Much like Coca Cola would never allow someone to take their logo and bastardize it, as it could bring harm to their brand, an artist should never allow unauthorized use or manipulation of their copyright materials.
For clarification, I’m going to give a brief background on copyrights:
Copyright Law Automatically Protects an original artistic or literary work – the owner of a copyright © has all rights to reproduction of the work and has authority in what happens to it.
The Copyright Act of 1976: Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. (However, I recommend registering your images for additional protection.)
The only way someone can claim copyright to your art, photos or creations is if you sign the rights over to them (or if you create it for an employer that you are a legal employee of). (There are few other exceptions to this rule – go to www.copyright.gov to learn more.)
Signing permanent rights to someone else is commonly done in the form of an agreement, the most popular being called a “WORK FOR HIRE AGREEMENT.” Signing temporary usage rights is typically done with a “LICENSING AGREEMENT.”
Warning: Many artists unknowingly sign a Work for Hire Agreement without realizing that they are literally losing all rights to their own work. And many companies will knowingly do this. (Nothing gets me more angry than when this happens!)
If you want to be a known artist, and if you license your art or create images and sell the usage rights to other companies for their own use, be very careful of losing your copyrights. NEVER sign a “WORK FOR HIRE AGREEMENT“. NEVER. I don’t care who asks you to sign it, or why, or if they aren’t going to pay you unless you do, or if the sky will fall if you won’t. If you want to keep control of your art, and your brand, and your integrity as an artist, you must never, ever, sign away your rights.
More reasons to not give away your rights: You’ll never be able to use those images in magazine articles written about you, or in coffee table books that you may publish in the future, or put them on your website to show work you’ve done. Also, if something unreputable happens with your images, and people recognize them as yours, your reputation and brand will suffer.
One of my artist friends called me one day & said that a surf company had commissioned him to do a large painting on a surfboard. He did the work – it took several days – and then submitted an invoice for payment. They sent him a “Work for Hire Agreement” to sign before they would pay him. Concerned, he called me, and said “well, it’s not that important to me. I’m not planning on using that painting on anything in the future anyway.” That’s not the point. This particular artist has a very distinct style, which when you see his art you know it’s his. He’s very well known in the art world. If he signed away his rights, and that company was sold, and then someone else owned the art, they could do anything they want with it, which could ultimately harm this artists’ name & brand. After talking to me, he called the client and said he wouldn’t sign the form. They balked, but they eventually paid him.
One Exception to my “Don’t sign a work for hire agreement” Rule: You can sign it if you are not a career artist and /or if you do not plan on having your name be known as an artist, and if you don’t really have a distinct style that can be tied to you directly. And there’s nothing wrong with this – many artists are happy being freelancers that have no particular style of their own, but rather they adapt to their clients’ needs. This is okay, it’s a career choice.
How do you handle a client that wants to use your art, and they demand ownership of all rights? Tell them no, you have a duty to your collectors and other clients to maintain control over your images, but that you will be happy to assign rights to them for a period of time (2 years) for a particular use (i.e. t-shirts or advertising). This way, you provide them with what they need, and at the same time, you keep ownership of your copyrights. A reasonable client will understand the importance of protecting your brand. A client who doesn’t understand is not worth working with.
For more information on copyrights, go to http://www.copyright.gov/ – it’s a very easy site to get information from.
I want to see you be successful, now and in your future 30 years from now! So protect your copyrights and think far into the future before signing anything away.
Maria “Spunk” Brophy xxoo (Follow me on Twitter!)
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