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How to Do Your Part To Save the Arts

As a songwriter from East Tennessee, growing up in a small town with a lot of cousins, it's easy to think that everyone knows everybody.

This was an assumption confirmed after moving to Nashville as my dad started running in Music Row circles, everyone knows everybody.

Berklee College of Music graduation 1999 with honorary doctorate David Bowie shaking hands with music business / management magna cum laude graduate Amanda Colleen Williams
Shaking hands with David Bowie at college graduation

As I stretched out into the world of Nashville, the assumption that everyone knows everybody was reinforced at every turn, even after I moved to Boston for college.

Maybe it's because all the circles I've run in have been relatively small, or maybe it's the product of selective attention, but whatever the cause, I continue to operate even today with the underlying assumption, no, expectation, that everyone knows everybody.

That's why it came as a surprise to me to realize that this is not always the case.

When I started getting involved with education in the field of songwriting and music business, I was quickly recruited by rights advocacy groups to explain copyright in 2 minutes or less.

This became my calling card and found me invited to sit on panels focused on intellectual property rights enforcement. I found this funny, because my intention was not to act as an enforcer, but as an educator.

Dr. David Lowery, Amanda Colleen Williams, Dennis Polattie
Dr. David Lowery, Amanda Colleen Williams, Dennis Polattie

My colleagues including the esteemed Dr. David Lowery of University of Georgia's Terry College of Business assured me that my teaching was a powerful form of rights enforcement, because it made people reassess their pre-existing ideas about the importance of copyright and other key IP rights, and as a result many voluntarily stopped illegal downloading, file sharing and piracy acts in which they may have been previously engaged.

This was a revelation for me and boosted my confidence about the effectiveness of my programs.

During this time after performing at the Bluebird Cafe (owned by NSAI - Nashville Songwriters Association International), I met Kate Bentley of the U.S. Department of State who was attending the show.

I had mentioned my education work during the concert, and she picked up the thread when we started talking and offered to introduce me to a few of her friends in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Office at State.

In the round at Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, TN Benita Hill, Amanda Colleen Williams, Becky Hobbs at Alive Hospice benefit
In the round at Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, TN

As fate would have it, the acting Director of Cultural Affairs at that time was Jay Raman.

During our email introduction, Jay told me he was scheduled to speak at an upcoming Artist Rights Symposium at Terry College and asked me about some of the themes of interest he should include in his panel presentation.

I told him we could talk about it there, as I was also scheduled to speak on a panel at the same event. Talk about synchronicity and small world!

Unfortunately, Jay was not able to attend the Symposium because the government shut down at that same time, and during those instances, no government employee is supposed to check email, let alone travel.

USPTO GIPA Copyright Seminar 2017 panel
USPTO GIPA Copyright Seminar 2017 panel

After the event, I reached back out to Jay and let him know I was sorry to not get the chance to meet him. On this occasion, I asked if he knew my other U.S. Department of State friend, Mr. Joseph Giblin of the Office of Intellectual Property Enforcement.

I had met Joe at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Copyright Seminar in 2017 where I spoke on a panel with a bunch of attorneys from NMPA, DiMA, RIAA and the U.S. Copyright Office.

The small town songwriter kid was looking around at my esteemed company, and feeling a bit intimidated, until I realized that I was the only one representing songwriters and creators that actually makes a living from monetizing that work personally.

That made me feel more confident in my inherent, intimate understanding of the importance of copyright and keeping IP protections strong around the world to support the families of my fellow creators.

Joe was impressed by my presentation, and after the USPTO panel, we kept in touch.

In connecting with Jay via email, I asked if he knew Joe, assuming that he did. My naive small town everyone knows everybody mindset was at work here, not realizing that the U.S. Department of State is a giant, mighty, and widespread amalgam of individuals slung all over the world.

No, they didn't know each other! What a surprise! I had the honor of connecting the two men, and their two offices.

Arts Envoy IPR Romania 2018 visiting with high school students in Sibiu Amanda Colleen Williams pilot
Arts Envoy IPR Romania 2018

By mid 2018, Joe and Jay reached back out to me to propose a new pilot program they had concocted with their respective teams to be called Arts Envoy IPR (intellectual property rights).

They wanted to combine the existing Arts Envoy program from Cultural Affairs with intellectual property rights education supported by the Office of IP Enforcement, and wanted me to help develop and pilot the program.

I was delighted, and gladly accepted the challenge, becoming the first ever Arts Envoy IPR delegate to make an international visit in the world. Pretty cool for a small town songwriter from East Tennessee.

Arts Envoy IPR Kingston, Jamaica working with future teachers at MICO University
Arts Envoy IPR Kingston, Jamaica

Over the years, I have continued to work with the State Department on several Arts Envoy IPR trips to Romania and Jamaica, and a virtual visit to Ukraine, educating creatives, government workers, attorneys and others about the importance of respecting intellectual property rights for economic stability and mutual benefit.

With the current instability in the world and certain areas unavailable for travel, I am now turning my attention to remote presentations, enabling me to continue this important work in a way that saves money, travel, time and resources, and allows us to impact even more people with the message of the importance of respecting IP.

Respect is one of those guiding principles author Stephen Covey talks about in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He defines a principle as something that is both timeless and self-evident.

Timeless means that no matter when, the principle applies, past, present or future, in the grocery store line, doctor's office, privacy of your own home, and in online interactions. All the time.

Self-evident means that in order to have the quality, you have to do unto others the way you want them to do unto you.

So, if you want others to respect your intellectual property, you have to respect the IP of others, too. You can't have respect if you don't operate with respect yourself.

With IP this is a simple, but powerfully mighty indicator of whether or not companies are operating with the best intentions for the whole.

It's easy for people to shout, intimidate and argue about the virtues of the public good, but when that "public good" takes money out of the hands of the people who create the good in the first place, there is a problem.

The problem is reciprocity, and this is a great measure of effectiveness of any program, especially those presented by huge businesses.

Are they walking the walk? Are they protecting their IP, but taking everyone else's for free because "fair use"?

Can't have both, Boys.

If you want your IP protected, you have to protect and respect others'.

Arts Envoy IPR Kingston, Jamaica Amanda Colleen Williams working with area high school students
Arts Envoy IPR Kingston, Jamaica

That means paying for licensing fees, paying musicians, journalists, photographers, authors and dare I say software coders the same way you want them to pay you, through a fair use of statutory licensing fees and sustainable fair use of advertising fees collected as IP is passed around the internet.

Doing away with sane, practical copyright protections is a mistake, and allowing anyone to get away with stealing it is not only damaging in the short term because of the loss of revenue, market share, and ability of the creative sector to be economically self-sustaining due to a 20 year running uncorrected externality (look this up in an economic dictionary - I had to), but in the long term as character values are eroded.

Stealing is wrong, and it is wrong every time it is done. Even stealing online is wrong, because it quickly becomes common place, and leads to unethical behaviors in other areas, just as law enforcement officers have proven that keeping areas clean and free of litter, graffiti and other petty crimes helps do away with the bigger crimes.

Panel at University of Georgia Artist Rights Symposium
Panel at University of Georgia Artist Rights Symposium

Speaking of bigger crimes, did you know that many who pirate intellectual property online and with physical goods are actually supporting organized criminal activity?

Think about it... what better way to make a dime than to take someone else's intellectual property, make it into a physical product, and then sell it without paying the ones who invested in the creation of that property - that song, photo, book, software, etc.

So, the next time you feel like getting that movie or song for free on "one of those sites" think about how you're helping to support things like human trafficking. Pretty dark, huh?

Choking the funding supply to these parasitic entities (pirates) who suck the life's blood out of the creative economy is the responsibility of all of us, not just law enforcement, not just the U.S. Department of State, not just the RIAA and their cadre of lawyers.

It's a small world after all, as the Disney slogan states. We are all in this together, whether you create intellectual property, protect it, enjoy it, or make a living from moving it around the internet, scraping data from its users and selling it back to them in advertising.

Let's work together to give the future creative class a chance to exist and build sustainable careers, and let's protect intellectual property rights for everybody, not just the big boys.

The U.S. economy is largely made up of small businesses, just like mine, just like yours. If you create art, you can monetize that work by employing your intellectual property, but we have to make sure those protections are protected.

If you don't monetize your work yourself, the internet companies that serve your work up to the general public take and keep all the money. Did you know that?

So, if you're writing, drawing, painting, coding for the greater good, it's imperative that you take responsibility to steward your work.

Not doing so takes money out of your family's pocket and gives it to... who knows? Do you?

Did you know that many of those advertisements you see online are paid for by the companies doing the advertising at upwards of $10 per click?

How much money does your original song earn per click?

Yeah, let's figure that out.

Intellectual Property Rights are the key to the future of creative work. Don't sell yourself short or give up yours without fully understanding the implications.


Learn more about the Arts Envoy IPR program and see photo journals from our trips here:


Learn more about songwriting and music business entrepreneurship at

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