Written by attorney Gregory Timothy Victoroff

Contracts and Collections for Artists

A contract is an agreement between individuals or entities to do something. A myriad of state and federal laws affect the dozens of types of contracts encountered by artists. To have a legally binding contract there must be a “meeting of the minds,” in other words, the parties making the contract have to understand and knowingly consent to the terms of the agreement. Laws in most states require certain contracts to be in writing, such as contracts not to be preformed within a year, contracts for the sale of goods over $500 and contracts to answer for the debt of another. Under federal law, contracts transferring an interest in a copyright (such as assignments or exclusive licenses, not non-exclusive licenses) must be in writing.

As a general rule, written contracts are preferable to oral contracts because they avoid ambiguity and misunderstanding between the parties and constitute better evidence than mere recollection if it becomes necessary to prove the agreed terms in the event of a dispute. Artists encounter contracts, written, oral and implied in three 3 major areas: contracts for services, contracts to use copyrightable creations and contracts with third parties for agency and management services.

Additional resources provided by the author

Many resources are available to help artists and arts businesses protect and enforce their legal rights. Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and similar organizations offer free and low cost legal services, educational seminars and mediation services in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and many other major cities. Guilds, unions and trade associations such as the Writers Guild of America for writers, the Screen Actors Guild and Actor’s Equity for actors, the American Federation of Musicians for musicians and the Graphic Artist’s Guild, the American Society of Media Photographers and The Society of Illustrators for visual artists, all provide a wide variety of services ranging from acting as a collective bargaining unit to establish minimum payment rates and health and pension benefits, to providing insurance, sample contracts and legal referrals and information.

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