Did you know that there is a free legal service for artists in Ottawa? As a lawyer and a musician, I often have artist friends ask me legal questions about their rights. I usually refer them to Artists’ Legal Services Ottawa (ALSO), which according to their website is dedicated to connecting Ottawa-area artists with legal information and lawyers to address legal problems related to artists’ professional practices. The organization does this in three ways: by holding panels on legal topics that are relevant to artists, providing a referral service for people looking to speak to a lawyer, and by providing educational resources on ALSO’s website for general questions.
I myself have used the service in the past and found it to be helpful. I had a copyright question about one of my performances, so I emailed ALSO, outlining my question in general terms and asking to be connected to a lawyer. ALSO responded within a few days with the contact information of several lawyers on the ALSO roster. I called the first name on the list and had a short friendly chat with the experienced lawyer who answered my question in a manner that was easy to understand. The whole process didn’t cost me a cent, although if I did end up needing to hire a lawyer, I now know who I can retain.
Usually lawyers on the ALSO roster list agree to give a half hour of summary legal information for free, although the artist and lawyer will work this out between themselves. These consultations don’t usually constitute legal advice in the sense that a formal solicitor-client relationship isn’t established, but they do often provide enough information to give the artist a sense of what their rights are, and whether they do need to hire a lawyer if their issue is serious enough.
ALSO was founded over five years ago by a small team of people who saw the need for such services in Ottawa, as other similar legal clinics exist in other Canadian cities, but not Ottawa. “One of the founder is the director of CARFAC (Canadian Artists’ Representation/Le Front des artistes canadiens),” ALSO president Michelle Doody explained to me over the phone from her office at Forget Smith Morel. “She would get a lot of phone calls from artists who had legal questions, but she’s not a lawyer and she doesn’t have any legal training, so she saw this need. She had another former colleague who is a lawyer and saw the need too, so they got together and talked to other clinics in other cities to ask how they did it, and what model they used.”
Artists’ Legal Services Ottawa will be holding a panel on copyright for artists on September 17 at the Ottawa Art Gallery, featuring moderator Ariel Thomas from Fasken Martineau, Gilles Daigle, general counsel for SOCAN, Matthew Estabrooks from Gowlings, artist and art consultant Claudio Marzano; and Raymond Murray who is both a musician (Souljazz Orchestra) and a lawyer (Nelligan O’Brien Payne).
“I think copyright is probably the biggest issue that faces artists the most, or at least that we see the most questions about,” Doody commented. “A big thing that we’ve learned is that lots of people read on the Internet about copyright, which is good to educate yourself, but a lot of the time it isn’t Canadian law. It’s good to know how to apply it to Canada. There were changes to the Copyright Act three or four years ago now, and they’ve added some grounds for fair dealings, so we’ll probably discuss that at the panel: what is fair dealings and how does it work?”
“We get a lot of requests like, ‘I want to copy something, as I’m really inspired by this… is this allowed or is it not?’ So I think definitely the copyright panel is a good one for people to get answers to questions that they might not think is worth calling a lawyer about, but is still important and are yes or no answers.”
“That is the big thing about our panels. It’s trying to educate people before they come into problems. And then if you reach a problem, write us and then we’ll refer you to someone.”
The Copyright for Artists panel will be hosted by Artists’ Legal Services Ottawa on September 17, 2015 at the Ottawa Art Gallery, 2 Daly Avenue, from 6:00 to 7:30PM. This event is free.