Profiles in IP Law

An Interview with Abbey Green: Global Copyright Manager, Christie's

©2017. Published in Landslide, Vol. 10, No. 2, November/December 2017, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

Abbey Green has been practicing intellectual property law with a focus on arts and entertainment for over 17 years. Ms. Green joined Christie’s in March 2014 as global copyright manager, where she works closely with their specialist departments, marketing, and content teams globally to oversee the rights and permissions process throughout Christie’s. She manages the licensing of content, both inbound and outbound, enforces Christie’s various intellectual property rights, and works closely with our disputes team in the resolution of intellectual property disputes.

Please tell us a little about Christie’s and its importance to the arts and culture in our global society.

James Christie founded the auction house in 1766. Today, Christie’s is an auction leader with a truly global presence, including numerous salerooms around the world. Christie’s has conducted celebrated auctions of fine and decorative arts, jewelry, antiquities, watches, and wine, and provides a popular showcase for the unique and the beautiful. Some of the rarest and most valuable works of art in the world are handled by Christie’s, and we view ourselves as careful stewards of these objects as they are passed down from one collection to the next.

What was your career path and how has it prepared you for your current role?

I began my career with a small intellectual property (IP) boutique firm in New York City, where I became immersed in copyrights, trademarks, patents, and all things related thereto. Our clients included comic book writers, toy makers, sports figures, film producers, and tech companies, as well as global industrial companies. I was given a lot of responsibility very early on, such as managing a dispute over the rights to a famous literary and movie character, and drafting a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court in a patent matter, all of which helped to build my communication and managerial skills as well as my legal skills.

From there, I found myself at both large and small firms focusing on arts and entertainment, but also engaged in a wide array of complex transactions and litigations. For me, the most interesting legal issues have always been why, when, and how we should protect human creations.

I also had a role as operations manager of an artist’s foundation, where I learned to truly appreciate the day-to-day business issues facing the organization, such as property management and insurance, as well as the concerns of estates and foundations with respect to artists’ legacies and the art itself. My role there was a perfect prelude to joining Christie’s.

As global copyright manager, what is a typical day in your life at work like?

As global copyright manager, I oversee the rights and permissions process, both in connection with Christie’s use of others’ intellectual property and others’ use of Christie’s intellectual property. A typical day might include providing training to our marketing teams, specialist departments, and copyright coordinators globally; updating guidance materials; answering queries; drafting licensing agreements, releases, consents, and the IP provisions of more general agreements; monitoring trademark and domain registrations; and pre-publication review of content from Christie’s departments, or from Christie’s subsidiary businesses, such as Christie’s Education and Christie’s International Real Estate.

What are the most challenging and/or rewarding aspects of your position?

The most challenging aspect of my position is making sure the various departments can deploy their marketing assets within the short time frames imposed by the fast-paced nature of the auction business. Christie’s produces vast amounts of content, from videos to catalogues—and does so globally. In support of its sales, it functions as a publishing house, a video production company, and a digital content and marketing agency. There is always a sale coming up somewhere at Christie’s, with related deadlines for promotional content and the licenses and permissions required to publish that content. Time is often our worst enemy. Still, it is quite satisfying when we find a way to make it all happen on time.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I’m deeply passionate about IP rights, and I enjoy sharing that passion with others. I particularly enjoy training and educating colleagues at Christie’s. Christie’s team members have a passion for creation—they are here because of that passion, whether it is for art, books, furniture, antiquities, jewelry, handbags, wine, or another of the many collecting categories we handle. There is a clear understanding internally that protecting the creator’s rights is an extension of appreciating the creation.

What aspects of IP law are encountered by Christie’s?

Our most significant encounter is with copyright law. By necessity, our content incorporates quite a bit of artwork, including paintings, prints, sculptures, and photographs, each of which is protected by copyrights. We also license our own content, which is protected by copyrights.

In addition, we often incorporate people in our content, which requires a review for consents we may need—either because of privacy or publicity rights concerns.

Trademarks are also significant for us. We are quite protective of our trademarks and brands, and we carefully monitor potentially infringing uses, including in domain names, and enforce our rights when necessary.

What are some challenges you face with regard to intellectual property, and how do you overcome them?

We sometimes encounter scenarios in which intellectual property is used as a means to obtain something more than a licensing fee, and there are content owners who condition their permission on something completely unrelated to the copyright or other intellectual property at issue.

We also sometimes face challenges with enforcing our own IP rights against infringers who engage in unauthorized uses of our name and logo, or who misappropriate our own content. As a practical matter, we are careful to enforce our rights when necessary, but our approach differs with each situation. Some infringements are fairly innocent, while others may be malicious, and each response should reflect the particular circumstances.

Has the importance of copyrights at Christie’s changed as a result of growing technologies?

Digital technology makes finding, accessing, and distributing content incredibly easy. Still, the fundamentals remain steadfast. There are times when content must be licensed, whether for digital or traditional methods of publication.

What is the best piece of advice that you have received relative to your legal career?

The best piece of advice I ever received was to find an area of the law I really enjoyed. I know that does not always happen, and I’m very grateful that I have a career I love, and that I work with colleagues whom I deeply respect and whose company I truly enjoy.

Do you have any tips for IP practitioners reading this interview that may inspire them to become better attorneys or consider an in-house career?

Supporting a global business from within is both challenging and fascinating. I continue to learn to find ways to help make things happen, which is extremely satisfying. Early on in my career, I often focused on limitations—what a client could or could not achieve. Now, I like entertaining what might make things possible.