Creator Spotlight with Author Tad Crawford

This week we’d like to introduce you to author Tad Crawford. To find out more about Tad and to order any of the books discussed in this blog post, visit his website and click on the book cover to order.

What was the inspiration behind becoming a creator? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?

I was inspired to write in part by having a poet for a father, a novelist for a brother, and growing up in the artists’ colony of Woodstock, New York. To write, for me, is to be taken over by something, to see the larger picture of what it could be, and then to put in the long hours to shape the work. The pleasure is to follow up the creative image with action and progress through the writing of a book. The goal is sometimes to help others (such as my books for creative professionals) and other times to shape a work of art. I especially like myth and Jungian psychology (two of my books dealing with mythology are On Wine-Dark Seas: A Novel of Odysseus and his Fatherless Son Telemachus and The Secret Life of Money).

When did you first become aware of copyright, and why?

Interested in writing both fiction and nonfiction, I graduated from Columbia Law School in February 1971. I became aware of copyright while at law school. Working for a law firm in New York City, I began teaching writing and literature at the School of Visual Arts. Finding nothing in print to help artists deal with legal matters such as copyrights, contracts, income taxes, the “hobby loss” problem, estate planning, or even how to get grants, I wrote a book titled Legal Guide for the Visual Artist that I used as the text for the “Law and the Visual Artist” course I was teaching. Published in 1977, Legal Guide for the Visual Artist is now in its sixth edition (the most recent edition in 2022 co-authored by M.J. Bogatin, an arts attorney in San Francisco) and has more than one hundred thousand copies in print. I wrote articles on the “new” copyright law for the New York Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and included six chapters on copyright in the book. I became active working for artists’ rights, testified before the Senate subcommittee about copyright issues (on work for hire and moral rights), and became the General Counsel to the Graphic Artists Guild, which advocated about contracts and copyrights for artists.

Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially?

Surprisingly enough, despite being a lawyer, I had a bad experience with copyright. As a volunteer, I had authored a lengthy legal article (with more than 90 case citations in footnotes) about the “hobby loss” challenge. This comes up when the IRS says an artist who has many years of losses is a hobbyist without a profit motive. If the IRS prevails, the artist loses any losses shown on Schedule C. In any case, I turned in the article, went on a long vacation abroad (a delayed honeymoon), and returned to find the article had been published but with another person (on the board of directors) shown as my co-author. Not only that, but his name was also first on the credit line! Because the organization was a non-profit with good purposes, I didn’t pursue legal action, but it showed me the importance of copyright and moral rights (in which attribution must be correct).

What do you do when you encounter someone stealing something you’ve invested your intellect, time and money into?

Usually I ask that the person (often a website) cease the infringing conduct. Then a decision can be made about whether the damages are sufficient to warrant bringing a lawsuit. Suing consumes time and lawyers’ fees can mount up. One positive change for creators in the Copyright Law was the enactment of the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2020 (the CASE Act). This is described in the Legal Guide for the Visual Artist and essentially create a three-member tribunal within the U.S. Copyright Office to resolve certain copyright disputes under $30,000.

What is the best piece of advice that you would give other creators in your field about copyright and how to protect themselves?

A large part of my efforts for artists’ rights has been educational. The informed artist has a great advantage. The artist should learn about the business of art. Then the artist can make better decisions about agreements, copyrights, and the many other issues that face entrepreneurs. Also, the artist can have a better sense of when professional help from an attorney or accountant is crucial to stay on course.

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