This week we’d like to introduce you to author and Photographer Evan Butterfield.
What was the inspiration behind becoming a creator? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
I’m fortunate to have two creative outlets: writing and photography. While my writing is primarily about copyright law and other IP issues, my photography is where I let my imagination take me wherever. I produce original, unique masks, eyewear, and handwear, mostly from found or wildly repurposed objects, and work with male models to create strange, sometimes disturbing, occasionally beautiful, and always odd images. I get as much delight from building the masks and eyewear as I do from creating the photographs. Now, originally, my photographic work was strictly Steampunk-inspired, but it’s long since gone off in its own unusual direction. I like to contrast the physical beauty of my models with the rusty-looking, often spikey or dangerous-appearing nonsense I build myself or acquire from others and adapt.
My writing, on the other hand, is something that I enjoy for its own sake. I’m an unrepentant copyright geek, and having worked as an attorney, publisher, educator, and author gives me a unique perspective, combined with what I discovered to be a talent for communicating complex legal concepts into terms that “normal” people found understandable and sometimes even amusing. For thirty years, I worked as the publisher for two organizations: at Kaplan Professional Education (a for-profit book publisher) I was, in fact, “the Publisher” and VP of Product Development. And at the IEEE Computer Society (a non-profit organization), I was Director of Products & Services, heading up the publication of multiple books and more than a dozen magazines as well as organizing international technical and academic conferences. At both places, I found myself knee-deep in IP issues, and spending a lot of time explaining copyright, trademark, patent, open access, and other IP issues to educators, businesspeople, government regulators, scientists, and college professors, both informally and as a presenter at conferences. When I retired from that, I took up teaching copyright law at a local arts college and, also online at Arizona State University. And all that inspired me to write a book on the topic, aimed at a non-lawyer, creative audience, Copyright for Creatives: A Comprehensive Guide to Copyright Law for Creative People Who Make Stuff.
Can you take us through your creative process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?
It takes weeks, sometimes, to create the photographic props I use, and a typical photoshoot is a couple of hours in my studio. Manipulating the images in Photoshop is usually another couple of hours per image (I get very picky). Writing Copyright for Creatives took about five months, helped along by the fact that I had already done a lot of the groundwork for the “general copyright” chapters over a thirty- year period, as well as more current research prepping my classes. Of course, because the book covers more than fifty different specific creative activities and how copyright relates to them, there was a good deal of new work involved, too.
I’ve sold several images and published a large number of others in magazines that graciously offer to print and publish my work without compensating me. A few of my photos have also been sold to businesses for display or promotional purposes. A couple were sold for use as book covers, and a series of bird photos I took were bought by the City of Long Beach, California and transferred to giant banners in a local nature preserve so people could identify bird species (seeing my work six feet high was, I admit, quite a thrill).
My book was released in late June and has sold well. It was self-published (for someone with a publishing background, this was a fun exercise in layout, design, and marketing). It was not commercially published because, although my literary agent did her best, and although the publisher response was uniformly positive and encouraging, they felt that its IP focus was “too niche”—and my lack of a hundred thousand followers on TikTok meant I didn’t come with an army “easy sales.” Still, since I’m not doing photography or writing to pay the mortgage, financial gain has never been as much of a motivating factor for me. The photo and book sales are nice, but the point is really to display in the first case and to share information in the second. I recognize that I’m fortunate not to have to be too worried about the financial side of my creative work—a lot of creators aren’t as lucky.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
Whether we’re talking about photography or writing, it’s the same: [people believe] that it’s easy, and anyone could do it. And a lot of people think it’s easy to write, publish, and promote a book. The truth is, it’s not. (Although it is fun, in my opinion.)
When did you first become aware of copyright, and why?
As I said before, I spent thirty years working in fields deeply associated with copyright issues, and even now I’m working as an educator, teaching students at Arizona State University about the wonderful world of criminal IP law. Back when I was in publishing, I discovered a talent for (and delight in) explaining complex IP concepts to groups of lay people in an understandable and sometimes even amusing way.
To repeat my “bio,” “for thirty years, I worked as the publisher for two organizations: at Kaplan Professional Education (a for-profit book publisher) I was, in fact, “the Publisher” and VP of Product Development. And at the IEEE Computer Society (a non-profit organization) I was Director of Products & Services, heading up the publication of multiple books and more than a dozen magazines as well as organizing international technical and academic conferences. At both places, I found myself knee-deep in IP issues, and spending a lot of time explaining copyright, trademark, patent, open access, and other IP issues to educators, businesspeople, government regulators, scientists, and college professors, both informally and as a presenter at conferences. When I retired from that, I took up teaching copyright law at a local arts college and online at Arizona State University. And all of that inspired me to write a book on the topic, aimed at a non-lawyer, creative audience, Copyright for Creatives: A Comprehensive Guide to Copyright Law for Creative People Who Make Stuff.”
Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially?
Oh, my yes. My photographs, which are published and distributed through my online gallery, frequently show up in unexpected places despite the IP protection offered by my site’s host. I’ve published books of my photos and pirated digital versions of these show up quickly for sale online, usually via shady Russian or Eastern European sites. Being vain enough to have set up Google Alerts for my name is how I usually find out about these sites—the initial delight in finding my photo or book mentioned is immediately dashed by the disappointment that it’s some evil-doer stealing my stuff, which is certainly annoying.
What do you do when you encounter someone stealing something you’ve invested your intellect, time, and money into?
My legal background gives me the skills to craft cease and desist letters. These messages have occasionally been effective in getting digital copies taken down, usually when the infringement was done by an individual who (having foolishly not read my book yet) thinks that if it’s on the Web, it’s free to use—or (in my favorite case) thinks that copying and selling someone else’s work is, in the perpetrator’s words, “just being entrepreneurial.”
What is the best piece of advice that you would give other creators in your field about copyright and how to protect themselves?
Well, if I’m being completely honest I think the best advice I could give other creators is to buy and read Copyright for Creatives: A Comprehensive Guide to Copyright Law for Creative People Who Make Stuff, but saying that would be very self-serving, so I’ll just say the best advice is to learn what copyright is, and what it isn’t; what it protects and what it doesn’t; and how to use it both as a sword to protect their own creative work as well as a shield to help you avoid infringing other creators’ works.
What is your biggest copyright-related challenge?
Well, there are three. The first is raising awareness of my book on copyright. The second (and more relevant to your question) are those evil online “archives” that sell and distribute other people’s work, hiding behind shell companies, untraceable URLs, or other high-tech shenanigans.
The third (and probably the most responsive to your question) is that so many people today don’t know what copyright is (or even how to use the word correctly…I’m looking at you, YouTubers, who complain about having been “copyrighted” when you mean that your video was taken down for displaying other people’s work and violating others’ copyrights). Or those who think that because content is on the Internet it somehow magically becomes public domain. It’s up to authors like me, and organizations like the Copyright Alliance, to educate content creators about both sides of copyright, so creative efforts are protected.
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