Community Partner Spotlight: The Ella Project

Today, we turn the spotlight over to one of our community partners, The Ella Project. They are dedicated to providing “pro bono legal assistance, arts business services, and advocacy to our cultural communityin the New Orleans and Louisiana area. After you read their spotlight blog, be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

What is the history of your organization, and what is its mission?

Launched in 2004 with the mission that “We believe in the importance of the culture of New Orleans and Louisiana, and we empower the creators of their culture in a way that is just, equitable, and serves the artists, patrons and our diverse community.” The Ella Project provides direct pro bono legal assistance to moderate income artists, musicians, and grassroots nonprofits in Louisiana, presents regular workshops on arts law and arts business topics, provides assistance to moderate income inventors via its Louisiana Invents Patent Pro Bono Program, and advocates for forward-thinking policy changes and the development of a local, state and national government that supports and values the creators of our culture.

From its offices in the French Quarter, The Ella Project serves 250 or more pro bono legal clients a year in matters of copyright, trademark, patent, contract negotiation, licensing, and for and nonprofit incorporation. Legal services are primarily delivered by The Ella Project’s Co-Founder, Ashlye Keaton, who is assisted by her team of Tulane Law School volunteers. This partnership with Tulane Law School, where Ashlye also teaches, helps The Ella Project provide high quality pro bono legal assistance and ensure the artists and organizations of Louisiana have access to justice.

How do you support members of the creative community, and how can a creator get involved with your organization? 

Artists throughout Louisiana are encouraged to reach out to The Ella Project for assistance with any specific legal issue germane to their arts career. We love working with artists in the early stages of their career to make sure they are properly protected. Artists simply looking for greater knowledge and understanding of arts business can attend of our free workshops and webinars or schedule a consultation with a veteran of their industry via our Tete a Tete consulting program.

What inspired your organization to become a Copyright Alliance Community Partner?

Supporting copyright and the ability of creators to share their creations with the world in a manner of their choosing is a core value of The Ella Project. Having a community partner that shares this vision and can bring that message to Washington DC and beyond is essential to not only fulfilling our mission, but also in supporting a more creative, engaging, America.

How have copyright and related issues affected your organization and its creator base?

The ways that copyright law manifests itself in the context of the creative industries is at the core of our work with artists and arts businesses.  While the Copyright Act hasn’t changed much over the course of several decades, what has changed a lot is the way the arts, music and entertainment sectors have used the law to adapt to constantly evolving innovation and technology, which has impacted the ways consumers access content, in addition to the ways artists share in revenue streams.  There is no longer a single model for the ways that artists can maximize earning potential from their creative content and businesses. We are working hard to ensure that we are able to help our clients keep up with the ever-changing business models against laws that haven’t always been updated in a way that reinforced the overarching policy of the Copyright Act – to provide artists an incentive to create.  We see this as a challenge, but also as an opportunity, to identify ways that artists can use these tools to develop best practices in transitioning from the creative process to a creative business with transactions and models that promote fairness, equity, and a thriving quality of life.

What is one thing you wish creators understood more clearly about copyright?

We wish creators understood that the application of legal principles in connection with copyright is constantly changing in the bigger picture context of warp-speed innovation and the creative sector’s response to new technology. That while it is okay to be confused, but it is important to engage in ongoing education and to reach out to service providers like The Ella Project for ongoing, professional counsel.

What advice would you give aspiring creators just starting out and unsure of how to protect their work?

Identify the resources available to you for learning more about your rights, and if you have access to a volunteer lawyer who is well-versed, take advantage of that resource. Beyond that, start cultivating a team of people with different skill sets and experiences in rights management. Preparedness is critical to ensuring your rights are protected.

What are some current debates or issues surrounding copyright law that your organization is paying attention to, and what is your stance on them?

A major debate is whether it is any longer worth registering your copyright, especially given the constantly rising fees, changes in the registration protocols, and given that registration is not absolutely necessary. For a musician releasing a single every week or every month, especially where there is more than one songwriter and/or more than one recording artist involved in making the music, the cost of registering copyrights has become infeasible, and it makes way more sense to spend that money on marketing.  As attorneys, we always suggest that registering copyrights is a good idea.  As advocates, we have a harder time making that case.

What are some common misconceptions that creators have about copyright, and how does your organization address them?

There are still a lot of misconceptions about copyright.  We’re seeing a lot less around the old “poor man’s copyright” myth. A common misconception is that copyright doesn’t exist until registration.  More complex misconceptions have to do with identification of rightsholders, administration of creative content, and distribution of revenue.

If you aren’t already a member of the Copyright Alliance, you can join today by completing our Individual Creator Members membership form! Members gain access to monthly newsletters, educational webinars, and so much more — all for free!

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