Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Art licensing deals gone bad…

In an ideal world, the licensing industry would be a fair playing field where every business deal was a win for each person involved. Unfortunately, there are a lot of companies out there that simply don’t have the artist’s best intentions at heart.

Not only that, there are a lot of incredibly talented artists out there who have little to no experience in licensing and don’t realize this. They have stars in their eyes about making money from their art and are so excited that their submissions have been accepted that they don’t realize they need to protect themselves. Even experienced licensing veterans who don’t read the fine print can be taken in.

In situations like this, the licensing company makes you an offer that sounds fantastic, promising a certain percentage and asking for exclusivity in return. Yet you find out later that the percentage is really only a percentage of a percentage… it’s not fair that the person who created the art is making pennies for work they did and the licensing company thousands of dollars off of it. You go to the company, frustrated that this isn’t fair, and they point at the contract that you signed and say, “you made the agreement.”

Then there’s nothing you can do. You’ve lost the right to sell those pieces anywhere else and you’re not making very much off of them. All of your creativity, time, materials, and work that you put into your art… gone.

Yikes!!! No artist or photographer wants this to happen to them. It may sound like I’m painting some terribly grim picture for you and being dramatic, but this actually happens all the time.

If you don’t want it to happen to you, you’ll want to find ways to protect yourself. I don’t recommend ever giving exclusive rights of your work to anyone, unless they pay you an awfully large sum up front for them – and even then, that can get sticky. Even large corporations who sell nationwide have been known to ask for exclusivity and then offer peanuts in return. If they’re not going to be paying you really well for the pieces, don’t give exclusive rights up to them.

Always, always sit down and read the fine print of ANY contract you sign with a lawyer or someone who understands legal paperwork and contracts. And if the terms are unfair, negotiate so that they are a win/win situation. Be willing to walk away if they aren’t willing to work out something that is fair.

This is why it is incredibly valuable to have an agent. An agent is someone who has years of experience in the industry – they know what pitfalls to look for and will protect you from this ever happening to you. OC Designer Source cares very much about its artists and strives to connect artists with opportunities that are mutually beneficial.


Anonymous said...

Great article.

Some artists are afraid to speak up. Never be afraid to renegotiate a contract. If a contract is bad, then the artist can risk lost sales, lost royalties, lost artwork and worst of all, lost copyrights.

If you don't understand a contract, get legal consultation - it's so worth it!

vivian greene said...

Like any business, it is not really about the contract, the lawyer, or the agent, or the artist. It is about the intention and integrity of the parties involved.
And even then... a problem can arise. My comic strip was syndicated internationally and my greeting cards and licensing were successful for years prior to syndication. When the syndicate was bought out by a larger concern, they did not honor my original agreement and tried to strong arm me out of my copyright. I won. I won what I already owned at great expense. I'm still going strong.And...there are many fabulous people in our industry - and always some that are not. Charles Shulz was my mentor and quoted The Little Red Shoes when I first asked him the same question you are asking, "It's better to have something stolen from you than to ever have the need to steal."