety of topics that has anything to do with law, which could be daunting to non-legal professionals. Creative people who want to protect their hard work or want to start their own business using their creative skills could truly benefit from this brilliant book. For law students or lawyers, this book is a great review of trademark, copyright, contracts, and corporations law.

About the Author: Melissa (YoungJae) Koo, Legal Intern with Center for Art Law, is a third year student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, concentrating in Intellectual Property law, especially art and fashion law. She can be reached at youngjae.koo@law.cardozo.yu.edu.

Disclaimer: Reading this book or its review is no substitute for getting your legal questions answered by a trained attorney.

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