Legal Guide for the Visual Artist

Image of Legal Guide for the Visual Artist
Release Date: 
July 29, 2017
Allworth Press
Reviewed by: 

The latest edition of the Legal Guide for the Visual Artist is more than just the fifth edition of the venerable tome; it is also the fifth edition of the book that author Tad Crawford first wrote in 1978 then used the third edition to launch Allworth Press in 1989. From this one book, Allworth Press has a catalogue of over 250 books as of this writing.

Little wonder that Crawford has continually revisited the book that started it all for himself and his publishing house—the last three decades have seen a sea change in the influence of art and design on the everyday consumer—think iPhone and YouTube just for starters.

NY Journal of Books recently reviewed Allworth’s The Law (in Plain English) for Photographers, and noted that it was “a must have in the library.” This latest Allworth publication also deserves a place in your library if you do any type of artistic work at all—not just photography.

As with Photographers, Legal Guide for the Visual Artist is not really a book to be read through in one sitting, rather, it is a very through reference text. In fact, trying to make it though the Taxes and Artist’s Estate sections, you’ll find yourself hard pressed to remain engaged without an actual relevant issue. But if you do have an estate or tax issue, you’ll be glad to have this book nearby.

Starting with the expected chapters on traditional intellectual property—copyright, trademarks, trade dress, and some patents—Crawford delves into more esoteric aspect of intellectual property such as moral rights and the relatively recent Visual Artists Rights Act (“VARA”). On this point, Crawford includes two fascinating interviews he conducted in 1979 with two seminal artists that directly brought about the 1990 VARA Act: Alfred Crimi and Alberto Vargas.

Both Crimi and Vargas were unable to exert any type of control over the moral rights of their arts; the former was unable to prevent his work from being destroyed on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, while the latter was unable to even obtain the proper credit for his creation of the famous Varga Girls. Through these interviews, Crawford manages to tell their stories in a human voice versus the dusty legalese of court documents and abstracts this reviewer and countless other intellectual property attorneys are used to reading.

Crawford balances these more personal and insightful historical portions with current issues facing the modern artist, such as the increasing likelihood of an artist being both artist and producer and the pitfalls that come with this dual role. Multimedia and the breadth of what that term means is also touched upon in Visual Artist.

While no book can replace a skilled attorney for specific legal questions, this book arms its target audience with a broad general knowledge of most legal issues they’re likely to face and includes raft of legal forms that should address many foreseeable legal needs of most artists.

While it’s rare to create a flawless legal/business book, with his Legal Guide for the Visual Artist, Crawford manages to come tantalizingly close to the mark for artists of all stripes.