M.J. Bogatin

I always wanted to work in the arts. As a kid growing up in Memphis, I loved theatre, music and visual art — but most of all, literature. This love inspired me to pursue a BA in English at Duke, including a wonderful junior year abroad at Warwick University, (U.K.), and an M.A. in Comparative Literature at Essex University, (U.K.), all in the mid 70s. Given the opportunity to continue in the academic setting as a teacher, another “art” which I truly enjoy, I decided instead to test myself in “the real world.” If I couldn’t hack it as a musician or author, I figured I could forge a career as an arts administrator or become a professor after all.

A stint with a regional Arts Council led me to apply for an internship with the National Endowment for the Arts. As the only finalist without an M.A.A., Nancy Hanks, the NEA Director, recommended I attend a year of law school, and return to be an intern. However, that year at Denver University School of Law was a revelation. Not only did I learn the value of critical analysis, I discovered Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and, in particular, Bay Area Lawyers for the Arts (BALA) in California. I also realized that if I pressed, I could earn enough law school credits to graduate in another year and a half. A law school externship at BALA led to an initial offer of employment in San Francisco upon my graduation in 1980. I had found my professional niche in the arts — in the place I always wanted to live.

I worked for BALA (now California Lawyers for the Arts — CLA) while studying for the California Bar Exam, then, in 1981, took an associate position with Willdorf and Stevens, a small San Francisco civil practice which supported my individual development of an arts/ Intellectual Property (IP) practice. As an associate, I became well grounded in personal injury, real estate and contracts law, including litigation practice. Beginning in 1989, I started my own Arts, Entertainment, IP and Personal Injury (PI) practice. The PI practice was always a welcome financial support to the arts law practice since, in accord with the referral practice of CLA, I have always made a concerted effort to provide low cost legal services to artists who could not afford full hourly rates.   I am proud that I was elected to serve as the President of CLA for the last eight years.

In conjunction with my interest in, and support of the arts, I have had the pleasure and privilege of serving on the boards of directors of many San Francisco Bay Area non-profit arts organizations including Life on the Water and Climate theatres, and have advised and/or served as counsel to many others including Art Span and ProArts (Open Studios), Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Berkeley Playhouse, Brava Theater Center, Central Works, Children’s Book Press, Crosspulse, Cultural Odyssey, First Voice, New Century Chamber Orchestra, Overtone Industries, the San Francisco International Arts Festival, the San Francisco Mime Troupe,  and Shotgun Players.

In addition, for almost 30 years now, I have served as a speaker on dozens of topics for CLA, including Artist-Gallery Agreements, Fine Arts Sales Agreements, Artist-Agent relations, Collaboration Agreements, Business Formation, Partnerships and Joint Ventures, Authors and Publishing Agreements, Non-profit incorporation, Music Agreements, Art Conservation Agreements, Public Art and Muralists’ Rights. I have lectured on artists’ rights at all the area art schools including the San Francisco Art Institute, California College of Arts and at the Academy of Arts College. I have been a featured speaker on three occasions at the national CLE International Visual Arts and the Law Conference in New Mexico, where my specialty topic is Artists’ Moral Rights and the Federal Visual Artist Rights Act of 1990.  For the last few years I have maintained Bo’s bLAWg focusing on licensing rights.

Indeed, Artists’ Moral Rights have become a sub-specialty of my practice. I have represented dozens of muralists and other fine artists whose works have been damaged or destroyed, and have successfully negotiated settlements involving the repair or replacement of artworks. Where repair or replacement was not available, I have obtained cash settlements for my clients, usually well in excess of the fee for the original commission.

As may be apparent from this personal statement, I believe strongly in my clients’ work and legal rights, and fight hard to obtain the best results possible for them, whether the matter is transaction or litigation-based, and regardless of whether the financial stake is big or small. As a fifth-generation Memphian (whose attorney father enjoyed over 55 years of practice there) with some apparently innate gambling instincts, I enjoy both the negotiation process and the contest of litigation, and pride myself on obtaining the best possible contract terms, claim settlements or litigation results for my clients.

I also take pains to educate clients about the legal issues of their arts business. Since artists are often not “up to speed” on their rights, I can also usually recommend an appropriate legal book for laypersons. Given the growing complexity of the arts business, especially with the introduction of the arts online and the multi-media explosion, I believe it is more important than ever for artists to obtain a general sense of the critical IP business issues they face, including copyright, trademark and licensing. It has been my experience that the more clients can learn about these underlying legal issues, the more they can expect to profit in their very competitive markets. I repeatedly make the point: “You don’t have to give up your copyright; however, if you do, let’s get the best price available. Your coat of many colors should fetch a lot more than a bowl full of pottage.”

As you may have gathered by now, I love my legal practice and the work I am privileged to do. If this weren’t the case, I simply would not practice law. As my clients have demonstrated, there are so many fascinating things to do in the world! I invite you to contact me at bogatin@bcgattorneys.com to discuss how I might be of assistance to you.


Please click here to view M.J. Bogatin’s list of publications and presentations

Please click here to view M.J. Bogatin’s list of representative clients