The National Law Forum

The Blog of the The National Law Review

The Artist’s Legacy – Business and Legal Planning Issues

Sheppard Mullin Law Firm

Photographers face unique issues that must be carefully considered to ensure a continued market for the creative output and to preserve the artistic reputation. Prudently managed business affairs will minimize problems commonly encountered when closing down a studio and during the transition of business affairs from the photographer’s life to the photographer’s estate.

First, there is the issue of care for the physical works, the critical planning for the inventory, conservation and storage of the photographer’s works. Second is the issue of advantageously placing the photographer’s works; which works should be preserved, which donated, and when, where, how, including considering a sale or donation to a publicly-accessible archive as a permanent home for papers and other materials. This naturally leads to the third issue, prudent sales; how much and what part of the inventory should be released for sale each year and through what means? Is this the moment to re-examine the extant gallery relationship? These decisions require knowledge of the market, including a sense of timing, market conditions, and museum/collector interest.

Getting the house in order also includes appointing executors, attorneys, and accountants who can be trusted, who know the family or estate, who are familiar with and responsible toward the photographer’s work and the market, and who have both sensitivity and concern for the future of the photographer’s works and artistic reputation. Estate planning considerations for a photographer also include issues relevant for any individual: to provide for the surviving children, spouse and others according to the law and the photographer’s wishes so as to assure orderly transition and minimize the potential for probate litigation. For a photographer, though, preserving and enhancing a legacy also includes efficiently managing the estate to maintain continuity and safeguard the assets.

Photographers must likewise consider their intangible assets, which include copyrights, trademarks, licensing potential, and the like. It is important for photographers to register copyrights and keep track of any copyright renewal or termination rights, to be aware of current assignments and licenses of the intellectual property, and to maintain orderly files of subject releases, photographer agreements and other agreements affecting the works. Photographers should also consider licensing decisions to promote accessibility and generate revenue. It is crucial to weigh each transaction in terms of its potential for affecting the photographer’s stature in the art market. Indeed, one should consider the implications of each decision as it promotes and/or dilutes the overall value of the photographer’s oeuvre.

The photographer must identify and implement a comprehensive business and legal framework that can guide the present and govern the future in order to assure that legacy is preserved in accordance with the photographer’s wishes.

Above is the text of a handout on business and legal planning issues prepared by Christine Steiner. Christine Steiner and Lauren Liebes recently joined Weston Naef, Getty Photography Curator Emeritus, and ASA appraiser Jennifer Stoots for “What Will Become of Your Legacy”, a panel discussion at Los Angeles Center of Photography.  The panel addressed business and estate planning issues for photographers. In our next post, Lauren Liebes will address the myriad estate planning issues to consider.

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