I’M A GRAPHIC ARTIST. A LOCAL BAND HAS OFFERED TO PURCHASE ONE OF MY WORKS TO USE AS THEIR ALBUM COVER. DO I HAVE TO ASSIGN ALL RIGHTS IN MY WORK TO THEM?
In my last column, I briefly mentioned the issues that can arise when a band wants to acquire an image from the artist. I received some emails from visual artists asking how they can protect their legal interests when selling their work to a band. So I thought I would further address the issue from the visual artists’ perspective.
I have always advised my band clients to pay the artist a lump sum of money in exchange for all copyrights and uses of the image. The main reason is because if the band assigns the record to a label, the label will want to own the attached artwork as well. This flat-fee system is a good deal for the band, but not necessarily for the artist. In addition to using the image for album art, there is merchandise and promotional materials. If you sold your work to a band for $500 and you see it on records, t-shirts, buttons, stickers and posters, you got the short end of the deal. If you do choose to assign all rights for a flat fee, at least request the continued right to display the work as part of your portfolio and/or website.
A slightly better option would allow you to assign all rights in the work to the band, but get paid if the work is used on band merchandise. For example, you can receive a sum of money for every 500 pieces of merchandise sold, which contain your work. To further protect yourself, you can insert a provision in the agreement that allows you to request an accounting of the band’s finances. This allows you to verify how much merchandise containing your work was actually sold.
In lieu of assigning your work to the band, there are options that allow you to retain copyright ownership. You can grant the limited right to the band to use your work only in connection with the sale, promotion and distribution of their musical recordings. You would retain the right to use the work for all other purposes. This would allow you to place the image on coffee mugs or other non-band related items. You just wouldn’t be able to license use of the work to another band.
If you choose, in addition to granting the limited right above, you can allow the band to use the work on merchandise as well. But, I would advise that you receive payment for all merchandise sold containing your work. With this last option, you are retaining copyright ownership and you are getting paid for merchandise sales.
Lastly, you should insist on receiving credit in the CD liner notes. You may even be able to keep your scribbled signature in the work itself. As an artist, you may be apprehensive about allowing your work to be modified. But modification of the work is sometimes necessary for space limitations in advertising.
Above all, never underestimate what your artwork can do for a band’s popularity and merch sales. Think of what H.R. Geiger did for The Dead Kennedys. And there is my favorite rock artist, Heather Hannoura. She’s the Chicago native who does the artwork for all of Alkaline Trio’s merchandise and you’ll always see her quietly working their merch table. She is solely responsible for Trio’s aesthetic morbidity and the reason I own every Trio t-shirt that exists.
The information in this column is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to provide advice regarding a specific legal situation. Legal advice can only be obtained after consultation with a specific attorney.