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Arts and Culture Public Officials Breakfast 2015

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10 things to know about arts event planning

After news broke of the undercover police raid at Loren Naji’s art gallery back in May, among the many concerned arts professionals were the attorneys at the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (VLA). In the interest of educating artists and nonprofits about an area of widespread public concern, the VLA decided to hold a free seminar about the legal issues and risks in hosting an event. The VLA teamed up with SPACES (which had faced similar challenges a few years back) and CPAC to serve that need. Given that 95 of the arts and culture nonprofits in Cuyahoga County could fill 16.1 terminal towers, we should probably be aware of the risks of filling that space at our events.

I was surprised by a few of the requirements myself as I listened to attorneys George Carr and John Neal discuss permits and intellectual property issues. Here are just a few notes that you might want to think about the next time you invite some folks to check out your work.

Quick disclaimer: I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. I’m happy to report on this really great event for those who couldn’t attend, but I am far from an expert on the subject. Please contact an attorney if you have any questions at all or are facing a dispute related to any of these issues. 

1. You can only get a temporary alcohol permit if you are a nonprofit charitable cause

The number one rule is you must have a permit for the “sale” of alcohol (see #2). The only way to get a temporary permit is to be a nonprofit. Otherwise you can host an event at a bar or restaurant that has a long-term permit. So keep your network open to both for-profit and nonprofit arts orgs.

2. The “Sale” of alcohol is not just the sale of alcohol

The law defines the sale of alcohol - in not-so-many words - as any place where a commercial transaction is involved. So even if you are giving away alcohol, but are selling art, receiving donations or getting gifts, or even offering a sale that never materializes (it happens to the best of us), it is still considered “selling” alcohol. But if it’s a private party on private space and you’re giving away alcohol, you shouldn’t have a problem with the liquor agencies.

3. “Public” is yet another word you should be clear about

If you have a guest list, limited number of entries, registration, etc., you can apply for an alcohol permit. However, if your opening really is open to the public - meaning anyone can come and go - you may be in conflict with the permit regulations, even if it is a private place of business. Interesting side note though: if you have a party at a place of RESIDENCE with 50 people or less, and are selling alcohol for a charitable or educational cause, this is legal, but you still need to be aware of public consumption laws, noise ordinances, etc.

4. BYOB is not a good idea

If you know people are bringing alcohol and you don’t have a permit, you are liable; they are subject to open container laws. If you are one to argue that you know of a BYOB place that is going strong, you should be well aware that it could be trouble. In other words it’s a law that is typically enforced if and when it becomes a problem.

5. Hire local musicians

Intellectual property is also subject to permits and rights. If you want music at your event, you may be liable for copyright infringement. The easiest way around this is to hire a band that writes original music rather than a DJ. Even if the music is streaming on YouTube, Spotify or Pandora, their copyright agreements may only be intended for private viewing, and may not include rights to public streaming. You can also purchase a special events license from ASCAP to play music out of the ASCAP library. 

6. Just because it’s educational does not make it Fair Use

Fair use exceptions to intellectual property allow you to use work for charitable or educational purposes, but the Fair Use laws are open to interpretation. For example, if you copy the pages in a book to distribute at your event, you may very well be infringing on copyright laws.

7. You may get a different answer depending on who you call

When you’re planning an event, it’s always best to ask if you don’t know right? Well there are many different departments at every legislative level. For state liquor control alone, there are 5 major players (Ohio Division of Liquor Control; OH Liquor Control Commission; Ohio Department of Public Safety; State and Local Police; Department of Taxation) Even depending on who picks up the phone in that department, you may get varying responses based on “what they’ve always done.” Always call back and ask again, at least once, so if there are discrepancies, it can be brought to the Ohio Attorney General for an opinion. However…

8. If you get a wrong answer from one person, it is not necessarily a defense

If you do end up getting cited for not complying with permits, ordinances, or other laws, you cannot defend it by saying “I asked so and so and s/he said xyz.” If it’s in the law, you have to abide by the rules. So the best thing you can do is…

9. Protect yourself

Temporary event insurance is available; insure the risks; mitigate liability. Insurance is cheap compared to the costs associated with defending yourself against a legal claim. Associate yourself as an entity so you don’t put your personal assets at risk (either nonprofit or small LLC are great options, but which one to go with largely depends on your mission and purpose). Having a lawyer on your board of trustees also helps as you think about your organizational structure. Try to cover your bases and set yourself up with some backup plans.

10. Use the resources available to you

We are busy people! And us creative minds are almost always moving from one idea to the next. There is never 100% certainty that you can completely avoid risk when you have a lot of people—or even just a few—at your place. Creative Compass offers all kinds of information and guides and lists of nonprofit services to get you on track; and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts are always just a phone call away.

Categories: audience, Best Practices, Cleveland, community organizing, legal, Music, network, resources

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