Deborah Reid is a visual artist, private attorney, and lecturer. Artists' rights is a common theme present throughout Reid's work. Reid has practiced law for over 36 years and is focusing her attention on providing legal services to artists. Reid is able to provide an array of customized legal services for artists and members of the creative community, including:
Reid is passionate about her work. She is the creator and presenter of "Law: Artfully Explained Seminars." Within this series, Reid presents lectures titled "Copyright or Wrong?," "That's (not) Fair," "Contracts for Creatives," and "Art Speaks!." Through these seminars, Reid translates legal concepts into images and common terms to educate artists on areas of the law that most directly impact their practices.
University of North Florida (UNF) is scheduled to host two lectures by Reid in early and mid July. The first lecture, "That's (not) Fair," is scheduled for Thursday, July 6. Reid will present an overview of copyright law. The lecture is interactive and will follow a game show format, incorporating exhibits from actual court cases to illustrate the application of the Fair Use Doctrine in copyright law.
The second lecture, "Art Speaks!," is scheduled for Tuesday, July 18. Reid will present an overview of the First Amendment and then focus the discussion on how the Amendment intersects with the arts. Topics discussed will include: protected speech status, obscenity, hate speech, street art, and limitations on public funding.
Those who attend the lectures, which are free and open to the public, will be given the opportunity to present opposing viewpoints.
Reid's effort to educate and inform Jacksonville's creative community is enormously important. It is her objective to empower artists to know their rights during all stages of the creative process. This includes how the First Amendment protects artists' freedom of expression.
On June 12, 2017 NPR's "Hidden Brain," a segment hosted by Shankar Vedantam, featured an episode titled "Rap on Trial: How An Aspiring Musician's Words Led To Prison Time." This episode focused on Olutosin Oduwole, a young college student and aspiring rapper highly involved in his community. Police found a sheet of paper containing rap lyrics written by Oduwole. Those lyrics, which reflected a violent theme, were a work in progress. When the police read the lyrics they interpreted Oduwole's words as violent intent, opposed to artistic expression. Oduwole was arrested, charged with attemptiong to make a terrorist threat, and eventually convicted by an all white rural jury and sent to prison. The conviction was later overturned by an appeals court.
This is not the only circumstance where rap lyrics have been used in a court of law as evidence against a defendant. In 2011, Erik Nielson and Charis Kubrin, professors from the University of Richmond, researched how rap lyrics were being used in courts as evidence. Through their research, Nielson and Kurbin found hundreds of examples of rap lyrics being used to prove intent or discredit a rapper's character. This was shocking to the two professors because other works of fiction, such as films and books, were not used this way in courts.
There are more recent examples of an individual's artistic expression being scrutinized by the media and politicians. There are those who feel artists, including actors and comedians, should remove themselves from discussions around politics. However, it can be argued that the artist's role in society is to document things as they are and to use their artistic crafts to challenge beliefs, assumptions, and the status-quo.
10 Questions with Deborah Reid
Do you have any patterns, routines or habits when starting a new project?
For paintings, I generally start with a broad premise and then do some research to refine my focus. I look for images in the public domain or shoot some photographs to base my drawings on. Next I usually do a preliminary drawing or wash, do a little more research, and then adjust and readjust as the images and content solidify.
My pattern with legal projects and writing follows a similar trajectory.
What have you learned about yourself through your artistic endeavors?
I have learned that creativity is like a muscle that is strengthened by use.
My artistic endeavors have shown me not to have a definitive end in mind at the beginning of a project. For me, trusting in the process yields better results. I also love collaborating with other artists. My artistic endeavors keep me flexible and open.
How do you define success in what you do?
I created "Law: Artfully Explained Seminars" to educate artists on areas of law that will impact their careers. I am gratified when participants walk away with a general understanding and the ability to spot red flags with contract and copyright issues.
Providing clients with contracts they can read, understand and use to protect their commercial interests or resolving a difficult situation are markers of success in my legal practice.
I am gratified when my art connects with a viewer or sparks a conversation.
How do you define the artist’s role in society?
I think the artist’s role in society is as varied as artists. Creating beauty, provoking thought, drawing attention to injustice, entertaining, or just making pretty pictures are all valid objectives. I have been motivated to do each of these at different times.
How does your legal background influence your work as a visual artist?
My legal background is the dominant influence in my current body of work. I am translating legal concepts into images to illustrate my seminars on contracts, constitutional law, and copyrights. It is a lot of fun and very satisfying to combine my legal expertise with my passion for making art.
It also makes me very cautious about using images or other content I did not create.
How are the arts and artists covered under the First Amendment?
Briefly, the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech extends to artistic expression. It provides protection from unjustified censorship and restriction. Political expressions, such as Kathy Griffin’s beheading photos or Shakespeare in the Park’s depiction of the assassination of Julius Caesar as Donald Trump, get the strongest protection.
First Amendment protection is indivisible. Speech by Nazis and humanitarians are both protected. It protects the rights to make provocative statements that some may find distasteful or repugnant. Beyond the political arena, art also serves to pose difficult questions that define the parameters of protected speech regarding obscenity, defamation, public funding, and fair use.
I will spend a few hours on this topic at the “Art Speaks” Seminar at UNF on July 18, 2017. It is free and open to the public. My goal is to provide the tools for artists to make an informed analysis about 1st Amendment protection on a work by work basis.
What are common misapprehensions you see about artists' rights?
It is widely assumed that if an image or other content is on the internet without a copyright notice that it may be freely copied. This is completely wrong. A copyright vests in artists and authors upon creation of an original work. Although it is a good idea, it is not necessary to use a copyright notice.
Just because something can be downloaded does not mean it is legal to use it. Unauthorized use is copyright infringement. Giving credit to the artist in a copied use does not avoid this result. Attribution is not a defense to copyright infringement.
There is also a pervasive urban myth that a predetermined percentage or amount of a work, or a specific number of lines, pages words or lines, can be used without permission. This is not correct. There is no formula. An fact-specific legal analysis of fair use is required. The best practice is to first get permission or not use the work.
There is also a misperception, even among artists themselves, that you cannot be both creative and analytical. The questions and comments from art students at my seminars are as focused and insightful as those posed by law students and legal practitioners.
Artists are very capable of learning how to conduct business and protect their legal interests.
What are several simple steps an artist can take to protect their rights as an artist?
Artists should learn why and how to register their copyrights. It is a simple, inexpensive procedure and it gives artists greater protection and leverage if their work is infringed.
Artists should enter into simple agreements spelling out everyone’s duties and rights before a project begins. Artists should put into practice that they only sign contracts if they understand what every provision means.
How can an artist expect to be empowered by attending one of your seminars?
Artists will see that they are fully capable of understanding legal concepts, such as copyright and contract, and implement ongoing practices to protect their work. They will learn how to spot problems and when they should seek legal assistance.
What would you like to see in Jacksonville to support growth of the city’s creative economy?
Great architecture, big art, and affordable legal services.
I used to work in downtown New York. Since 9/11, I've often feel some trepidation about returning. I visited the City last week. It was exhilarating when I got off the subway and walked into the new transportation hub by Santiago Calatrava. Great architecture is a powerful draw.
I love the new public art in downtown Jacksonville. The murals and sculptures, including work by Jenny Hager and Lance Vickery, are inviting and hospitable. I hope to see a lot more of this kind of street scaping.
I would also love to see a program implemented that provides legal services on pro-bono or sliding scale basis to artists. Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in New York and Cannonball in Miami are good models.
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