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Hey, That’s Mine! Maintaining Your Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property
By Michelle J. Evans
By Michelle J Evans

So, there is an uncomfortable subject that I want to talk about. Not uncomfortable because it deals with issues like race, politics or religion but uncomfortable because some of us may have skirted the lines of intellectual property from time to time. If there is one thing I will say about the arts community, it is that we are pretty generous and giving, not only with our time but with our skills and knowledge.

I have so many friends in different arts disciplines that I can call and ask for expert advice on anything from how to fix a sound board to what type of material I should use for a garment. So, what happens when someone “takes” something of ours? I am not talking about physically stealing our physical property, but what about our intellectual property? Because let’s face it, it happens more than we would like to think about. We teach a workshop or write an article and someone else decides that since they heard us speak or read something we wrote that they now are just as qualified as us on that subject.

As a teacher, obviously my main objective is to take the knowledge I have and bestow that on my students. But what happens when a student or parent of a student takes information that I have given them and tries to profit off that information? What happens if you are a choreographer and someone in a show you’re choreographing takes your choreography and passes it off as their own at another company without your knowing? What happens if you are a musician that writes a song for a client and they take that song and sell it for money with their name on it but leave you out?

This all sounds appalling doesn’t it? Yes. Who would do such a thing? More people than we would like to admit probably! Some people steal because they want a shortcut, some because they are “mad” at you or the organization you work with for some “justifiable” reason, others because they just can.

I think we would all agree that we want acknowledgement for what is ours. Mostly because we have spent tireless years of training and hours of blood, sweat and tears learning our craft.

We don’t mind sharing or teaching someone that openly asks us for our knowledge but when that information is taken or used without us knowing, especially for the other’s personal financial gain, we are left feeling violated.

So, what can we do? Well the not fun part is we must protect ourselves and our art. How do we do that? Well, we can have students, parents, clients and others sign agreement forms stating that they will not take, re-produce or sell any of our services or products. Sounds really “business” I know, but as artists we are our “business” and we owe it to ourselves to protect what is ours. Without these documents it becomes a your word against theirs; though the truth always comes out eventually, the damage is done by that point.

Let’s face it, as artists sometimes all we have is our abilities and training and we need to protect that, not so we can hold onto it so tight that we don’t share it but so that when we share it we can share with the peace of mind that someone is not lurking ready to take what is ours!

Having fallen victim to people taking my professional information and industry insight that I have worked for years to gain, I have had to reevaluate how I proceed from this point forward. I can’t stop people from taking what is mine but at least I can have legal footing to keep them from profiting off my hard work. Let’s face it, I am not rolling in the dough because of the information that I have, I don’t need someone else trying to profit off of it as well! It is personally hurtful when people you know steal from right under your nose, but it is even more damaging when what they have done affects your livelihood. So, all I am saying is make sure that you take the necessary precautions to ensure that you are protected, now and always!

In short, if you want to know if you are crossing the lines of intellectual property, ASK first and get permission. Like I said at the beginning, artists are some of the most generous people I know. Perhaps you can find someone to collaborate with instead of steal from!?!

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