Home People Straight A’s for Effort: Artist, Advocate and Association Chapter President Lisa Shaftel...

Straight A’s for Effort: Artist, Advocate and Association Chapter President Lisa Shaftel Stands Up for the Graphic Artists Guild

“The Graphic Artists Guild is the only professional arts organization that engages in any sort of political advocacy and lobbying to make changes to the laws affecting artists,” notes the sagacious and elucidating Lisa Shaftel who has presided over the 160-member SPGA/Seattle Chapter (originally the Society of Professional Graphic Artists or SPGA) for the past two and a half years.

You get the feeling Lisa wouldn’t be there if the Guild didn’t have that raison d’etre. Thanks to her advocacy efforts and those of her colleagues at the Guild, a lot of the changes that have happened over the last 30 years, including the repeal of onerous sales taxes on artists’ professional services and residuals, and the fight against copyright infringement on the Internet, have come into being. These creative GAG crusaders have taken up a vital role not assumed by the AIGA, the Society of Illustrators, nor the ASMP.

A professional set designer and scenic artist who spent more than a decade creating scenery and props for Broadway shows, including props for the Broadway premier of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, Shaftel has traded the lime light of Broadway scenery for Northwest greenery. Her latest work can be seen in exhibits at the Seattle Space Needle for its 40th anniversary and for “Metropolis 150”, an exhibit celebrating Seattle’s 150th anniversary at the Museum of History and Industry.

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Two weeks ago, during Copyright Awareness Week 2002, Lisa led a delegation of board members of the SPGA/Seattle Chapter of the Guild, the Seattle ASMP, and the Seattle NWU into the offices of Senator Maria Cantwell to convey their memberships’ support on a host of red-hot legislative issues. She filled us in on the progress.

Seattle24x7: Lisa, what can you tell us about the current discussions in Congress related to protecting the copyrights of creative artists?
Shaftel: One important piece of legislation we were discussing with Senator Cantwell’s office was an amendment to Section 412 of the copyright law concerning the period of time within which a creator can register the copyright of their work. Our copyright laws have been amended numerous times since they were first written in our constitution in the 1700’s. The most recent one was in 1998. In the current amendment, what we would like to see revised is the length of time of copyright registration, the period of time a creator may register their copyright with the Library of Congress.

Seattle24x7: The technology keeps driving the lawmakers back to the drafting table.
Shaftel: In 1978, there was an amendment to include photocopying without permission of the copyright owner as copyright infringement. Well, there weren’t photocopiers when the original copyright laws were drafted but photocopying was commonplace for some time before 1978. The laws always lag behind what’s going on with our technological development and our business practices and we’re constantly in catching up mode.

Seattle24x7: How is the copyright law being updated?
Shaftel: As the law is written now a creator can only register the copyright of their work before the date that the work is published. For example, before it gets printed and sent out in a magazine, gets aired on television, or before the record is released. After the date that the work gets published, if the creator has not registered the copyright to their work, that copyright is then open and can be registered by somebody else, the publishing company or the producer, for example. The amendment that we’re seeking to Section 412 would extend the length of the period of time in which a creator can register the copyright to their work for up to 3 months after the first publication of the work. And we want this extension because our business practices have changed and everything happens very quickly now, For example, photographers are now often required to turn over their undeveloped film to their clients, so they don’t have a chance to make prints themselves and register their images before publication.

Seattle24x7: The digital process has abbreviated the timeframe.
Shaftel: It used to be an illustrator or photographer had a month or longer to work on their part of a project before it was due to be submitted to the publisher or the ad agency or whomever. Now, our deadlines are insane. We have a couple of days to get something out and we work in a digital format. Even if we work in traditional media it ends up being scanned and must exist in a digital format at the end of the process for publication or reproduction. We submit our work by E-mail in digital files which is instantaneous, which means it can then be produced instantaneously, even published on the Net immediately. So, because of the way business practices have changed now, we no longer even have that period of time before “publication” to register our work, so we’re seeking an extension.

Seattle24x7: What else are you advocating?
Shaftel: Another thing we spoke about was getting an exemption from existing anti-trust laws so that independent contractor creatives such as Graphic Artist Guild members and AMSP members can engage in collective bargaining for basic contractual terms including copyright terms, licensing and subsequent use terms with our clients and payments.

Seattle24x7: This is another issue whose time has come?
Shaftel: In the past 10-15 years as we all know, a lot of media companies and publishing companies have merged and become giant media conglomerates. It’s Time/Warner [and numerous partners] it’s Sony and an array of affiliates. Conde Nast now publishes about two dozen magazines. Once upon a time, our client used to be House and Garden magazine or the New Yorker magazine. Now, even though we may be making an illustration that’s going to go in the New Yorker, our client is not the New Yorker, it’s Conde Nast. Conde Nast offers one master contract that all contributors must sign regardless of which publication you’re actually submitting to. There’s no negotiating. If you don’t agree to and sign that one master contract, you’re not just forfeiting getting you work published in one magazine — you’ve eliminated your work from two dozen magazines.

Seattle24x7: You’re seeking a collective agreement of your own?
Shaftel: What we want to do is to be able to negotiate our version of a boilerplate contract that has basic copyright terms in it and basic bottom line wages. We’re not going to determine what someone should get paid because we can’t do that, we can’t determine the pay for independent business owners. But we can say that a Website designer should be paid not less than set pay, for example $75/hr., or an illustrator should be paid not less than $50 hour. And it’s then up to each individual to negotiate a higher wage if they want to. This would prevent a client from strong arming us into finding somebody who will agree to work for the lowest possible wages and the worst possible terms. That’s what our collective bargaining is about.

Seattle24x7: The Graphic Artists Guild is affiliated with the UAW, correct?
Shaftel: Yes, the UAW has selected smaller unions to affiliate with them. Unions that represent all different kinds of workers. We were brought in by the National Writer’s Union. So we offer that affiliation to all of our 4000-members nationwide

Seattle24x7: Thanks, Lisa, for your advocacy and your artistry.

Visual Artists interested in joining the Guild may do so by registering with the national office at http://www.gag.org/pages/join.html, Additional information about the Guilds advocacy efforts, including legislation, copyright infringement and the internet, and taxation can be found at the www.gag.org news page. For a Primer on the new copyright and collective bargaining issues see “Who do you anti-trust?” in Ignoramus. – Ed.