Growing the Economy in Mississippi’s Creative Economy

I recently started prepping for a day-long training on intellectual property law. I personally find the most compelling training sessions are those that not only teach you the material, but have a gimmick to help reinforce the concepts. With that in mind, I set out to find my gimmick.

As most of my ideas happen, it came from one of my lifelong friends and them indulging my nerd talk. I was lamenting about how I constantly run across artists, particularly musicians, who have been so happy to finally get the record deal and “the break” they lose sight, simply signing anything. The result is possibly good in the short-term, but in the long-term it depletes their fortune because of ownership rights. Hence, my idea – Intellectual Property is YOUR Fortune. Once I landed on the idea it spurred me thinking about the result to an overall state’s economy should these individuals give away their fortune.

This past year, the state of Mississippi adopted the idea it was “The Year of the Creative Economy.” Mississippi is home to the most GRAMMY® award winners and nominees like Faith Hill and Elvis Presley, celebrated novelists like William Faulkner and John Grisham, worldwide corporations helping creativity like Peavey Electronics and finally the Mississippi Film Office bringing Hollywood to the South in films like The Help, A Time to Kill and Get On Up. The creative economy in Mississippi is something that should be celebrated not only for what was given in the past, but for the fertile seeds it is planting for the future by way of film incentives.

The Mississippi Arts Commission and the Mississippi Development Authority did a great study, which can be found HERE. The study did include a section about pairing business type skills to the creatives, which was a good thing. But, for me, there was one piece overlooked – the intellectual property component. Unlike Los Angeles or New York, Mississippi does not have intellectual property attorneys on each block. I am one of a dozen people for the entire state. Mississippi does not have the luxury of organizations like Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts where creatives can go to the legal clinic and get free, or reduced fee, advice on how best to protect their creative works.

If our Mississippi artists are not given the tools to protect themselves on the intellectual property front, are we really helping Mississippi’s creative economy? Said another way, if those artists have signed away all of their rights to big corporations in other states (and perhaps some within), how does it help the state of Mississippi’s economy if they are unable to put food on the table for their families?

Fortune cookies that participants in my trainings win by playing a Jeopardy-style game.  Each cookie has a copyright law or trademark law fact.

Fortune cookies that participants in my trainings win by playing a Jeopardy-style game. Each cookie has a copyright law or trademark law fact.

Too often I meet incredible Mississippi musicians who helped to shape the funk and soul sound, shaped Blues music and living Gospel legends. These artists are well past the time in which they should be touring because they “have to.” They should be in the prime of their lives, setting up endowments for future Mississippi artists and enjoying their golden years from a life well lived. Unfortunately, though, they did not have the knowledge base or resources to protect themselves early in their career. A few bad moves, less than desirable contract terms and one-sided deals with record labels have left them with touring as their only option to continue to provide a living for themselves. American treasures skimping by on a few tour dollars.

Celebrating the creative economy is excellent. But, there is education still left to do. If we want to truly celebrate the creative economy of Mississippi and make sure future legends are not signing away all of their rights (their ability to earn money in the future), then we need to equip these communities with the tools necessary to educate. We also need to educate so that the best and brightest musicians, artists and film people do not pick up and leave Mississippi’s economy convinced the only way to get a fair deal with resources on hand is to move to one of the traditional entertainment hubs.  We also need to educate them that it is WAY more than simply registering a business name with their local Secretary of State.  They need to fully understand it is a bundle of rights given by way of the United States Trademark Office and U.S. Copyright Office that all states must yield to, regardless of location. For more on the local aspect read my earlier post on What’s The Value of a State Issued Trademark?

Those tools are especially needed in your non-entertainment business hubs, areas outside of Los Angeles and New York. As the decentralization of the entertainment business becomes even more prevalent, this need will expand across the country. You do not necessarily need to be in one of those traditional entertainment business hubs to create or to get your creative works to the rest of the world. This is not just a Mississippi problem, but one that all areas of the country will need to address as their own creative economies grow.  You can be sitting in Jackson, Mississippi, writing incredible music and with a few clicks publish it to the entire world.

It is not just about producing great creative content, but it is also about what you do with it once it is created. How do you protect it? How do you shape it so that it makes money for you? The creative economy should not be about simply adding to the body of creative work, but should truly be a discussion on how creativity adds to an overall economy. Without the intellectual property component, the “economy” part of creative economy will grow slowly and never contribute significantly to the overall bottom line.  Intellectual property is YOUR fortune, but it is also a state’s economic fortune.

What do you think is the answer to growing the knowledge base of intellectual property rights in non-entertainment hubs?  Take part in the Comments section below and Stay Tuned In!

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