Focus On
Martha Rans

Canadian artists need better access to legal services: report

Thursday, July 02, 2020 @ 8:55 AM | By Donalee Moulton

The legal requirements of artists in Canada have now reached a critical tipping point heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Action is required to address gaps, respond to the unique needs of the sector and provide information and training, according to a new report prepared by the National Network of Legal Clinics for the Arts.

“We already know that for some artists getting legal advice is the difference between getting paid and not getting paid,” said Martha Rans, legal director of the Artists’ Legal Outreach (ALO) in Vancouver.

“It is a sector that gets little attention,” she added. “Most creators earn below the poverty line. … There is a gap in access to justice.”

Martha Rans, legal director of the Artists’ Legal Outreach in Vancouver

According to the 40-page report Now More Than Ever: Towards a National Network of Legal Clinics for the Arts, 90 per cent of the artists and arts organizations surveyed as part of a national needs assessment said their access to legal services is inadequate.

The most urgent concerns relate to copyright and contracts, issues that are interconnected, Rans noted. Among the issues identified by artists and arts organizations surveyed as part of a needs assessment were challenges in writing and enforcing contracts and navigating the digital landscape as technology changes rapidly and regulations do not. There were also questions related to Indigenous practices in the context of intellectual property rights, including questions about cultural appropriation.

Knowing how to run a business was also an area identified as significant in the report. “Artists have specialized business needs,” said Rans. Issues identified by those surveyed included requiring information about insurance and liability, taxes, and leases and rental agreements.

At present, according to Now More Than Ever, the use of online materials is the most frequently used method for artists and organizations to access legal information. Still half of all artists and almost a third of all organizations reported that they had not accessed any of the existing online resources for legal information.

The report identified strong support for accessing services through a legal clinic, and of the 55 lawyers who responded to an online survey, 77 per cent said while they are not currently involved in such a clinic they would be interested in doing so. The report concluded that Canadian artists are currently struggling with a fragmented legal services structure that is making it hard for existing service providers to meet artists’ legal needs.

“We live in a country where many artists reside in rural and remote communities; where many artists are Indigenous, racialized, or are from other historically marginalized priority groups; and where the COVID-19 crisis continues to worsen artists’ precarious economic situation,” the report stated.

What is needed next is a commitment from government to address this issue, said Rans. She also called on the profession to step up. “It is an opportunity for the legal profession to engage with this area of need.”

One way to do that is through managed pro bono opportunities. “We need a system that provides ongoing credible support. We’d like to see mandatory pro bono in every province,” Rans said.

She also pointed out that COVID-19 has given the legal profession an opportunity to reassess how it delivers services. For example, ALO has been providing virtual legal assistance for years out of financial need, now the profession is more deeply exploring this option during the pandemic. “We have the capacity to deliver service in a whole new way,” said Rans.

Data in the Now More Than Ever report comes from a national legal needs assessment that surveyed more than 1,150 Canadian artists and arts organizations as well as legal experts working in the sector and included a series of focus groups.