Many thanks to June Wright for this post on something all artists should know more about – protecting our art! After graduating in Classical Animation in the early 90s, June began her animation career in Don Bluth Animation Studios in Dublin and has since worked in the US and Europe with many film studios over the years including Fox Animation in Arizona. She has also lectured in Traditional Animation and Digital Design. Currently, June is working as a Product Designer for clients based mainly in the UAE and Hong Kong, such as Legoland Dubai, The Louvre Abu Dhabi and the tallest building in the world ‘The Burj Khalifa’. She has been an artist all her life and loves botanical art and drawing portraits, using coloured pencil, graphite and watercolour.
As an artist, when you create a painting, your intention may not be focused on its commercial value; however once you start to exhibit and sell your art, it is in your best interest to become aware of the potential positives (and not so positives) that may occur as a result of exposing your work to the grand public.
There can be a lot of confusion–still–on the ownership, legal aspects and expectations of how your work may be used. Therefore, in order to protect your art, it is important to know the fundamental guidelines both for protecting your original images and commercialising your work.
Selling Original Art – Who Owns What?
When you sell an original painting, it’s important for both you and your buyer to be aware that the ownership rights of the painting’s image do not transfer with the physical painting itself and unless it is specifically requested and agreed upon in writing between the artist and buyer before the sale, all rights remain solely with the artist. A painting is sold on the basis that although the buyer will own the original piece of art for their enjoyment, they will not own the rights to make any commercial gain from its image in the future. This is irrespective of whether the painting was bought from the artist’s own collection, through a reseller or gallery, or on a commissioned basis.
Following any sale of their art, the artist can still go on to create prints of the painting and use the painting’s image for further commercial purpose, as and however they wish. If the current owner of a painting wishes to reproduce the painting for any purpose commercially or non-commercially, they must first request written permission from the artist.
Reproducing your art in print format
If someone wishes to reproduce your painting in part or full, for example, within a book, magazine, online or on products, they must obtain written permission from you prior to doing so. It is solely at your discretion whether you choose to allow use of your images for payment or for free, however if you are unintentionally lax in protecting your art, not only can you lose out commercially, but your painting may be used in a way that may harm the integrity of the work or your reputation as an artist and what you stand for. You may have to consider whether it is most suitable to agree a one-off fee for a single-use permission or create a licencing agreement for more complex or larger-scale use.
Licencing your art commercially
If you are approached with a request to reproduce your art, especially for commercial purpose, it is normal to licence art for certain agreed usage. This will protect you from any unauthorised commercial use of your art. In most cases, it is normal that the artist agrees an initial licencing fee, plus royalties per sale of each item containing your image. A possible circumstance is where the image may be used, for example, on greeting cards, homeware, fabrics, prints etc.
Some artists may allow non-commercial use of an image for free (in which case, it is a good idea to make sure you receive an artist credit), but commercial use should be considered carefully in advance, in order to prevent the artist being poorly compensated, where no clear written terms were agreed by both parties prior to the handover of any imagery.
Terms between the artist (the licensor) and the individual or company requesting permission to use the painting’s image (licencee) should generally cover at least the following and should be agreed in writing and signed by both parties:
- Fees agreed: initial upfront fee and/or percentage of royalties that will be paid per piece sold.
- Permitted usage: most licences are limited to a certain amount of reproductions within any given specified format. For example, if you agree permission for your painting to appear only on mugs, another agreement would need to be further negotiated where the licencee wishes to later add the image onto plates.
- Duration of licence for its specified use: you may want to limit the time of specified usage to a certain period or time-frame.
- Territorial restrictions: whether the use is limited to one location or country, or whether it is allowed to be used worldwide.
- Termination basis: for larger agreements, it could also be worth adding the basis in which the agreement can come to an end, such as a certain period of notice for either side.
Online, the potential for unauthorised downloading, sharing, or misuse of your paintings is fairly high. It is natural to want to share images of paintings online, whether it may be to contribute and participate in the larger art community and art groups, or to gain wider audience exposure and build a fan-base of admirers for your art through social media platforms etc., but no artist wants to see their art stolen or misused for the commercial gain of another, without prior consideration for its use. Although the internet proves to be the easiest, most cost-effective way to reach people with your art, this undoubtedly leaves you wide open for the misuse and theft of your intellectual property.
The fact is that no matter what lengths you go to, there is no 100% foolproof way to prevent images being saved and shared over the internet; but weighing it up, it’s usually better to take a couple of simple measures to minimise these risks, rather than to deny yourself such great opportunity of exposure to a world-wide audience for your work.
The easiest forms of reducing the misuse of your art online would be to add a copyright warning on or beside your image, or better still, add a minimally-invasive watermark over the image itself, before uploading it to the internet. This at least means that if an image is shared, your name is attached to it and at least travels with your picture which can have its own advantages, as it may even attract new viewers to your site to view more of your work.
There are many apps both for iPhone and Android that will allow you to easily place a watermark over your image. They allow you to experiment with suitable placement and opacity of your watermark, so that it won’t interfere too much with the enjoyment of viewing your paintings online. If you don’t like to obstruct your image at all though, you can still use these apps to add your copyright and contact details more discretely to the side of your image before sharing.
It is often a fear for many artists–especially those less familiar with computing and digital imaging–that once you upload your images online people may just print out copies of your work. In addition to adding watermarks, a good way to enure your image is not going to be printed successsfully from the internet is to make sure it is only uploaded at 72dpi instead of full resolution of 300dpi required for full print quality. Many social media platforms will automatically compress your image on upload, meaning a low resolution image is all that is seen online. Although your image will still appear nice and clear for online viewing, once it is printed, it may be too pixilated to reproduce at any great quality.
Another good option, is to take a photograph of your work at an angle, for example, on your desk with pencils or paint brushes on or next to the painting itself. This means that viewers online can still admire your work, but again, can’t print it out for use as a straight-on image.
The above measures are often enough to show the average person that you are serious about protecting your images and may at least make them think twice before using your art without your permission.
Hopefully this has given somewhat of an introduction into how you can protect yourself from unauthorised copying or misrepresentation of you and your art and may have broken down some of the confusions and misconceptions associated with the commercial and legal side of being an artist. The information given is not intended as definitive legal advice, but as an initial guide to how you can begin to better implement the safe sharing and comercialising of your art. www.junewright.com