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Business Smarts for the Creative Arts (October 2014): Legal Aspects

By Caley Cannon

Legal Aspects

The business of art and design incorporates the rule of law as well, particularly as it relates to the art market and issues of commerce and ownership.  Artists’ rights, intellectual property, commissions, fair market value, international trade and sales, and estate planning are just a few examples of the legal aspects of art and design that face artists, dealers, and collectors.  An excellent comprehensive survey of the legal landscape as it pertains to the creative professions is presented by Ralph Lerner and Judith Bresler in Art Law: The Guide for Collectors, Investors, Dealers, and Artists.  First published in 1989, Art Law has become one of the most widely consulted legal reference works for art and design-related topics.  The authors are among the foremost authorities on art and law in the United States.  Their in-depth analysis of factors that impact the visual art and design worlds includes specific legal cases that ground issues affecting the creative professions within a real-life context.  Sample contacts and other legal documents are also offered to help artists, dealers, and collectors apply the legal concepts in their work.

The relationship between law, ethics, and art/design is further explored by Judith Prowda in Visual Arts and the Law.  Her book is aimed at professionals working in all sectors of the art business, but puts considerable focus on the artist or designer.  Prowda offers a thorough discussion of the law as it relates to artistic freedom of expression—including obscenity law, censorship, and controversial art—in the United States and United Kingdom.  This volume examines privacy and publicity laws in the context of the visual arts from an international perspective.  It explores copyright, moral rights (noneconomic rights that are meant to protect a work for posterity regardless of ownership), resale rights, and commercial aspects of the arts—such as e-commerce and the role of expert opinions about an artwork—and features many examples from cases in the United States and Europe to clarify the legal concepts.

An international perspective on the legal aspects of art and design is offered by Joachim Kobuss, Alexander Bretz, and Arian Hassani in Become a Successful Designer.  This volume focuses on practical information about design rights, contracts, license agreements, and negotiation tactics; however, its main objective is to examine the crucial role of law as it affects creative professionals, and the history and purpose of the current legal environment as it pertains to art and design work.  Understanding the legal framework for the creative professions in a global economy is crucial for success in art and design business.  In light of this, the authors investigate the legal situation impacting art and design in twenty-three countries in Europe, South America, North America, Africa, and Asia.  They explore intellectual property rights in each of these regions, including how various laws apply to specific design fields such as interior design, industrial design, fashion, and communication design.  They cover patents, copyright, trademarks, contracts, and other legal documents.  They also provide checklists to help artists and designers apply legal principles in their work.

Tad Crawford’s Legal Guide for the Visual Artist, now in its fifth edition, aims to further reduce potentially intimidating business and legal issues that affect photographers, painters, printmakers, designers, sculptors, illustrators, textile designers, and sequential artists.  This volume’s broad scope allows it to introduce legal issues of art in commerce and artists’ rights in a succinct and clear manner.  Crawford’s handbook offers an overview of basic legal and business concepts that creative professionals are likely to face in the United States, such as the history and definition of copyright and registering work, including joint works and work for hire; fair use and infringement; and copyright and the Internet.  It also addresses moral rights, freedom of expression, and related concepts such as privacy and censorship.  Other practical topics included in this handbook are contracts and sales records, reproduction rights, publishing, lease agreements for studio spaces, taxes, estate planning, and grants.  The guide concludes with a list of national and regional artists’ groups and organizations that supplement the support offered by federal, state, and local governmental arts and culture agencies.


As this essay illustrates, basic knowledge of business concepts and skills is critical for success in the creative industries.  Although the works included are not a definitive list of resources that may be helpful to those in the creative industries, they offer a representative sampling of the many and varied resources that support these industries.  As Richard Florida reminds readers, in The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited, “every human being is creative … the essential task before us is to unleash the creative energies, talent, and potential of everyone—to build a society that acknowledges and nurtures the creativity of each and every human being.”  This essayist hopes that the resources presented in this bibliographic essay will promote thriving creative industries and empower artists and designers to strive for success and fulfillment in the business of art and design.

Works Cited