Friday, 9 January 2009


Copyright: Licensing and Assignment

There are two ways to manage the copyright on your images:

Licensing Copyright

At some stage during the process of being commissioned to produce an image for a client it is wise to discover if the client wishes you to grant them a licence or an assignment of copyright. For obvious reasons, this is best done at the initial talking stage, as if you cannot come to some agreement at this stage then at least you have not wasted your own time and money producing the artwork.
In most cases the people commissioning will not even mention copyright, but it is best to ask some questions first. This will also help you to come up with a realistic fee:

1. Ask who the client is.

2. What is the image to appear in or on?
3. Is the image or part of it to appear more than once in the same publication?
4. Black and white or colour?
5. What is the print run?

6. Is it to be published in the UK only or internationally?

7. How long is the image to be used for?
8. Completion date?

If all seems fine, I would either email a copy to the client or send a copy of your licence with the finished job. The client may well send you a copy of their licensing requirements along with a job sheet (an official request for you to produce the work) before you get a chance to send yours. If their terms are unacceptable, act quickly. Either phone the client and talk over your objections to the licence requirements and get them to alter their terms, or email a copy of your licence to them (with the time and date on the top). It is important that you respond in some way if you do not agree with their requirements as if you do not reply you are deemed to have accepted the contract by default.

Assignment of Copyright

When you assign the copyright of an image to a client they then own the copyright and can use the image wherever and as much as they like within the terms of the assignment. You would usually expect a considerably larger fee for work which included selling on all or some substantial part of your copyright.

If you assign the whole copyright to a client they can then use your image on ANYTHING, ANYWHERE for as long as they like. They may well have subsidiary companies which may also use the image. This is why you need to negotiate a larger fee, because once you have both accepted the terms you no longer have any hold over the image.

If possible, it is always in your best interest to license out the copyright rather than assign the whole copyright. Terms of payment must always be included in any licence or assignment agreement hence why some illustrators/designers combine an invoice and agreement.

This is only a very rough guide in an extremely complex area of law. I would suggest you also look at the AOI’s ‘Rights’ and ‘Survive’ publications.

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