Hi Daring Adventurers,

The client may have commissioned and paid for the creation of the work, but that does not give them any rights to reproduce the work or to the original art. Those rights have to be specifically stated in the contract. The creator of the work holds the rights to the work whether he/ she has sold the original art or not. United States copyright law currently views that the rights to the work and the original art itself as separate commodities. You need to understand that prior to entering into any contract with a publisher or client. The true value that your work holds is the rights to reproduce the work and to create derivative works from it.

When negotiating a contract, you should try and retain as many of the rights to the work as possible. The publisher will want to purchase as many rights to the work as they can. This is usually where compromise by both parties needs to be met. You may wish to grant the client rights to reproduce the work in only specific media, in only specified countries, and for only a limited time period. Also, you would want to try and retain the rights to derivative works that may be produced based off your work. This is particularly true if you are creating the design and look of original characters. You will also need to have some flexibility on what rights you are willing to sign over to the client, so that the client’s needs and intents for commissioning the work are met. You will want to increase your pricing based on the number of rights you are releasing to the client. You may also request a royalty or percentage of the profit made from your work and any derivative works.

You will want to include a provision stating that any rights to the work not specified in the agreement are retained by you (the artist). This statement should clarify that only the specified rights granted in the contract are the rights the client has to the work. It is also advantageous to you to include a provision stating that additional rights to the work must be purchased from you (the illustrator) and documented in a written agreement. This allows you to negotiate new terms, if the client wishes to purchase additional rights to the work produced.

Too often illustrators have signed over all rights to their work to a publisher or company, only to have the company create derivative works in a variety of media and the illustrator goes uncompensated. An example of this might be a children’s book that is now being adapted as a movie or Saturday morning cartoon, but the original illustrator signed all rights over to the publisher. Now, he/she has missed the opportunity to earn more income from the derivative work in other media. Could the illustrator sue? Yes, but the legal expenses and the rights granted in the contract may leave him/ her without the ability to pursue legal action. These are the situations that you want to avoid and a good contract that allows you to retain certain rights or at least be compensated from derivative works is desirable.

– Anthony Summey