Creator Spotlight with Author Dan Swanson

Headshot of Author Dan Swanson holding a book and reading it to a group of kids in a library. Post publish date: November 9, 2023

Dan Swanson’s first book, an illustrated children’s holiday story called The Book Cook, was published in October by Baobab Press, located in Reno, Nevada.  The book follows two children as they set out in a snowstorm to find a last-minute Christmas gift and discover the Book Cook’s magical shop where children can mix ingredients together to make stories come to life.  The book is written in rhyme and illustrated by Iowa-based artist Clint Hansen. Swanson was a longtime counsel on the staff of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, working for the Committee Chair, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, from 2006 to 2023.  His Twitter handle is @swanson_dc.

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

My grandfather wrote clever rhyming poems for all his grandkids on our birthdays, which inspired me to start writing rhymes of my own as a kid.  Once I became a dad to two bookworm daughters, I had dreams of creating stories that we could read together and found myself once again writing rhyming poems.  I think the rhymes we learn as children can help the world make more sense, and life lessons are often better remembered when they rhyme.  I enjoy the challenge of trying to fit complicated concepts into a rhyme scheme where the last word sounds just right.

Can you talk through your creative process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?

I’m a late-night writer; I can only enjoy the process after my day job is done.  I wrote The Book Cook with help from my older daughter when she was in first grade, and while my family loved it, for seven years I sent it off to publishers and agents and found no takers.  I never felt discouraged though; occasionally I would share the story with writers I found on Twitter, and I’ll never forget the encouragement I received from two former professional female wrestlers, the Blossom Twins, who are now authors. I figured if the story resonated both with my kids and pro-wrestler/writers, then I might be on to something. I was thrilled last year when Baobab Press picked my story out of their submission pile, connected me with an outstanding illustrator, Clint Hansen, and brought the story to life.  It’s now my hope to write a series of rhyming stories that all connect back to objects found on the Book Cook’s shelves – whether that endeavor makes money remains to be seen!     

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

I spent 17 years as a staff attorney on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee where I had the chance to work for Chair Durbin on important copyright legislation like the Music Modernization Act (MMA) and the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act.  During my Senate career I always enjoyed working with the Copyright Alliance and other associations representing creators, and in meeting after meeting I heard compelling stories from creators about how challenging it was for them to make a living in their profession and to protect their works from theft and infringement.  It was a highlight of my career to help put together and pass bipartisan legislation like the MMA and CASE Act that help make the copyright system fairer for creators.  

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

I’ve only been a published author for a short time now, so we’ll see what types of copyright infringement situations I may end up facing.  But I do know that if those situations arise, there are important resources and avenues that creators can use to seek redress.  In particular, the CASE Act created the Copyright Claims Board process to help individual creators and small businesses stand up to infringers in low-cost proceedings.  I was proud to work for Senator Durbin, the lead Senate Democratic sponsor of this law, and now that I’m a creator myself I’m even more glad that it’s there!  

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

Don’t be afraid of copyright – respect it, learn it, and use it.  There are many organizations and associations like the Copyright Alliance that are there to guide creators and help them thrive – seek their guidance.  And don’t be afraid to tell your personal stories to lawmakers about the challenges of working in creative fields.  Those stories can make an impact—they did on me—and they can help shape laws for the better.  Your work is an important part of your legacy, and it’s worth protecting. 

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!

Creator Spotlight with Industrial Designer Matthew Cunningham

Post publish date: November 7, 2023

This week we’d like to introduce you to industrial designer Matthew Cunningham. He’s widely known for his “expertise in advanced vehicle design, brand futuring, and feature film concept design.” Matthew is also one of the primary contributors to the document Structured Approaches for Fair and Ethical (SAFE) AI. Other primary contributors include Nicholas Papillon and Andrew MacLean.

What was the inspiration behind becoming a creator?

I believe everyone is creative to a greater or lesser extent depending on the subject at hand, and whether or not they devote intense, sustained focus toward perfecting or achieving a goal of “creativity.”

In retrospect, the deciding moment for me pursuing a career in the visual arts was probably when my older brother won a bicycle from a drawing he had created through a contest at the local convenience store. He was too large for the kid-size bike frame, so he gave it to me. I thought that it was pretty amazing that you could produce a drawing and trade it in for a bicycle. I was four or five at the time and didn’t know what a raffle was, which is how he actually won the bicycle.

What do you enjoy most about the creative process?

The deep meditative state, moments of insight, and the emergent nature of the creative act.

Can you talk through your creative process?

It depends on the medium, but generally it starts with a process of discovery and accumulation of ideas, thoughts, writings, images, and soundscapes, that serve as a bedrock for the development of a “solution” on paper or on the computer, that addresses the prescribed constraints that the project calls for, usually dictated by the medium of expression and the client. It then turns into a Goldilocks trial and error endeavor of refinement.

How long does your creative process take?

It really depends on the project. Vehicle design for feature films can take weeks or months depending on the type of prototype needed, but the key sketch that leads to the final object may only take a few minutes. Much of my work is conceptual in nature initially, and only later resulting in a physical object. That liminal window of development can either consist of hours, days, months, or in some cases years.

Does everything you produce make money?

Not necessarily, although after a very busy period with design professionally, I’ll focus on other forms of creative output that aren’t as lucrative ‘yet’ like writing, music, and fashion.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?

That it’s glamorous working in Hollywood. It’s definitely more glamorous than working in Detroit, but Concept Artists typically have limited interaction with the fanfare associated with actors and directors.

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

That’s a tough question. I’d say it became glaringly obvious with the Napster controversy and subsequent lawsuits.  

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

Yes, I believe so. Some of the Advanced Automotive Design work I produced in post-graduate research has been “borrowed” extensively by a handful of car companies, rather glaringly. It’s reaffirming that your ideas have value, but disappointing to realize how unoriginal and deceptive some people in the “creative” industry can be at times, particularly when there’s money involved.

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

First I look for my taser, but if I can’t find it, I’ll generally seek legal advice.

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

Learn as much as you can about copyright and be sure to have provisions in your contracts that clearly delineate ownership and usage.

What is your biggest copyright challenge?

Addressing the rampant larceny presented by AI and machine learning art generators and educating others regarding the same, an effort which started publicly with an appearance on the Dr. Phil show of all places. This effort includes not only informing the general public, but also educational institutions, labor unions, and government offices. Over the past several months, my team and I have put together a conceptual framework that suggests a technological solution to the misapplication of Generative AI systems, and subsequent mass intellectual property theft.

Having spoken extensively with numerous Congressional offices, the U.S. Copyright Office, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Federal Trade Commission, Congressional witnesses called upon for their expertise in licensing and the nature of Generative AI, and Dr. Phil, I’m happy to have drafted a document that posits a technological approach to protecting intellectual property. The title acronym SAFE AI was coined by one of the contributors to the paper, Andrew MacLean, and the document highlights a sound method of using WEB 3.0 technology, including Distributed Ledgers and Smart Contracts, to protect copyrighted material against rampant abuses perpetuated by a technology which is fundamentally corrosive to both culture and sound enterprise in its current incarnation.

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!