Lessons learned while navigating Image Licensing and Intellectual Property contracts

This is a tricky world I have entered. Usually just sitting in the realm of model releases and such, I recently had to dip a toe into the more commercial realm of Image licensing and Intellectual Property contracts. I’m not kidding when I say it made my head hurt. But here is what I learned.

Intellectual Property rights

Intellectual Property rights are a complicated business, well I thought so. You work hard to create something unique. So much so that someone wants to use it as their book cover or CD cover. That is so cool! But there are many things to discuss so it is fair and equitable for both parties. Who will retain the Copyright? Is it limited licensing for a set period, or on a set product? For instance, is it just the CD cover or is it the T-shirts, coffee mugs and merchandising material? How long does the other party have the rights to your artwork?

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Protect yourself

When all is said and done, you need to protect yourself. I’m sure everyone has heard the urban legends of artists who create something and sell it for a pittance and then the album rakes in millions and the original artist got very little. Or people who never signed up for merchandising, as they didn’t think there would be money in it? Or perhaps you are happy to have your artwork on a book cover or CD cover, but not as a bumper sticker? Decide what you wish to happen with your art and make an agreement with the other party. Will there be ongoing royalties or a one-off price? I don’t think there is a right or a wrong way to do this. But decide what YOU are comfortable with.

Do it yourself

I discovered a great website that helps you to create contracts for model releases, intellectual property licensing and so much more. Wonderlegal is Australian, but I am sure that there are other sites that service other countries and regions. It was relatively easy to do, once I sat down with the other party and had formal discussions. I decided in this particular case I would retain the copyright, and the artwork would only be used for CD Covers and Online Streaming. I would receive full credit for the artwork (where possible) and I would allow T-shirts to be made and sold to depict the artwork.

We decided on a one-off price. No ongoing royalties. We had reasons for this, a small indie artist doing most of this themself. Me doing it all myself. Will they make it big? I hope so. Will they make their fortune from this album? Time will tell. Will this come back and burn me? I have no idea, but I figure I am getting paid a fair amount for a great job and I am happy with that. All in all, it cost me AUD$80 for the contract to be done. And it’s a small price to pay for some peace of mind.

Please do NOT take this post as legal advice. I am just sharing what I learned from this process. In future, I will probably look at getting proper legal counsel. But for now, I think I am happy with the online help I received. If you are working with more complicated transactions — large book deals, big-name artists, writers and musicians — you can most likely charge more. Then, the cost of legal counsel and extended legal contracts would be justified.

In conclusion

It’s possible I made a mistake, but both parties have come to an agreement. We both feel it is a fair and equitable arrangement. Time will tell if I just handed over incredible artwork for a pittance of the money it could make long term. But at the end of the day, if this album does well, I mean really well, I can at least lay my claim to fame in the fact that I made it. And I am OK with that. Possibly, other people would not be content with that.