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Utah Lawyers for the Arts 

Executive director Heather Sneddon

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  • Heather Sneddon

Heather Sneddon is the new executive director of Utah Lawyers for the Arts, a group founded in 1983 as a matching organization for volunteer attorneys and artists who are seeking legal help. This year, the ULA has presented two workshops dealing with music and publishing. The third and final workshop of the series (May 26, 1 p.m., Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, 20 S. West Temple, UtahLawyersForTheArts.com) is on documentary filmmaking.

Do artists, who typically seek freedom from the mundane aspects of life, seem surprised by what it takes to build a career?
I don’t know if there is any normal mode for an artist. A lot of artists are very interested in their work. They’re passionate about it. It’s hard for artists—it’s hard for a lot of people—to demand what they’re worth from a gallery or an agent or whoever it is they might be working with. The creative aspects of their careers are what they’re really good at, and the business aspect is where they need advice to further their career. We’ve seen a lot of artists come in who are seeking help with establishing organizations and how best to negotiate contracts to make sure that everyone is getting out of the deal what they want, and they seem really proactive about it. That seems to be what it takes, whether you’re an artist or an average person: trying to figure out what your career is going to be and how you’re going to be successful.

What does the ULA do?
We’re a resource in terms of education for artists interested in the more basic issues that you come across—what contracts to think about, what entity you need to form for your production company, different legal pitfalls that might exist with copyright, privacy and defamation. We have lawyers on our board who have a lot of expertise in those areas. They’ve either previously worked at record labels or production companies, or they have former lives as artists and are excited to give back to the community. We are also a legal referral service. If an artist has a legal issue come up, we find volunteer lawyers in the community who might be able to help them.

Are all artists eligible to use ULA?
It’s geared toward low-income artists—you go through a qualification process, fill out an application and take a look at our income guidelines. If [the applicant] fits within our guidelines, then we can help them find a lawyer who can provide those services for free. If they’re outside of our guidelines, we still try to do the referral, and the lawyers we have who’ve committed to our organization are willing to do that at really low cost.

Why is copyright law so confusing and not black and white?
A lot of areas of the law are like that. It becomes very dependent on who’s sitting in the jury and what judge you have and how they’re going to apply that law in that particular situation. One of the things that you struggle with is that technology is so far ahead of the law. The law is always reacting to what new types of work are created. We have this old set of rules that now we have to figure out how it applies to digital music and different forms of expression that we hadn’t anticipated.

Lawyers who practice in those areas and have seen enough cases or represented enough clients start to get a sense for where any particular fact pattern might fall on the scale of infringement or not infringement, and provide better advice for where someone’s work might fall.

How is your group evolving?
We want to expand and get some more lawyers who are interested in this type of work. It gives lawyers an opportunity to do some interesting work if they’re interested in the arts at all in a way that they probably haven’t been able to before. It’s a way for lawyers to learn about an area of law that they haven’t had much experience with.

What drew you to this organization?
I’ve helped my friend Amy [Caron] with some of the stuff that she’s done and loved doing that—it’s kind of a creative outlet for me. I don’t have a background as an artist, but I appreciate her talents and feel like I have some small set of skills that I might be able to utilize to further where she wants to be in her career.

Can artists come to you if they have emergency trouble—say, with someone misusing or stealing their work?
We’d be willing to try to find a lawyer to help them with. Sometimes it’s tricky to find a lawyer in town who, even if they’re willing to do the work, will have the time to do the work at the moment the need is there. It takes a while to find a lawyer who not only has the expertise in that area that you need but also the time to commit to a new project.

What are some of the topics that will be explored during the documentary-films workshop?
Dealing with rights-of-privacy issues, publicity issues and getting proper consent from the people you’re portraying. And then the types of issues that go into all films—what do your contracts look like, what kind of production company do you want to have? Another issue is defamation—whether you are slandering someone by the way that they’re portrayed in the film.

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