Going Back To School

When E-Learning Makes Sense

How To Wow With Customer Service

Find And Keep The Perfect Employee

How Artists Can Protect Their Property

Ante Up for Children

Corrections or additions?

These articles by Bart Jackson, Jack Florek, and Michele Alperin were prepared for the March 8, 2006 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Survival Guide

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Going Back To School

You are one of the smart ones. You realize that learning is a lifelong process that doesn’t end when you accept your last sheepskin. Now that you’ve been out in the world, you want to return and gain some more knowledge. Maybe it’s job retraining, something the average American will do an estimated six times during his career. Perhaps it’s to shift laterally or to obtain some necessary degree demanded for promotion. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and you feel like you are running a season behind.

Older students can find a return to the classroom daunting, but may find a primer on making the transition at "Challenges Faced by Adult Students Returning to School," on Thursday, March 9, at 6 p.m. at Tiffany’s restaurant in Mercerville. Cost: $20. Call 609-627-5915 or visit www.iaap.org. Sponsored by the International Association of Administrative Professionals, this talk features Todd Sibens, senior program advisor for liberal arts and sciences at Thomas Edison State College.

Sibens’ own resume vividly mirrors that of many of the students he advises. Born in Brooklyn, he moved to Mercer County, where he enrolled in Mercer County Community College with a "Why am I here?" attitude. "I was 17, had no idea of what I wanted to study, and I discovered, not surprisingly, that studying was hard work," he says. Within months, Sibens had dropped out and found himself working through a host of tedious odd jobs. This experience taught him what he definitely did not want to do with his life.

Returning to MCCC, he earned his two year degree, followed by a B.A. in contemporary arts from Ramapo College. After gaining his master’s in student personnel administration from Columbia University, Sibens did what he terms his "tour of duty in higher ed administration." From Buffalo to Arizona, he advised college students in every aspect of their student lives. Finally he came to rest back at MCCC for a 10-year stint as advisor and then moved to Thomas Edison College. On the side, he has worked as a resume writer and executive head hunter.

An endless parade of bewildered students now tromp through Sibens’ office, each repeating the old familiar dialogue.

Student: I don’t know. What do you think I should major in?

Sibens: Philosophy. Definitely philosophy.

Student: What! I hate philosophy. Why should I pick that?

Sibens: Well, I love philosophy. You asked a question, that was my answer. What topics do you like?

Student: Well, I’ve always been fascinated with psychology.

Sibens: You like psychology. We offer psychology. What do you think you should major in?

Dumb as this little dialogue may sound, the student is less stupid than confused. All his days, people have been telling him where the money majors are (think The Graduate), what skills a particular company needs for the fast track, or what studies they, his informal advisors, especially enjoyed. None of that is relevant.

The returning student knows a great deal. He has been out in the world. He has seen appealing work – and less appealing work. He has seen just what education can do – and cannot do. He is far more serious about studying than he ever has been. He is ready. Now he needs to know where to go and how to get through this new hitch in academe.

Collegeaphobia. Since soldiers came home from serving in World War II and went back to school on the G.I. Bill, every older student has worried about standing out in classrooms full of teen-agers. But times have changed. Both private colleges and public universities have classrooms liberally spiced with life-experienced students. The young students have grown used to the salt-and-pepper coifs, and instructors have grown more sympathetic to the schedules of working students. Sibens notes that one Edison student finally rounded out his degree at the tender age of 86. You are not alone.

The mature, returning student has made himself more welcome because typically he is more directed and more determined. One tip, however. Your additional life experience does not require sharing at every opportunity. This is time for you to hold back your own pearls of wisdom and listen to those of others.

What to take? Whether tacitly or openly stated, many employees get the message that their upward mobility is over unless they obtain another degree. In most cases, any course of study is open to them. Sometimes, particularly when companies are helping fund the education, the degree must be within a range of study or even focused on specific skills.

"The great change is that all colleges have a much larger array of courses within each field," says Sibens. If your firm mandates a science degree, you may choose nutrition, environmental science, or anthropology as a major.

Your best bet is to follow Sibens’ maxim and go with what major interests you most. Take the one course that sounds most intriguing. Then, if you enjoy the course, take six more courses in that field. "At that point, you have seven successes in academia and you should feel ready to take on the world," says Sibens.

Guts and a bottle. Whether it’s history with all those incomprehensible dates and wars, or astronomy with its complex math, some course is bound to overwhelm you. Sibens’ advice is to "go out and get a giant bottle of Pepto-Bismol." Choke it down and just plow through it. View this course as medicine. "You don’t have to like it," says Sibens. "You just have to deal with it. That’s what adults do."

Yet before you enter this terrifying course with teeth clenched, you might ask yourself why it terrifies you. You’re certainly not the same person with the same skills as you were when you got straight Ds in high school math. Granted, studying is the kind of hard labor that you have not shouldered in a long while. But Sibens notes that there is a difference between incapability and rust. More often than not, a student has the ability; it has merely grown rusty through want of use.

Finally, however much you may loathe this course, always show bewilderment, not distaste. Teachers and fellow students are much more likely to offer aid to the confused than to the openly sour.

Should you study in space? Most returning students find themselves juggling at least part of their former work schedule with the new load of classes. Today over 500 colleges and universities offer some forms of at-home learning. It works well for some students, and less well for others. Some students can only learn in a classroom, where the teacher is visible and classmates are on hand to provide insight. Some find this face-to-face interaction vital. Others find less distraction in their own home or office working on their own time.

Fortunately, it need not be a strictly either/or choice. Most programs offer a blend of in and out-of-class experience. In some cases, classes are done online or via mail at home, while labs, consultations, and exams are performed on campus. Most colleges at the student center or library provide free tutoring by fellow students.

Commuters face a special challenge, but nothing insurmountable, insists Sibens. The student who works in New York and lives in Princeton has no excuses. He can stay late at the office and, using his company computer or laptop, set up a distance learning study schedule. And guess what? They actually have colleges in New York. Manhattan Community College, as part of CUNY, offers a full range of courses, many of which can be blended with those of MCCC or Middlesex County College.

Going back to school takes commitment, time management skills, and, at least at first, some courage. The payback should be a greater range of career options, often at higher pay. But that’s not all. If you see learning as lifelong opportunity, you may find yourself not just with a bigger paycheck, but also with a richer life.

– Bart Jackson

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When E-Learning Makes Sense

Training is still in, but weeklong seminars off site are mostly out. Many businesses simply can’t afford that kind of training anymore. "The days of sending 50 top salespeople to a sales training class for a week are becoming few and far between," says Peter Vloyanetes, president of Compass Communications in Long Branch.

E-learning is one alternative that businesses are pursuing, and if handled correctly, E-learning can save companies tens of thousands of dollars. But it can waste money. Maybe because E-learning is perceived as the "in" method in today’s technologically driven society, companies may jump in before they have assessed the need.

Vloyanetes, who advises Fortune 1000 companies on E-learning solutions for organizational and individual performance improvement, is one of the facilitators at a workshop on "Implementing E-learning in Your Organization" on Thursday, March 9. The 8:30 a.m. event is sponsored by the Northern New Jersey Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (NNJ-ASTD) and takes place at Micro Strategies, 104 Broadway, Denville. Cost: $195 for nonmembers. To register or for more information, go to www.njastd.org or contact Theresa Smith at 201-568-0019 or tsmith@brightmoment.com.

E-learning is the delivery of information, learning, or training via technology, usually via the Internet. The premise for its effectiveness has its roots in adult learning theory. "Adults like to manage their own learning," says Vloyanetes, "and they are not well adapted to sitting in a classroom and listening to someone lecture." Because most E-learning is now on the Internet, users can be networked and management can track teachers and learners, costs, and test scores online.

E-learning’s biggest advantage over conference-based learning is its flexibility. It can take place anywhere, so it is not necessary to take a large number of people away from their jobs for an extended period. E-learning also saves on travel and facilities and keeps productivity at a high level. As Vloyanetes points out, "if those 50 sales people can do the training on their own in the next month and at the end of the month, they are fully trained, then you are keeping them updated but are not losing productivity."

E-learning can also reduce learning time. Vloyanetes consulted with an entertainment company that had to train 800 managers on the handling of consumer data, including issues of how to maintain confidentiality and purge obsolete data. This training was critical from a management perspective, because it touched on corporate integrity and governance. When Vloyanetes arrived, the company already had begun training: instructors met with groups of five to fifteen employees and spent three-to-four hours walking them through the regulations.

The head of compliance asked Vloyanetes’s company to develop an E-learning solution. Vloyanetes and his colleagues were able to create a 40-minute course, put it on a server, and deliver it in one month. "We were able to compress the text-based course into pictures, symbols, icons, and graphics," he says. Users had to get 90 percent correct on the final test. The result? "We came up with a $1 million savings in delivery, facility, time, travel, and lost opportunity, and it cost only $50,000 to develop and deliver the course."

E-learning comes in three formats:

Synchronous delivery, which is live and requires the learner to get the training at a specific time and place. The advantages are that participants can ask questions, do exercises, and have group discussions, but, says Vloyanetes, "they are locked into traveling with the pack."

Asynchronous delivery, which is on demand and comprises training that is instructor-led, but has been "archived" or "saved" so that learners can listen when and where it is convenient for them. "If the program is well designed," says Vloyanetes, "users can go back and review parts of the lecture of the most interest."

Asynchronous, self-paced. "In my mind this is the true beauty of E-learning, because people can take it when and how they want to take it," says Vloyanetes. The E-learning is easy to use and can be broken up into labeled learning segments.

Organizations must follow a careful process in order to deliver E-learning successfully.

Don’t put the cart before the horse. It’s an old adage, but very true in this case. Companies often decide they need to do E-learning, but don’t think it through before they purchase a tool. "They buy the technology and try to back-fit the goals," says Vloyanetes. "They wind up trying to adapt the technology by adding more technology."

Develop an E-learning plan. It should cover the E-learning from the beginning of the process to the roll-out of the course.

Start by specifying the goals. "Make sure you present a logical business case of why you are going to use E-learning," says Vloyanetes. What are you trying to accomplish? What kinds of performance improvement do you expect? What will the content look like and feel like? Are you trying to teach a specific skill or behavior? What return on investment are you looking for?

"You may be able to accomplish your goals in a class and not need technology," says Vloyanetes. For example, because E-learning is very expensive to produce, it probably does not make sense to train small groups, where a classroom with an expert in instructional design or even a text-based three-ring binder may be all that is necessary.

Decide whether E-learning or more traditional modes make sense. First ask: How important is the skill? If liability or profitability is involved, E-learning may be a worthwhile investment. Suppose that 3,000 people in a pharmaceutical company need to learn about FDA criteria for the use of electronic records and signatures during drug development.

If a pharmaceutical fails to keep detailed records from the start of the process through submission, it risks having the drug rejected. "This is a `mission critical’ piece of training," says Vloyanetes, "with billions of dollars in the balance." In this case, developing an E-learning course is a bargain, especially if the people who need the training are in Europe and all over North America and need to be trained in the next 60 days.

Consider a blended approach. In some situations, it is a good idea to combine classroom instruction with E-learning and mentoring. Vloyanetes did a project for Century 21 Real Estate where E-learning on basic skill building, such as getting and preparing for listings, was delivered via the Internet. The instruction included homework. Classroom follow-up was virtual, with small groups discussing the content and how it applied to their own selling situations.

Ensure buy-in of top management. Both to protect yourself and to ensure support for the training effort, make sure you have top management’s buy-in. "Technology is a sore thumb," says Vloyanetes. "If it doesn’t work, it screams out to everybody."

Promote the E-learning properly and manage expectations. "Within the E-learning plan should be a communications plan," says Vloyanetes. From top management down to the employees, the change management issue must be addressed, and the learners must understand what’s in it for them – flexible time for the training and segments that can be reviewed as necessary before moving on or taking the test.

Test the content with a subject matter expert. Run a usability test with a small group from the target audience. Check on any navigation problems and make sure the content makes sense to the learners. If there are any problems, revise the test until it becomes completely user friendly.

Vloyanetes grew up in West Long Branch. He attended Monmouth University, graduated from Stockton State College in environmental science with a specialty in wildlife biology in 1975, and recently finished an online master’s certification in education with a specialty in E-learning from Cappella University.

In the early 1980s he worked for a video production company. "I liked how you could apply video in a business environment to communicate and train," he says. Then he started his own company in New York City, American Business Images, which developed training and business communication for companies like Lancome Cosmetics, L’Oreal, and Tiffany. He sold that business and started the Computer Learning Institute in the early 1990s. That company did classroom training on Microsoft applications for businesses as well as for Fort Monmouth.

Then he got interested in E-learning, thinking "there must be a better way to deliver learning." In the mid-to late 1990s, he worked for TvPath, which delivered video programming via the Internet, and he developed an E-learning practice for them. When TvPath was sold a year and a half ago, he went back on his own with Compass Communications (compass-communications.net). He is also the chairperson for the E-learning Special Interest Group of NNJ-ASTD.

"In today’s business world there is a tremendous amount of information that must get out to employees and a constant need to update skills on new and complicated products and processes," says Vloyanetes.

"People approach E-learning as a technology solution," observes Vloyanetes, "but it’s a people solution."

– Michele Alperin

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How To Wow With Customer Service

What is it about customer service that drives everybody nuts? Polls show that it plays an enormously important role for any business hoping to garner repeat business. Other polls indicate that nothing will make customers turn on their heels and flee faster than bad customer service. So why is it that most people say that the quality of customer service is plummeting faster than a crooked politician’s approval rating?

"The most common mistake that businesses make is they think that good customer service is easy to do," says Phil Cooper, president of Cooper Pest Solutions, based at 351 Lawrence Station Road. "Most organizations think that it is just common sense and that if they tell their employees to be nice and friendly, then they will be able to deliver the excellent customer service experience. It is definitely not that simple."

Cooper speaks on "Customer Service and Client Retention: Why Customer Service Is So Mediocre Today" on Thursday, March 9, at 6 p.m., at the Harrison Conference Center at Merrill Lynch. Cost: $40. The event is sponsored by the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners (NJAWBO). Call 609-924-7975 for more information.

The seminar offers examples of client resolution/problem resolution gone bad; how to find opportunities when clients have problems; steps necessary in problem resolution; how to practice the skills necessary to enhance client retention; and how put it all together and produce "the WOW moment" with an upset client.

For Cooper it all comes down to one word: "Wow!" He says that customer service is a process, and that it has paid dividends for his company. Cooper Pest Solutions – which was started in 1955 by his father, Theodore Cooper – was nominated by Commerce Bank last year for the "Family Business of the Year Award." Given annually by Fairleigh Dickinson University and the Roth Institute, the award is based on judges’ assessment of each business’s customer service record, community contributions, how much it gives back to their employees, and business integrity. "We were a semifinalist and the only company in Mercer County so named," says Cooper. "There will be a new application this year, and I think we have an excellent chance of winning it."

According to Cooper, customer service is not a superficial covering that a business puts on to make itself more appealing to potential clients, but something that is generated from its very core. "There needs to be a culture of good customer service," says Cooper. "If you tell your employees to smile and you don’t back up everything that you do with that consistent message, it won’t work."

At many companies the job of customer service is left to those working at the lowest rung of the company ladder. But, according to Cooper, that first face a potential client encounters often makes the difference between big business and no business. "At our company, we don’t have a receptionist," he says. "We have a director of first impressions." That would be Anna Andrews. "That may sound over the top, but we really mean it," says Cooper. "At some organizations a receptionist is an entry-level position. In our organization it is absolutely not an entry-level position. We believe that it is one of the most important positions in the company."

Another mistake businesses often make is to crack the company whip and insist employees give good customer service whether they like it or not. This is the wrong approach, says Cooper. "You constantly need to reward, recognize, and praise people for their efforts," he says. "Sure, people have bad days, but this makes those efforts toward extraordinary customer service even more critical. That’s because if you get praised and you are taken care of, then you are more likely to do those things."

Cooper lives in Yardley, Pennsylvania, where he was born and raised. A 1984 graduate of George Washington University, he has been married to his wife, Laura, since 1989 and they have two children, Samantha, 12, and Andrew, 8. Cooper is active in the community, is a top fundraiser for the Multiple Sclerosis Society (Delaware Valley Chapter), and has been a Rotarian since 1987. Cooper is also the author of a book on customer service, "What + How = Wow," which was published in 2004 by Ex Libris Press (and available through the website, www.cooperpest.com, for $22, plus shipping).

But Cooper Pest Solutions is not a one-man operation. Cooper’s brother Rick serves as the company’s technical director. He earned his bachelor’s in entomology at the University of Delaware and has a master’s degree from Rutgers. "Rick is simply one of the top entomologists in the country," says Cooper. Both Phil and Rick regularly participate in industry seminars around the county. "The NJAWBO seminar will be fun for me because it is local," says Phil. "I speak with service industry clients, business clients, and real estate clients all over. I don’t get to speak locally that often."

Cooper Pest Solutions – which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in business – has 54 employees, about half of whom are pest management professionals who visit residential and commercial clients to deliver pest management solutions, and can be seen driving the eye-catching green trucks around the area.

Cooper’s advice for chasing away pesky customer perceptions of poor customer service include:

Respect customers and employees. Just telling your employees to greet every customer with a smile will not achieve your goal of consistently providing the kind of good customer service that makes people come back again and again. If good customer service is always putting the customer first, it is certain disaster to place the burden solely onto your employees.

"You want to wow your customers and you need to create an environment to support that goal," says Cooper. Providing a consistent message that lets your people know why customer service is important is essential. Providing realistic tasks with achievable goals is an important way to communicate respect for your employees that will create a supportive customer service environment.

The little things count. Create a bulletin board of customer service tips, name a top customer service employee of the week, or simply take notice of good work as it happens. "There are a lot of little things that you can do to instill the culture of good customer service," says Cooper. "Recognize and praise people for their efforts because customer service is not always easy."

Model. Part of creating an environment of customer service is to practice what you preach. Return phone calls promptly. Don’t pass off unpleasant tasks, such as dealing with angry customers, onto your underlings. Don’t hold meetings that extend into employees’ lunch hours. "Remember that what you communicate, plus how you communicate it, equals wow," says Cooper.

Prompt follow-up. "In our business, our clients are always welcome to call us back if there is a problem," says Cooper. "Any time we go on a service call the customer will receive a follow-up call from us after the work is completed. People want to know that they are being taken care of, and it’s not just follow-up calls that are important, but timely follow-ups."

According to Cooper, good customer service is the cornerstone of a successful business. While many businesses make the mistake of underestimating its value and have trouble accomplishing it, it is not terribly mysterious either. "I would say that the secret to our success is the belief in our people and a commitment to the wow philosophy: What you communicate plus how you communicate it equals wow!"

– Jack Florek

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Find And Keep The Perfect Employee

Somewhere, he is out there, waiting. You can picture him – dream about him. He is the ideal employee, bristling with skills, energy, and dedication. Ah, but where do you hang out to find such a gem? And once you meet, how can you make him over into your mold? How can you know how well he will fit in with your company’s culture? And, toughest of all, how can you spruce up your company so that he will stay and make a long term commitment?

Most good business owners know that their principal job is to find good people. Unfortunately, knowing seldom makes the task any easier. For owners on the hunt, Raritan Valley Community College’s Small Business Development Center offers "Where to Find and Hire the Right Person" on Thursday, March 9, at 6 p.m. at North Hunterdon High School in Annandale. Cost: $42. Call 908-526-1200. Speaker Karen Katcher, founder of Chester-based consulting firm Katcher Associates has designed her talk primarily for owners of small and mid-size businesses.

Katcher is living proof that careers must be assessed. A native of West Orange, she attended Montclair State University, earning a B.S. in biology. She then went to work for Castrol, the motor oil giant, as a chemist analyzing GMX and other products. "I remember seeing that endless line of lab tests and just knew it was not for me," she says. So, walking away from Castrol, Katcher took herself back to academe, earning an MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University, with a specialty in finance. It proved the right fit.

After earning her MBA, Katcher took over a failing data center and turned red ink into black. From there she teamed up with AT&T and put together the AT&T Universal Card – a project that the phone company then sold to CitiGroup for $1 billion. For the past four years, Katcher Associates (www.katcherassociates.com) has helped firms, most of them located in New Jersey, plan strategy, launch new products, and find new markets and employees.

"Your business is your employees," insists Katcher. "Get the right people and the product, the clients, the stock holders, and the sales will all take care of themselves." For Katcher, there is nothing lucky or mystical about getting good workers. Like any other business task, it is simply a matter of laying out the right campaign.

Up front work. "The biggest blunder owners make is to begin hiring with absolutely no clear idea of what they want that person to do," says Katcher. She suggests that before casting the net, employers should write up a personal business plan for this new employee.

This plan should extend beyond the mechanics of experience to include necessary capabilities, fringe capabilities, and personal attitudes. In assessing attitude, remember, you are not just marrying the bride, but the whole family. That candidate for the operations manager may be just the way the owner likes them – strong willed and constantly challenging every decision. But how will he fit into the company culture?

Will he create such disruption that either he or others are forced to leave? The attitude fit must be initially apparent. "You can always teach an employee Microsoft Word," says Katcher. "You can not teach new attitudes."

Scouring the countryside. Unfortunately there are no singles bars where employers and employees can hook up. But the best head hunters are right under your nose. They’re your employees. Better than professional recruiters, your employees know exactly what the job needs, and they know others in the trade. Additionally, they are only going to suggest candidates who will fit in. "Boy I know this really talented guy who is a real jerk, we should hire him," is not something you are likely to hear from a staff member.

"Never hire in a panic," says Katcher. All too frequently, company owners don’t think about taking on new employees until disaster strikes. "My lord, Jenkins just got hit by a truck. Go out and get me another Jenkins – quick." The fact that Jenkins was 86, aching to retire, and his duties had been expanding all around him as the company grew never seemed to dawn on this owner.

Instead of this replacement-hire concept, Katcher advises that hiring should be a constant goal of all company managers. If you have good employees, always have your eye out for better. Assume you will grow, assume that you will need more top talent to get you there. This naturally will perk up the networking antennae of every individual in the company, whether they are at conventions or church socials.

Seductive interviewing. The goal of a good interview is to get beyond the paper achievements and discover the individual. In that light, it is wise to frame questions that require story answers.

"Was there some particular coup you pulled off in your last job that saved the company a great deal of money?" While unvarnished, this question calls for the candidate to recount a situation, describe what actions he took, and reveal the result. By using the word "coup," you are inviting him almost conspiratorially to strut his achievements. By doing so, you will find out the way he thinks and solves problems.

The ideal interviewer is a quiet sounding board and a good listener. The tendency to grill the candidate only leads to more of your voice and less of his.

Keeping commitment. With a national average of only four years with a single company, the hope of retaining employees long term seems ever fainter. Katcher’s solution is to be aware of what truly motivates each individual. Why does he come to work and what elements will he not tolerate? Money is dandy, but study after study has proved that folks don’t stay for the salary. And if they do, their dedication to the company is scarcely laudatory.

The attraction may be the friends around them, the status of their post, or the prestige of the firm. Often employees seek recognition above all – a simple acknowledgment that they have done a good job. On the other hand, an owner may provide all these things and find a worker who is leaving because he can’t work in an office without a window. The lesson here is to provide challenging work, lots of support, and recognition of a job well done. Beyond that, be available, or make sure that a manager is available, to really listen to what it is that prize employees like – and dislike – about their work.

Finally, the best way to keep employees happy and directed is to make the business focused and directed. Katcher suggests that every business owner periodically make a date with his business plan – literally. Write in the calendar "Business Plan Lunch – Tuesday, 1 p.m." Then take yourself and your plan out of the office. Together, go to a nice restaurant and lift your head up from the daily concerns.

Once in this non-pressured atmosphere, ask if you are going where you planned to go – where you want to go? If not, plot ways of getting there? A little contemplation can do wonders for profitability and peace of mind. Your employees will notice that the ship is moving ahead at a nice clip, and will be far less tempted to jump off.

– Bart Jackson

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How Artists Can Protect Their Property

When it comes to art, just who owns what? Perhaps there has never been a time when the question was more pressing. Internet giant Google has expressed its intention to make the contents of a great many books available to anyone with a mouse. Amazon is working in that direction, too. Hollywood is scared silly that teen-agers will be happily watching its latest releases before they are even playing in movie houses. Anyone who knows his way around the Internet really well can easily download last night’s television programs – free of charge.

What should – and can – be done to protect an artist’s ownership of his work? Congress has changed the copyright law over time, sometimes with the expressed intention of righting past wrongs. "They have amended the Copyright Act numerous times to help artists and their heirs to regain control over the copyrights to their works," says attorney Joseph M. Konieczny, a specialist in intellectual property law who practices in Conshohocken.

Konieczny speaks on "Legal Issues in the Arts," on Wednesday, March 15, at 9 a.m. on the Newtown campus of Bucks County Community College. The sponsor, the Arts & Cultural Council of Bucks County, invites area artists and arts organizations to attend. The seminar is free for members and $15 for non-members. Call 215-968-8229 for more information.

Konieczny talks about changes to copyright law. "There was a time where if you published a work without copyright notice, it went into the public domain," he says. The legal response was: That’s crazy. Why should the law be prejudiced in that way? From 1978 through March 1, 1989, if an artist published without copyright notice and without subsequent registration, the work went into the public domain, but with registration, the copyright lasted 70 years after the death of the author.

Since March 1, 1989, authors have retained the copyright for 70 years after their death, whether or not they register a copyright.

But there have been egregious abuses – and they began to occur way before the Internet became a part of daily life.

Konieczny says that copyrights have been unfairly negotiated away from artists by corporations. In the 1940s and 1950s, when popular black artists were under contract to record companies, the companies would treat the artists like employees, unfairly negotiating away the copyrights from their owners, and would make millions.

This also occurred in the art world. In 1938 the creators of the Superman character, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, signed over all of their rights to the DC Comics for $130 and promises of future work. To make amends to artists who may have been unfairly compensated for works, Congress created provisions whereby heirs of the families can recapture the copyrights during the last 39 years of the copyright. In 1999 Siegel’s heirs, using these provisions, recaptured rights to the Superman character.

Konieczny talks about the differences between the three rights that exist under the umbrella of intellectual property law: patents, copyrights, and trademarks. He says that copyright law is most relevant to what artists do. It involves subject matter, what can and can’t be protected, rights conveyed, or and the scope of protection.

When Konieczny was a volunteer with the Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, attorneys would staff a hotline that artists could call with their questions. The volunteers gave free advice in response to general questions, and for more complex questions would offer a discounted rate for representation. "They asked the same questions over and over," he says, and he offers answers to some of the more common questions:

If you copyright something at work, who owns the copyright? If an artist is in a traditional employer/employee relationship, then the artist would have to get an agreement that the rights would be assigned from the employer back to the employee.

How can I register a copyright with the copyright office? The answer is to visit www.copyright.gov.

What are the advantages of registering versus not registering? Artists don’t absolutely need to get a copyright today. "A copyright vests immediately upon fixation in a tangible medium of expression," says Konieczny. In other words, as soon as an artists puts paint to canvas, a writer puts words on paper, or a musician enters the recording room. Formerly, registration was required to have any rights.

But even though registration is no longer required, there are advantages to doing so. For one thing, an artist can’t sue for infringement without registration. Registration entitles an artist to statutory damages, that is, damages that are specified in the statute, or law, that fix specific dollar amounts for damages if the artist can prove that a work was stolen or copied.

For example, say a photographer shoots 12 scenes for a company calendar, and the company pays the photographer and uses them the year they were shot. What if the next year the company decides to use the same pictures, but doesn’t ask for permission? They have infringed the photographer’s copyright, but if the artist is not entitled to the already specified statutory damages, then he or she will have to try to prove actual damages by estimating loss of revenue or profit gained by the company. If, however, the photographer has registered a copyright, he can elect statutory damages.

Registration entitles artists to the possibility of getting other damages, including attorney fees, if the registration was made before the infringement occurred.

What is the "fair use" doctrine? If you go into a small mom-and-pop pizza parlor and they are playing the radio to create an ambiance and attract business – is that an infringement of the copyright of the performers?

"Literally, yes," says Konieczny. "They are using copyright material for commercial purposes, not listening to it in the back while making the food." But the Copyright Act creates "fair use" exemptions, based on criteria like the size of the store, how many speakers, how far the speakers are from the receiver. If the store fits the category specified in the law, then having the radio on is "fair use."

"If it is a big chain, with big bucks involved, they have to get a license," says Konieczny. Or what if a TV film crew goes to a magic show, films a 10-second act, and uses it on the news. Is this legitimate reporting? The fine line is drawn between reporting and displaying. If the audience watches to see the act more than to hear that there is an act, then the news station is said to have "purloined the entire act," or so said the United States Supreme Court.

Who owns the copyright? It depends on whether an individual owns the work or it is "work for hire" – work that someone hires an artist to create for them such that the copyright vests in the employer, not in the artist/employee. If an artist does something at work as an employee and creates it for the company, then the copyright invests initially in the company, not the artist.

If someone hires an independent contractor to take pictures for a company catalog as an independent contractor, then the artist would own the copyright unless he or she was specifically hired to create the work and there is writing that spells out specifically that it is "a work for hire." Since the artist is getting paid, however, the employer still has an implied license to use the work for the purpose for which it hired the artist to produce them.

Can I register a copyright, patent, or trademark by myself? The answer here for copyrights is a qualified yes. The forms are available at www.copyright.gov. and, says Konieczny, they are relatively easy to fill out. Filing costs about $30, and the copyright should arrive within two to three months.

Patents and trademarks are much more difficult. "Artists or inventors think that they can do their own patent applications," says Konieczny, but he always discourages them. "They are good at telling the world what their invention comprises, but horrible about using the claims to spell out their exclusive property," he says.

Konieczny grew up in Havertown and earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Delaware (Class of 1987). He went on to earn his JD from Dickinson Law School, now part of Penn State, in 1990.

A solo practitioner, he says that intellectual property "never gets dull, because it’s always in flux."

– Michele Alperin

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Ante Up for Children

Private industry is being asked to help the state reform its child welfare system. Corporations may contribute to the Safe Child Consortium and Safe Child Fund of New Jersey, managed by the Princeton Area Community Foundation (609-219-1800 or visit www.pacf.org).

More than 20 representatives from corporations, foundations and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce are already involved in planning for this initiative. Donations totaling $700,000 have been made by the Prudential Foundation, New Jersey Resources, Comcast, Conectiv, the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, MWW Group, New Jersey Business and Industry Association, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group, NJ State AFL-CIO, PSE&G, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Sun Bancorp and others.

Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Safe Child Fund/PACF and mailed to the Princeton Area Community Foundation, 15 Princess Road, Lawrenceville, 08648. Other ways that companies can help:

Contribute to agencies that conduct prevention programs

Include information on corporate websites and in newsletters about reform efforts, about the new central hotline for allegations of child abuse, 800-NJABUSE, and the hotline number 877-NJ-FOSTER for people interested in becoming resource families in mailings or billings.

Volunteer time with programs that address abuse and neglect.

Offer individual or company in-kind professional and support services.

Provide employee benefits to foster parents as well as adoptive parents commensurate to those provided to parents of newborn biological children.

Encourage employees and customers who are foster parents to share their success stories.

Help establish community collaboratives in customer areas throughout the state.

Provide space for meetings or events.

"Other reform efforts in New Jersey have failed, but the thing that distinguishes this one is that everyone has a chance to buy in to increase resources for our neediest citizens and children instead of relying only on government and tax dollars," says James M. Davy, former commissioner of the Department of Human Services. "Individuals, providers and businesses can buy-in by promoting the neighborhood collaboratives aimed at linking and enhancing prevention services."

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This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

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