Photographer Disputes: What Happens If You Don’t Deliver

https://www.flickr.com/photos/76377775@N05/8560939745
Las Fallas Valencia Spain Angry Woman” by Keith Ellwood from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

As I was researching photographers’ legal questions, I stumbled onto a question posted by an upset client: “The photographer hasn’t given me my photos. It’s been six months. What can I do about that?”

Whoa! That sounds exceptionally bad. I’m curious how complex this project was and when the photographer said they’d deliver images to the client.

I don’t know the circumstances regarding this person’s situation, but here’s what could happen if a client is unsatisfied with your work, or worse, you fail to deliver as promised.

Check the Contract’s Dispute Resolution Provision

Whenever anyone comes to me with a business dispute, like “They didn’t pay me,” or “I didn’t get what I paid for,” the first question I ask is:

What does your contract say?

Your photography contract should have a dispute resolution provision that states how disputes are going to be resolved, where it’s going to be resolved, and which state law governs the agreement.

One of the most common dispute resolution clauses I put in photography contracts says if there’s a dispute, the parties will try, in good faith, to resolve the matter within 30 days. If that doesn’t resolve the matter, then the parties agree to resolve the matter is a court located in Maricopa County, Arizona, and the agreement is governed by Arizona law. (I recommend Maricopa County and Arizona law because that’s where I’m located. You don’t want to pay for your lawyer’s travel expenses if you don’t have to.) I usually include a clause that says the losing party must pay the prevailing party’s attorneys’ fees and costs.

Regardless of what the contract states about resolving disputes, my first step in most disputes is sending a demand letter that puts the other side on notice that further legal recourse will be sought. This letter lets the other side know that the offended party is serious and willing to fight, and it gives them a chance to resolve the matter before it will be taken to the next level.

Report to the Attorney General’s Office for Consumer Fraud

You may not know this, but your state’s Attorney General’s Office may have a forum to submit a consumer complaint and report suspected fraud. Arizona has this, and it’s not a fun process to go through the subsequent investigation, which could include being subpoenaed for a deposition under oath and/or having a claim for fraud filed against you. If a court found that you committed fraud, it could have devasting consequences for your business, including your ability to be a professional photographer. Taking a client’s money and failing to provide the images could easily be an act of fraud.

If a client wanted to pursue this option, they don’t need a lawyer to file a consumer complaint. They can go online and get the form themselves. The Attorney General’s Office would foot the bill for the investigation, and likely expect to be reimbursed by you if you lose or come to a settlement. Conversely, if a consumer complaint is filed against you, you should hire a lawyer to represent you.

Bad Review

The least problematic a dissatisfied client could do is leave you a negative review on Google, Yelp, or Facebook, or they could post about you online on their social media accounts or their website. As long as everything they post about you is true or their opinion, it’s perfectly legal.

Hopefully, you never find yourself in this type of situation, but if it happens, please don’t ghost your client. Keep the lines of communication open as you work towards a resolution. One of the most common complaints I hear from customers is that the person they hired stopped responding to emails, calls, or texts, and so they felt like they had no choice but to ask a lawyer or the state for help.

Lights Camera LawsuitTM

If you want help with the business or legal side of being a photographer, I hope you’ll check out my online course coming out later this year: “Lights, Camera, Lawsuit: The Legal Side of Professional Photography.” It will address the most common problems professional photographers face, including contracts, copyright, and managing client expectations. Please add yourself to this exclusive list for updates on the course and helpful information leading up to the release.

Happy Thanksgiving from Carter Law Firm!

Fall Cornucopia by Ron Cogswell from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Fall Cornucopia by Ron Cogswell from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I feel very lucky to have had this practice for almost three years and the success that has come with it. Every few months, I get a call from a law student or a recent law graduate who wants to talk about how I started my practice and what I do. I try to caution them that my firm is unique so they should create expectations based on what I do.

Here are the top 3 things I am grateful for in my professional life.

1.  Freedom. When I considered having my own firm, my ultimate goal was freedom: freedom to handpick my cases, freedom to write and speak, freedom to set my schedule, and the freedom to pursue crazy ideas.

At the 2014 AZ Basset Rescuee Howl-o-ween Picnic (Photo by Julia Kolsrud)

At the 2014 AZ Basset Rescuee Howl-o-ween Picnic (Photo by Julia Kolsrud)

2.  I get to help people in ways in which they can’t help themselves. It’s so rewarding to see that what I do makes a difference in my clients’ lives.

3.  Rosie, my basset hound, gets to go to work with me. I never plan to work in another building or take another position unless she is welcome.

I know I’m not your typical lawyer. And I’m grateful I’ve been able to handcraft my entire career. Because of my nontraditional career as a lawyer a lot of doors are opened for me in terms of speaking, writing, being regarded by others as an expert, and being invited to be part of national committees. There is no such thing as a typical day for me.

I’m grateful my practice allows me to take a lot of risks at least in terms of marketing and speaking ventures, though I would never take on the same level of risks with my clients. If anything, I’m quite conservative when it comes to my client matters because I would never went to take a case that I felt unprepared to handle.

There are a lot of plans on the horizon for next year and I’m looking forward to sharing them with you.

How To Legally Change Your Name in Arizona

What Will Jason's New Last Name Be? (Used with permission from jasonsadler.com)

What Will Jason’s New Last Name Be? (Used with permission from jasonsadler.com)

I have two friends who have alter egos: Evo Terra and Kade Dworkin. These are not their real legal names, but they have act as if they could be. I know what both of their legal names are, but I’ve never used them. Funny enough, when they selected their alter egos, neither one gave themselves a middle name so I had to make them up for when I get frustrated with them. As far as I know, Evo and Kade and have no intention of legally changing their names to their alter ego, but how hard would it be if they did?

We’re given names a birth, but if you’re not happy with it, there’s no reason why you have to be stuck with it. On the documentary Trekkies, they featured a Star Trek fan who legally changed his name to James Tiberius Kirk. Allegedly, there’s a bartender in Tucson who legally changed his name to God. And last year, my friend Jason auctioned off his last name for $45,500 and legally changed his name from Jason Sadler to Jason Headsetsdotcom. And he just announced that he’s doing it again.

Jason's Driver's License Before and After (Used with permission from jasonsadler.com)

Jason’s Driver’s License Before and After (Used with permission from jasonsadler.com)

So what do you do if you want to join the ranks of people who picked their own name. In Arizona the process is pretty simple. All it takes is paperwork, money, and a court hearing.

The paperwork to legally change your name in Arizona is available online in the court’s Self-Service Center, and it’s super simple. You have to provide your current contact information, your birthdate and birth place, whether you’ve been charged or convicted of a felony, what you want your new name to be, and why you want to change your name.

Once you complete the forms, you have to file them in a court in your county and pay the $319 filing fee. The clerk will give you a court date for your hearing. Yes, you have to appear before a judge to change your name.  How long you have to wait for a hearing date depends on how busy the court is, so you may want to call the courthouses in your county and file your paperwork at the court that can get you the earliest date. If the court suspects you’re changing your name for fraudulent reasons, they may require you to submit a set of fingerprints for a  background check.

Your hearing will probably be a straight-forward event. The judge may ask you why you want to change your name, but as long as it sounds like a legitimate reason and you didn’t apply to change your name to something that includes profanity, a name that’s not made up of letters (i.e., the artist formerly known as Prince), or something along those lines, the court will probably approve it. There are many reasons why you might want to change your name – you got divorced and want your maiden name back, you never liked your birth name, changing your name would give you a professional advantage, etc. Since you’re an adult, it’s unlikely that anyone would contest your name change even if they oppose it.

Given what celebrities are allowed to name their kids, you have a lot of leeway when it comes to selecting your new name. There have been some pretty awesome and pretty ridiculous legal name changes allowed by the courts.

When the court approves your name change, it will give you a court order for it. With that, the Social Security Office will issue you a new social security card with your new name on it. Once you have your social security card, you can get your new driver’s license. You can use your new social security card and driver’s license to update all your other accounts – bank accounts, credit cards, utilities, loans, gym membership, your employee file at work, etc.

So that’s how you change your name – pretty simple and straight-forward. If you want to chat with me about this or any other topic, you can connect with me TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Being Legally Asked to Leave a Public Event

Think Before You Pink by Sheila Dee, used with permission

Think Before You Pink by Sheila Dee, used with permission

My friends called me for clarification this past Saturday morning. They were at Tempe Beach Park where the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk was taking place. My friends’ friend was there with another breast cancer organization called Breast Cancer Action.  This is a “national, feminist grassroots education and advocacy organization working to end the breast cancer epidemic.”

Breast Cancer Action’s goals are to (1)  Advocate for more effective and less toxic breast cancer treatments; (2) Decrease involuntary environmental exposures that put people at risk for breast cancer; and (3) Create awareness that it is not just genes, but social injustices — political, economic, and racial inequities — that lead to disparities in breast cancer outcomes.” They have a Think Before You Pink campaign to ban toxic chemicals found in “pink” products aimed at increasing breast cancer awareness.

Think Before You Pink by Sheila Dee, used with permission

Think Before You Pink by Sheila Dee, used with permission

The group brought their petition to the American Cancer Society’s walk at Tempe Beach Park and was asking for signatures. Given that my friends’ called me at 10 a.m., I don’t think the Breast Cancer Action group solicited signatures for long before they were asked to leave. Tempe Beach Park is a public space and these volunteers weren’t doing anything illegal. My friends wanted to know whether the officers had the authority to tell this group to stop what they were doing or leave.

In this situation, the police probably had the authority to make the Breast Cancer Action people stop petitioning. The American Cancer Society had a permit for their event in the park so they had a greater say over what activities could go on in the space they were permitted to use for their walk. If the Breast Cancer Action people were soliciting signatures within those boundaries, the walk organizers could make them stop or leave. The petitioners could have stood on public property outside the boundaries stated in the permit and continued to solicit signatures as long as they weren’t breaking any other laws like harassment, disorderly conduct, blocking a thoroughfare, etc.

This scenario reminded me of the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon and half-marathon in January. The routes take runners through the streets of Phoenix, Tempe, and Scottsdale. The race organizers get permits to close the public streets, or at least lanes, along the route. The race has a strict “No Bandits” rule. You must be wearing a race number to run in the race. If you’re not wearing a number, you’ll be kicked off the route and possibly arrested for trespassing. If you’re a jogger who didn’t register for the race, you can’t decide to take advantage of the streets being closed and jog on the race route that day.  The race organizers have the permit for the area so they set the rules regarding who can and can’t be on the race route that day.

So that’s why groups who get permits for their events have more say over who can be there even when the event is in a public park or a public street. When you have the permit, you set the rules. If you want to chat with me about this or any other topic, you can connect with me TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Networking Should Be Fun

The Other Side of the Trampoline by Peter Werkman from Flickr

The Other Side of the Trampoline by Peter Werkman from Flickr

If you’re a business owner, networking is part of your job. It’s a significant part of my job. I attend two to four events to shake hands and kiss babies every week. My goal at each of these events is to make connections and build relationships with other professionals in my community.

Because my goal is to create relationships, I prefer to network in smaller groups and one-on-one than at large networking events. Larger events tend to be loud, crowded, and you never know who you’re going to meet. You may meet some interesting people at these events but it also feels like it would be easier to find a needle in a haystack than to find the people you really want to meet. I prefer personalized introductions and specialized networking events like those geared towards entrepreneurs, social media professionals, local business owners, artists, and my fellow legal eagles.

Most of the time, a networking meeting involves meeting for coffee. Coffee is fine, especially from awesome independent shops like Luci’s and Lux. (The last cup of coffee I had at a Starbucks was so vile it made me never want to go there again.) I’ve networked so much that I’m a little coffeed out and I’m looking to change it up a bit.

I’m a big believer that if you don’t love your job, you should change it. In that spirit, I want to make networking more fun. Networking is really about making connections by sharing information and ideas between people. The location is simply the forum. So why not make it a fun-based experience?

I recently invited my email list to meet me for ice cream (ICE KREM!) instead of coffee this summer. Come on – it’s freakishly hot in Phoenix. We should have something refreshing. Besides ice cream, I’d love to network over a game of cards or Skip-Bo. For people who are a more adventurous we could go bowling or hit my favorite trampoline playground. I would be happy to meet with people before attending a book signing at Changing Hands or a movie screening by the AZ Tech Council or wander around the Phoenix Art Museum on a Wednesday night when it’s open to the public for free.

When the weather cools down, I think it would be fun to meet people while feeding the fish at the Japanese Friendship Garden, wandering around First Friday, or taking our dogs to the dog park.

So, if you are a professional networker who wants to kick the experience up a notch and you work in the same circles as me, drop me a line. Of course, if I find you unbearable or you hit me with a hard sell, I will assume you don’t understand the real purpose of networking and invoke the Law of Two Feet.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me. You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Applying Minimalism Principles to Your Business

My Desk by tdm911 from Flickr

My Desk by tdm911 from Flickr

Earlier this year I was inspired to embark on a project of systematically cleaning out my life – one drawer, one shelf, one stack of papers at a time. I am by no means becoming one of those people who only has 100 possessions or lives in a tiny house. My goal is to de-clutter my life by getting rid of the things I don’t use or need.

I attended an interesting session at SXSW this year about minimalism and entrepreneurship. The amazing panel had lots of wonderful ideas about using minimalism when starting a business, but the many of their suggestions could be applied to any business. The main ideas focus on simplicity and freedom instead of material wealth. It inspired me to do my own research on using minimalism as a business owner. These are some of my favorite tips.

Reduce Clutter.
Do you work better when your desk is clean? Me too. I think clearer and I’m less distracted if my work area is clean. Clean your desk. Get rid of excess papers by going paperless. Simply processes. Find an organization system that works for you and use it.

Turn Off All Notifications when doing Focused Work.
If I see that I have a new email, voicemail, or notification from one of my social media accounts, I have a hard time not checking it. I do my best and most efficient work when I turn off my ringer and close my social media and email tabs on my browser. Don’t worry about missing something important. It will all be there when your work is done and you take a break. Courtney Carver had a great saying at SXSW: You run the day or the day runs you.

Get Rid of the Old.
Don’t let your office become the final resting place for old computers, equipment, books, and software. When you upgrade, get rid of your old stuff. (Don’t forget to wipe your computers’ memory first.) If there are things you just don’t use anymore (like your fax machine) get rid of it.

Reduce your Overhead.
The less you spend on your overhead, the less you have to work before turning a profit. Take a hard look at all your expenses (rent, phone, internet, office supplies, insurance, etc.) and think about what you really need to run your business.

Do what Works for You.
Ignore what everyone else is doing if it’s not working for you. Look for creative solutions to your problem. You don’t have to do exactly what your competition is doing to be competitive. Do you need a big fancy office, with fancy furniture and rented art work with a huge conference room or do you only need a small office and webcam to hold video conference meetings?  In my experience, most clients care more about results than fancy furnishings.

One of the best tips I took from the panel at SXSW was to look at all your expenses and determine if they are a need, a like, or a want. The wants can probably be cut out along with most of the likes. Focusing on your needs will keep your clutter and your expenses down, but it takes discipline to do this.

Understand the “whys” behind your business  – Why do you what you do? What’s the ultimate goal? Post these on the wall so you can keep your mind on what really matters to you instead of letting it get needlessly wrapped up in other problems.

If you want more information on minimalism, please check out The Minimalists. These guys were on the panel at SXSW. They have great energy and information to share.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+FacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.
You can also subscribe to the Carter Law Firm newsletter.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

I Registered the Copyright in my Blogs

Jump for Joy! by dospaz

DISCLAIMER: Recent conversations with the Copyright Office have led me to change my stance regarding blogs and copyright registration. Please see this post for my updated views.

I finally decided to practice what I preach and I registered the copyrights in my blogs over the weekend. For those of you who don’t know, I have two blogs: this one and my personal blog The Undeniable Ruth. I post weekly on each one.

My work only exists on my websites so the first thing I had to do was create a document that compiled all of my posts for each blog. This blog wasn’t too bad since I’ve only had it since January. I’ve been publishing weekly on The Undeniable Ruth since January 2010, not to mention all the extra posts I did for Sponsor A Law Kid, so creating a master document for that took the better part of two days. That was a pain in the ass that I don’t want to repeat. Once I had these documents created, I saved them as PDFs.

The first time I used the U.S. Copyright Office website, it was kind of stressful. It isn’t always obvious what you’re supposed to do to create a profile and to apply to register your copyright. I had to read each screen at least twice to make sure I was filling everything out properly. You have to go through about eight screens to fill out the application, upload your document, and pay the fee ($35 for literary work). It was really weird that the site makes you pay the fee first and then upload your work.

You have the option to submit your work and payment online or to send it in. According to the site it currently takes about 2.5 months to process your application if you do it electronically and 6.5 months if you mail in your work.

Once I got through the copyright application process once, the second time through went much faster. If you’re looking to register your copyrights, I strongly recommend doing it the first time with a copyright attorney or someone who has gone through the process before. As an intellectual property attorney, I had the benefit of understanding all the verbiage on the application which made it easier to navigate.

This was the first of several copyright applications to come. Since my work is on my blogs, I have to re-register my work every three months to ensure that my new content is protected. You have copyright rights in your work the moment you create them, but you have to register your work if you want to sue someone for infringement if they steal your content. If you register your work within three months of publication or one month of learning of the infringement (whichever is first!), you’re eligible for attorneys’ fees and statutory damages which can go up to $150,000. If you don’t register within this time period, you’re only eligible for your actual damages, which in the world of  blogging could be $0.00.

If you have a blog, I recommend registering your work every three months. Put a standing reminder to yourself on your calendar. Start a master document for your blog posts now so you don’t have the arduous task of compiling your work every time it’s time to re-register your work. If you don’t want to do this yourself, hire an attorney to do it for you. The time to protect your work is now. If wait until someone steals your work, the options you have left may not be worth pursuing.

Feel free to connect with me via TwitterGoogle+Facebook, and LinkedIn, or you can email me.
Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

How To Copyright Your Blog

Folklore NullElf: Burning Copyright by Martin Fisch

Folklore NullElf: Burning Copyright by Martin Fisch

This post was originally published on The Undeniable Ruth in October 2011. 

DISCLAIMER: Recent conversations with the Copyright Office have led me to change my stance regarding blogs and copyright registration. Please see this post for my updated views.

I’m working on my first ebook, which is tentative titled The Legal Side of Blogging. During law school, I wrote a substantial research paper on copyright, defamation, and privacy issues related to blogging. I also wrote a blog series called Can My Blog Get Me SuedArrestedFired, or Killed. It made sense to combine the material from these two projects and present them in a way that was useful to the average blogger for my first solo book project.

Blogs didn’t exist when the Copyright Act was written or last revised. The drafters only considered literary works that are published on paper when they wrote the law. When it comes to copyrighting blogs and websites, the best we can do is to try to find the digital equivalent to the works published on paper and register them accordingly.

The purpose of the Copyright Act is to protect advancements in the arts and sciences by giving authors and artists protection for the works they create. Copyright protection is afforded to every original expression that is fixed in a tangible medium. The law was written to protect things like books, photographs, music, sculptures, paintings, and audiovisual works. Works that exist only in an electronic form are fixed in a tangible medium, and thus, the law protects them.

I’ve spent hours considering the copyright implications of blogging and discussed it at length with my cyberspace law professor. We came to the conclusion that bloggers who blog on a set schedule are most like people who write a column in a newspaper or a magazine; and therefore their blogs should be able to be registered as serial works.

A single work can be registered with the United States Copyright Office for $35. If you publish a blog every week and register it, that will cost $1820 each year. The benefit of having a serial work is that you only have to register it every 3 months for $65, which is only $260 for the year. This saves a lot of time and money.

This week I was working on my ebook and I needed some clarification on how bloggers should go about registering their works, so I called the Copyright Office. The operator was very helpful in directing me to the circular on serial works, and she thought my ebook idea was interesting.  About five minutes later, I had a follow up question so I called her back. She said she was glad I called back because she needed to tell me that blogs cannot be registered as serial works. The only thing a blogger can do is register each post individually!

Seriously?!?!?!

I can see the Copyright Office requiring individual registrations for each post for someone who only writes sporadically; but this rule makes no sense for someone who posts on a weekly basis. They should be given the same protection as any other writer who publishes in a similar fashion in a newsletter, journal, or magazine.  Thankfully, the law protects writers’ and artists’ work the second a work is created, not from the date it is registered. The benefit of copyright registration is that you get to collect attorneys’ fees and statutory damages if someone steals your work and you successfully sue them.

I used to think that the best thing a blogger can do is register their blog as a serial work and use Google Alerts to monitor the internet for possible infringement. With this latest development, it makes more sense not to register every blog post you write, but only those  that you expect someone will try to pass off as their work. You can still use Google Alerts to police the internet for potential infringers. You just won’t be eligible for attorneys’ fees or statutory damages if your work hasn’t been registered within 3 months of publication if you find that someone is passing off one of your blog posts as their own. However, you can probably still get the post removed from the infringer’s website using a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.