As a creative freelancer, have you ever signed a contract? Sent an invoice? Taken over someone else's web design project? If so, you will be interested in meeting April's guest of honor, Ivan Hoffman, Attorney at law.
Ivan works with clients in the fields of Writing and Publishing Law, Web Design Contracts and Law, Copyrights, Trademarks, Internet Law, and Recording and Music Law. He has also taught seminars about Internet and publishing law, has had articles published in various print and online magazines, and has been interviewed by several radio shows. Ivan's background makes him familiar with intellectual property laws from both sides of the issue.
What's that you say? You're a writer/artist/web designer/musician? You're not interested in all this legal mumbo jumbo? Like it or not, if you are self-employed, you are also a businessperson. You wouldn't go toodling around in your automobile without first learning to read road signs, would you? If you are going to sign a contract, design a web site, copyright your work, or sell your rights, then you need to learn to read the signs along the legal highway.
All too often, freelancers in the creative fields undervalue their skills, or begin a project without being aware of the legal aspects of the project. Before you find yourself in a situation like this, make yourself aware of the different issues and learn when to ask questions and how to seek professional legal advice.
Some of you may have already browsed the Freelancer's FAQ and noticed that there are sample contracts and proposals posted. But be warned -- these samples are only provided to give readers a general idea of what a contract and/or proposal might look like. They are not meant to be used as fill-in-the-blank forms. All too often, freelancers will say, "There's nothing wrong with using blank contracts or forms copied from other sources. I don't need a lawyer for this!"
One of the best rebuttals for this argument can be found in Ivan's essay, Dignity for Designers. To quote: "I know many of you believe you can use blank form contracts created by other designers or somehow posted to the Net. I believe that providing blank form contracts for lay people does a substantial disservice to them. If there were no contract available, they would have to seek out professional assistance. If there is a blank form, even with all the disclaimers, the lay person uses the form believing they are being protected when they may not be. Would you take out your own appendix? Or fill your own cavity? Is it that you believe you can draft your own contracts because they are in English? (Though some would say they are not.) Practicing law and drafting contracts is an art form, one filled with the need for specialized knowledge. Clauses in contracts mean something, alone and in conjunction with other clauses. Cutting and pasting without the larger body of legal knowledge that the contract is supposed to be addressing is as bad a decision as removing your infected appendix by yourself."
To read this essay in its entirety, check out the links to Ivan's writings on the Freelancer's FAQ page. But for now, click below to read our interview with Ivan Hoffman, Attorney at Law.
- Anne Wallingford