Art licensing and how it can raise your profile and income
by Graeme Stevenson
I have in one way or another over the last 30 years been involved in licensing with varying companies across the world. I first started licensing my work with a company based out of New York called Alaska Momma and ended up working with about four licensing agents over that time. If your work is suited to the licensing market, and I must say that most artist’s work is not, then you can do financially very well if there are a number of companies that would like your images on their products. How do you as an artist get into licensing and does your work suit the licensing market. Is your work original and different enough to be looked at by a licensing agent?
Research licensing websites
My first suggestion is that each artist research as many art licensing websites as they can. There are a number of them across the world and at the end of this blog I have listed a few that I have worked with.
So the scenario would be that you have looked at all of these websites and assessed the work that was in there and found a couple that might be able to work with your images.
Let’s say that you are lucky enough to get interest back from one or two of the companies you have approached. Inside their email or letter is a licensing agreement/contract. This is where most artists just sign off on something and hope that things work out. Artists can be so desperate to get their work seen or sold or distributed that they simply cast all caution aside on many occasions and just sign and away we go.
Lawyers and Attorneys are expensive but I have found over the years that they can save a lot of grief and even more expenses in the end if something was to go wrong.
Colour in Your Life works with Rebekah O’sullivan Lawyers, Rebekah is an arts and entertainment lawyer as well as an immigration lawyer, so she can handle all aspects of contracts and visas for the artist. If you need more information for Rebekah please just contact us.
I have heard some horror stories from artists over the years that have either signed away their copyright or done deals with people with a hand shake.
“He/she seemed so genuine when we shook hands!”
I have heard that numerous times when artists have come to me asking me what to do, 95% of the time there is nothing the artist can do. Their work is either gone or their copyright has been assigned to another company where they just simply keep printing and using the image for as long as they want with no repercussions at all.
Licensing basics we need to know
The word “license” means the “freedom to do something”.
So when you give a company a license to use your art, that means you’re giving them the freedom or ability to use your art in a certain way, on a certain type of product, for a certain period of time, and with certain restrictions on usage.
Another key concept has to do with the difference between “copyrights” and “reproduction rights”. While you own the copyright to your art for 75-90 years from the time you created it-whether or not you’ve registered that copyright with the U.S Copyright office. You also own the reproduction rights to your art. That means that no one can reproduce your artwork without your permission.
When you sign a license with a company, you’re selling them the right to reproduce your art in a very narrow, specific way and for a very limited period of time, generally 3 to 7 years.
Here are some licensing guidelines that will save you some heartaches
Make sure your license includes these at a minimum
- The name of the specific works of art you’re licensing
- What specific types of products the art will be reproduced on
- The producer’s or publishers written agreement to put your copyright notice on every product sold and every advertisement or brochure for any such product which bears your art
- The countries in which the products will be sold
- A period of time (six months or a year) during which time the company has to bring to market (produce and sell) products with your art, or else give up the rights to use your art
- A termination date for the agreement, generally two or three years after signing
- An indemnification clause which says that the company will protect you from any Lawsuits that might arise from any of their business activities which in any way relate to products carrying your art. That way you are protected if, say, a child swallows a product with your art on it and the parents sue.
- A statement saying you can cancel the agreement if they don’t abide by its terms or if they go bankrupt.
- A specific statement of any non-refundable advance payment to be made to you against future royalties, the specific royal percentage to be paid to you on a quarterly basis, and the requirement that each royalty check be accompanied by clear statement of how they came up with the royalty amount;
Never allow them to
- Gain the copyright for any of your pieces of art
- Gain full and complete reproduction rights to any of your art
- Gain the right to sublicense your art to other companies without you having to approve and sign each specific sublicensing agreement
- Gain ownership of your original works of art as part of the licensing agreement
The best way to avoid things going wrong in this type of business is to get a reputable licensing agent. As I said I have worked with a few and know the industry well.
One of the benefits of being a member of Colour in Your Life is the advice we can give you about the does and don’ts on the legal side of the Art world.
REF: Porterfields Art Licensing
Here is a full list of the best U.S. Art licensing agents.
Art of Possibility Studios (represents physically disabled artist)
Kids-Did-It! (represents children 3-14 years old)
Meehan Design Group (formerly Herrin Design Group)