It is a fact of life for artists that they need to manage their own affairs. It’s not easy navigating this tricky world. To that end some interested lawyers in town formed Artists Legal Services in Ottawa (ALSO) to offer some help and sound advice. On May 5 they are holding their first ever an all-day conference to help educate artists about their legal rights and needs. Before the event, ARTSFILE asked ALSO board member Byron Pascoe, an entertainment lawyer with Edwards PC, Creative Law, about the conference, the legal questions facing creators and his own love of the arts.
Q. Byron, please tell me a bit about yourself.
A. I grew up in Ottawa and was active in the local amateur theatre scene. I attended Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo for my undergrad business degree, and while there, produced the fringe festival, and co-founded a business leadership conference that still exists (thelinkonline.org) 15 years later. I returned to Ottawa, and spent the next five years managing a television/new media production company with two close friends and together we produced programming for CBC, MuchMusic and other outlets. I then went to the University of Windsor for law school, where I co-founded and co-managed a national education initiative regarding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (charterproject.ca/) in conjunction with its 30th anniversary. I produced PSAs featuring Canadian celebrities that aired nationally and in movie theatres.
Q. How did you end up at Edwards PC, Creative Law?
A. I had the opportunity to work at a mid-size local business law firm, as a law student, articling student and as a lawyer. I met Mark Edwards in 2014 as a mutual friend suggested we connect. Mark practiced law for many years, and then produced animation for many years, and then owned and managed several technology and entertainment companies. He returned to practicing law full time and was looking to expand his entertainment law firm. I went to law school to become an entertainment lawyer, and shortly after meeting Mark, I joined the firm.
While most lawyers don’t directly represent professional artists, there are a variety of lawyers representing arts, from national organizations such as SOCAN to local theatres. Also, there are many lawyers locally with personal interests in the arts. Some of them appear in the annual GCTC lawyer play fundraiser (gctc.ca). Lyndra Griffith, who’s president of ALSO, is in the cast again this year. The shows are in early June.
Q. Tell me a bit about your practice?
A. For musicians, I help them understand and negotiate agreements they will sign and prepare agreements they want other people to sign. Some of the most common agreements are record label, publishing, producer, and management agreements.
For producers, Mark takes the lead on financial agreements with a traditional bank or a private lender who’s financing future sources of income. Regarding the production of a film, TV series, or digital series, I help producers prepare and negotiate agreements with cast and crew, from director to composer. I also help them secure music rights, and assist with entertainment-specific producer’s liability insurance (Errors & Omissions insurance).
We also work with content creators who might need help reviewing an option agreement provided by a producer, authors looking for help with their book publishing agreement to video game companies that wants to incorporate, have the owners enter a shareholders’ agreement, sign agreements with their employees or independent contractors, and get assistance with their license and distribution agreements.
Q. Who are your clients?
A. The firm’s tag line is “Creative Law. Creative Clients” as we provide entertainment legal services for creative clients. We don’t do other legal work for creative clients, so we don’t do their real estate, wills, or even their trade-mark registrations. I work with musicians, music managers and music producers, based here in Ottawa, and across Canada.
I work with individuals and companies who produce animated pre-school content made for YouTube, to producers of digital comedy series for an older demographic. Images of some of our clients are available on our site.
Q. Tell me about the conference. What is it attempting to do?
A. About three years ago, I saw lawyers Tanya Woods and Yael Wexler speak about legal issues for artists at Artprenuer in Ottawa. I spoke with them after the presentation and shortly thereafter joined the board of ALSO. We put on legal information sessions every few months, on topics from copyright to contracts, tax to labour, to provide people locally with free artist-specific legal information. Artists’ Legal Services Ottawa (ALSO) is not a law firm, and it does not provide legal advice. It brings legal information to artists, mainly through the panel presentations.
In the later summer of 2017, the ALSO team consisting of lawyers Lyndra Griffith, Natasha Gulati and Lise Rivet, film and TV writer/director/producer Max McGuire and myself, decided, over pizza in New Edinburgh, to try something different this year. Instead of a few panels throughout the year, we’d focus on a full day of programming. It was ambitious but we knew it would be fun, and would generate a lot of value for artists.
What would become the ALSO Arts Law Conference was born, and over the course of weekly calls and many emails, the format was formed, potential speakers, venues and caterers were contacted, and the program came to life. The conference is attempting to provide practical legal information to artists regarding various facets of their professional life as artists. It’s also attempting to provide opportunities for people from various disciplines of art to connect and ideally find interesting ways to collaborate.
Q. What concerns are you trying to address with this event?
A. The event has several moving parts. One of them is a serious of three 30-minute sessions on three areas of law we think are important to discuss: tax, labour/employment and succession planning (wills & estates). Many artists don’t know what they don’t know… the same goes for everyone else. Our planning team believes these are three important areas for artists.
Chantal Beaupré (Avocats Lister-Beaupré Lawyers) and Karine Dion (Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP) will speak about labour and employment issues for artists. Sarwar Qureshi, CPA, CA (Paterson & Company) and Jason Kim (HazloLaw Business Lawyers) will speak about tax issues for artists. Entertainment and estates lawyer Bill Devonish will speak about succession planning.
Q. What are the biggest legal issues artists face and why?
A. Our entertainment law firm’s practice is very transactional. We write and review contracts, so my perspective about the legal issues artists face relates to contracts.
Artists often learn legal lessons the hard way, for example, they gave away more rights away than they should have because they didn’t understand an agreement they were asked to sign, and may have signed out of fear of losing the opportunity.
For example, a band sends me an agreement to review, and to provide context, provides an agreement they have already signed, and my wish was that they had someone whose role was to protect them, review the original agreement, regardless of their understanding of the agreement. What could go wrong? Lots.
Q. You observe the local cultural scene closely. What is your take?
A. There are many artistic communities within the arts community, and the “arts community”, however that’s defined, would benefit from more interactions among the communities that collectively represent the sector.
There will never be enough arts funding, but what would also benefit the Ottawa arts community, is generating more awareness and financial support of the art created by our neighbours, which in turn helps them bring their work to the world’s stage.
Recently, I had three diverse musical clients performing across Ottawa: The Commotions were at Babylon, the French rapper singer-songwriter Le R Premier was playing the NAC’s Fourth Stage, and the Brothers Dubé played Makerspace North ahead of their 18-date North American tour. We’re not without talent – it’s the other pieces of the puzzle in which we’re in shorter supply, for example, managers and promoters. The result is that people creating the art play many roles, which reduces the time and resources to focus on the craft.
Q. What lies ahead in terms of legal concerns?
A. Opportunities will come from new technology and innovation. Those opportunities have already started, for example, through easier access to more potential consumers. With opportunities come challenges, and concerns, including ensuring equitable compensation. As the tools and players get more sophisticated, there’s more potential for risk for the artist.
Q. Why do you put in this kind of time?
A. I moved from being a producer to an entertainment lawyer so that I could work on a variety of projects. Every day involves working on at least several files, and interacting with people in various disciplines at different stages of their career, all the while trying to add value from the context of legal services.
Being a board member of SAW Video for the last few years has given me the opportunity to get involved in the independent production scene. Writing a legal column for OTTAWA BEAT magazine encourages me to write about various music legal/business issues. Co-managing the Independent Music Business series (www.indepedentmusicbusiness.ca — the 20th session is on April 28) has allowed me the opportunity to think about what speakers would be of value for the local music industry. Being a board member of MEGAPHONO provides a glimpse into the music festival/conference realm. Being a board member of Artists’ Legal Services Ottawa allows me to learn more about the legal issues facing artists that I don’t come across on a day-to-day basis.
Q. What else should people know about the conference?
A. It’s happening on Saturday, May 5, at Arts Court. There’s a full day of programming from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The itinerary is available at artslawottawa.ca. Tickets are $25, include lunch, and for reasons including to ensure the catering all works out, it’s preferred to buy online asap at https://bit.ly/2F3XukK.
Q. How do you want people in Ottawa to support the arts?
A. Support artists. Go to shows. Buy an ad in the program for your business. Buy art. Attend premieres of locally made movies. Watch Ottawa-made programming online and on TV. Follow an arts blog. Invest money, time, resources, and more money. Buy a membership for an arts organization as a friend of the organization. Invest in our city’s arts community.