Publishing Advice - Art Ownership

Posted by: Claus On: Aug 2nd 2010

I'm getting to the stage where I'm ready to approach some artists about doing a cover and some internal art. The Buying Art article by Jon Hodgson has been really helpful, but as I've come to understand it is important to have a contract to define who owns what. I want to make sure I have the right to use the artwork where I need to, but I also want to allow the artist to retain as much ownership as possible so they can continue to earn money and glory from their hard work wherever they see opportunities.

I'm not a lawyer, I certainly can't afford one and I don't expect professional legal advise here. However, in your experience do I need a detailed contract with lots of legal speak and a detailed list of all possible uses or can I just use something like:

The artist grants unlimited usage of the artwork to the publisher whether used in print, electronic copies, advertisements or online. The artist will receive credit for the artwork in the book and will be included in any credits on a website when such exist. The artist retains copyright and may use the artwork in any way she sees fit and sell it for second use as long as it is not used in another roleplaying game product without prior written agreement.

Too restrictive? Too generous? Not worth the metaphorical paper it is written on? Got something better?

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Aug 3rd 2010

Hey Claus -

I'm neither a lawyer, nor an artist, but I wonder if the "unlimited usage" bit will raise a few eyebrows. That suggests that you own the art, rather than the artist, which tends to cost a fair bit extra; whereas I wonder if what you'd be better off with is "first use" rights, so you can use it as you see fit for one project, including promotion and the like, rather than indefinite permission to use it.

Hopefully one of our resident artists will show up shortly!


Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Aug 3rd 2010

I believe Jon or Paul will be joining us at some point over the next wee while, once they have a spare moment. So, bear with them and I'm sure there will be a well informed and highly informative answer in the near future.


Posted by: Claus On: Aug 3rd 2010

I initially wrote something like "The artist grants the right to use the artwork in the product and for future editions of the product as well as for marketing the product such as advertisements and use on the website", but it started to get a bit bloated. However, unlimited usage is probably overkill. I like the "first use" right way of putting it, although I'd want to be sure that it covered usage in the book, future editions of that book and promotion. I've actually comissioned an artwork piece before from Linda Pitman (after I saw her amazing stuff at Dragonmeet) and didn't even bother with a contract (read: I had no clue I needed one). Everything was fine and I'm sure that is the case in 99% of cases, but better safe and all that.

I look forward to hearing from the resident artists. I'm also curious how you'd refer to the artwork in the contract, especially if there are several pieces? By description?

Posted by: SebastienPelletier On: Aug 5th 2010

If this can help you, I'm providing you with some extract of my "sample" contract. I use it for illustrations, maps and music ...
My lawyer (in Canada) did check it ...

Ownership :
Until full payment has been made, the seller retains ownership of all
original artwork or parts contained therein, whether preliminary or final.
Upon full payment, the buyer in his name or for any company under his name,
shall obtain ownership of the final artwork to use and distribute in the context of the stated project, given any languages, any version or any way of distribution (web application, HTLM, PDF or paper). The buyer, in his name or for any company under his name, can use any part of the artwork as a marketing tool. The seller retains the right to use the completed project and any preliminary designs for the purpose of design competitions, future
publications on design, educational purposes, marketing materials, and
portfolio. Where applicable the client will be given any necessary credit
for usage of the project elements. The seller cannot use publicly any illustrations before final publishing of the stated project.

Languages and format are very important. "or any company under his name" is very important too. You might also include that you can use the illustrations for derivative products (I did it for the maps), but this might come at a cost ...

Posted by: Jon Hodgson On: Aug 14th 2010

Just found my account activation in my spam folder. Sorry! I will have a few thoughts on this topic before too long. Sorry for the delay.

Posted by: Claus On: Sep 1st 2010

I'm still eagerly awaiting your thoughts on this topic Jon, although Sebastian's sample contract seems pretty good to my inexperienced, non-lawyer eye. So thanks!

Posted by: kennyrobb On: Sep 2nd 2010

When we get anything done for the magazine we insist that the artist sign a contract very similar to the one above. Simple fact is that we pay, we own. if the artist wants to charge us more for that then that is up to them to say up front.

We can then use the image, or part of the image in any way we se fit (though we do have a clause that says "not breaking any laws" but that was just the guy who wrote thae contract. Also we allow the artist to use the image and the fact that it was published in the magazine as part of their portfolio and we will send out copies of the magazine to them for this purpose.

I have to say at this point that most of the artwork we comission is custom.
In the cases where we are provided with images (usually by manufacturers) for the purpose of promoting something then we acknowledge the copywrite owner and treat the images as for the purpose of promotion.

It can get quite complex and we have had the case where some of the larger copywrite holders have asked for money from us so we can use their artwork as a one off. These tend to be in the minority but you need to be aware of them as you could fall foul of some very expensive lawyers.

Posted by: Claus On: Sep 10th 2010

How do you get the contract signed? Does the artist have to print the contract, sign it and send it by post or can it be electronically signed?

Also, how do you identify the artwork in question. That is, the specific piece - or pieces - of art the artist is doing for the contract?

I'm hoping to be in a position to get some artwork commissioned so want to get it right first time around, if that is ever possible.

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Sep 10th 2010

I tend to email a contract, get them to sign it, scan it and send it back.

And you identify the artwork however you like - if you're commissioning it, name it in some way (even if it's just artwork no. 1). If you're licensing existing artwork, I'm sure the artist will have already named it.

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