by guest blogger Laura C. George
Most artists dive into art licensing headfirst, out of excitement at the possibilities it holds to be an extraordinary source of income. And, let’s face it, at how cool it would be to see their art on products in stores!
All that momentum and excitement is great, but it usually comes along with some mistakes because they didn’t take the time to research the pitfalls, the industry lingo, and how the process typically works. So of course the first mistake is not doing your homework – but I’m counting that as mistake 0 since you’re already reading this, so you must be doing at least a little art licensing homework.
The next mistake I want to talk about is not retaining your copyright. As an artist, the most valuable things you have, bar none, are the copyrights to your artworks. While a copyright is naturally yours just because you created the work, some disreputable manufacturers will use legal jargon in the licensing contract to transfer your copyright to them, permanently. You do not want to do this.
When you grant a manufacturer permission to use your copyrighted images in a limited scope (which of course is called a license), you both win. The manufacturer gets to use your art to sell more products, and you get to keep control of your artwork.
The second mistake is not asking for an advance. What’s an advance? It’s an upfront sum of money the artist receives when the contract is signed. Its purpose is to help pay the artist’s bills and any expenses incurred in preparing the artwork for the manufacturer during that long period in between signing the contract and the products actually being sold in stores.
Typically, an advance is paid against your royalties. This just means that you don’t get paid the normal percentage of every sale of your products until that amount reaches the amount of the advance. Then you start getting paid a percentage of every sale. So it’s not extra money, it’s just faster money.
Not all licensing deals have this style of payment, but it’s the most common. Getting an advance in your contract means you get paid more quickly.
The biggest mistake that artists make all the time in their first licensing deal is not thoroughly understanding their contract before they sign it. There’s something about a legal contract that fills a lot of people with fear. They wonder if they’re smart enough to understand the concepts, if they’ll look stupid for asking questions, and if the deal will get taken away if they take too much time to look it over. While those are all technically possibilities, they’re not very realistic and they’re certainly not common.
Take the time, energy, and even money if you have to, to comb through the contract so that you don’t end up agreeing to things you wish you hadn’t.
While art licensing isn’t easy, it’s something that can be learned fairly quickly, so you avoid the horror stories that hurt your career, your happiness, and often your wallet. For your first licensing deal, and every deal after that too, take the time to make sure you’re confident that the contract you’ll be signing doesn’t transfer your copyright, includes an advance so you don’t have to wait so long for your first paycheck, and all the terms you negotiated are there without anything else that you may not want.
Laura C. George teaches artists how to build a career that fulfills them both emotionally and financially, and has recently released an online course titled Artistic License which is a comprehensive guide to art licensing.