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The Brief: An Introduction

I want to introduce myself: my name is Leslie Burns, and I’m a lawyer. I work with artists, usually visual artists, and many of those are photographers. I do copyright, contracts, and general small business law for my clients, but my work also intersects with areas like probate (wills and trusts) and family law (marriage/divorce). My job is to help my clients be more successful in doing what they love and to protect their rights. I practice preventive law as much as possible because it’s generally cheaper to avoid trouble than to fix it later.

If my name sounds familiar, it might be because I was a photographers’ marketing consultant, before I went to law school. I was even one of the consultants here with Agency Access. Before that, I was a rep and producer. In short, I’ve worked with creative pros since the 1990s, helping them run their businesses and market their work. All that experience means I understand your business intimately.

Much as I loved producing photoshoots, developing marketing plans for artists, and working with end-clients, I saw how the creative pros were often getting the short stick, and it ticked me off. Clients were often big companies with expensive lawyers. At the same time, the artists were small businesspeople who were giving their legal questions their best guesses and mostly feeling like they had no power. Like most studio managers, reps, and artists, back then, I learned about contracts, releases, copyright, etc., on the fly. I did okay, but I knew I wanted to go to law school to learn more and become an actual lawyer to help more. I finally made that happen by getting a full-ride scholarship to law school and then passing the notorious California Bar Exam on my first try (back when it was still three days of intellectual torture). Since then, I’ve been doing what I dreamed of back then: helping people exactly like you, every day.

Agency Access and I have decided to team up again: this time, I’ll be writing a regular series about the law for creative professionals. Don’t worry; these posts won’t be full of legalese and obnoxious case citations—they will be about real issues that people like you face (sometimes unknowingly) every day. While none of these posts will technically be legal advice (I can’t ethically do that except for my real clients), they will be educational, cover common issues in your industries, and I’ll offer solutions when possible. And they’ll be written in plain English.

These posts will be monthly, and I have several topics already in mind, but here is where you come in: you can submit topic ideas. Questions pop up all the time in business and, if you send yours, I might be able to give you some answers and help others like you in the process. I can’t answer specific legal questions like, “How should I respond to the attached letter I got from the IRS?” because that would be offering legal advice. However, I can answer general questions like “When does a photographer need to use a property release?” “Why should I bother making a will when I’m an artist and don’t have much?” “How might California’s AB5 or other states’ labor laws affect my work?” “How might marriage or divorce affect my creative business?” or “How good/bad are Instagram’s terms of service?” or “Why should I bother registering my copyrights?

If you have a question, I’m almost positive that others have similar ones, so by asking you might help your friends and colleagues, too. You can drop your topic ideas for me in the comments below.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you and writing these posts. If you want to stay in touch in the meanwhile, you can follow me on Twitter @BurnstheLawyer or visit my website at

©2020 Leslie Burns

Leslie Burns

Leslie Burns became a lawyer (licensed in California) after a career as a commercial photographers’ rep and consultant. Not surprisingly, her San Diego-based legal practice is centered on artists, especially photographers, whom she helps with copyright, small business, and other legal issues arising in their lives. She believes strongly in preventive and mindful lawyering, understanding that the best (and cheapest!) kind of legal help is the kind that prevents harm later. Learn more at Burns the Attorney or follow her on Twitter @burnsthelawyer.

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  • Guillermo munro “Memuco” - 1 year ago

    This Spanish Publication too0k my art and used it on their infographics. Can I do something?

    Best regards.

  • Leslie Burns - 1 year ago

    I can’t answer specific legal questions on this forum (it’s against ethics rules plus my legal advice is my “product” so I don’t give it away); but, I can say *generally* that foreign infringements need to be pursued in their own countries. Each case has its own set of facts, though, so you really should talk privately with your own attorney, to see what your options are. :-)