The Artist Rights Movement, ARM, is a volunteer based, grassroots organization dedicated to strengthening laws that protect artists. Its founder is Steve Lehman, a photographer and activist from Connecticut. His organization has been instrumental in opening the door for artists to seek justice for themselves and their colleagues. ARM works to improve working conditions, increase funding for the arts, and protect artists’ right to free speech. ARM chapters around the country are led in large part by university students at their respective schools and are always seeking new members.

ARM is a young organization. Currently its focus is creating awareness about artists’ rights and helping small artists be heard among the flood of big business that dominate the commercial world. Current legislation governing art, be it photography, videography, painting, music, etc. favors big business over small, especially over the individual. Artists have little ground to stand on to enforce justice when their rights are violated.

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Artists’ rights today severely limit the freedom of artists. Lehman states that “artists’ rights in the workplace are akin to those of women in the 1950’s and 60’s or people with special needs prior to the American Disabilities Act.” For photographers he notes the longer hours, greater responsibilities, and the ever-shrinking paycheck as companies take advantage of the loose legislation protecting artists.

It is only recently that artists have gained ground in the court systems. This past June, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Philadelphia ruled it unlawful to strip copyright ownership information from published works. This legislation is long overdue. However, it represents the progressive nature of this movement, as both policy-makers and the public have come to recognize the needs of artists nationwide.

Photographers on overseas assignments, documenting conflicts in the Middle East and Libya, are finding out how few rights they really have. Those injured on the job are rarely compensated if they seek these rights through a lawsuit. While they tend to expect fair treatment from bosses directly above them, they get little consideration from big business and lawyers handling their cases in court.

ARM rallies support for artists who have brought their cases to court. The organization expects to propose future legislation to further protect artists’ rights and ensure fair compensation and employee benefits.

A recent success for this movement came in 2008 when ARM helped to defeat the Orphan Work’s Bill, a proposition designed to weaken artists’ control over their work.  ARM encourages collaboration between the profession community of artists and it has become increasingly successful in organizing activist nationwide.

ARM currently has a petition in Congress to stop exploitation of artists and improve conditions for working professionals. If you would like to add your voice to this movement, check out ARM on or find ARM’s group on facebook!

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