Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Look at Licensing

    What initially began as an extension of my love for rubber stamping eventually turned into licensing my illustrations on a wide variety of retail products in multiple markets. My art has appeared on products throughout the craft/hobby industry including rubber stamps, rub-on transfers, scrapbook products and needlearts kits to products in other markets—gift bags, gift wrap, partygoods, veterinary scrubs, children’s coloring products and much, much more. Most of these products have been sold in large national chains such as Michaels, Joanns, PETCO, PetSmart, Hobby Lobby, Archivers and all partygoods stores, as well as through various independent retail channels.

    Many artists and designers are interested in learning about licensing but don’t know where to start. I’ve been licensing my art for about 15 years and I’m still learning. Licensing is a straightforward concept but it is actually very complex. Here’s a short summary of what Art Licensing is all about….

    When an individual creates a piece of art—whether a simple line drawing or a complex painting—that individual automatically owns that art by law. This means that the moment an image is in tangible form, the creator owns what is called the “copyright” to that image. The exception to this rule is if that individual is an employee or has been hired as a temporary employee/contract worker. In that case, the employer owns the art. But, for the sake of explanation to artists and designers that are reading this blog, this summary will refer to art being owned by the individual who created it.

    The primary different in licensing art versus selling art outright is that the artist maintains copyright ownership. But…what does that actually mean? And, how would licensing be an advantage for the artist?

    Licensing art is like renting an apartment or other property. In property rental there is a landlord who owns the property and a person or group that pays for the right to occupy that property. What the renter is allowed to do with that property depends on the type of property is being rented—a business space, single family home, garage or an apartment within an entire building with multiple apartments—as well as the terms agreed on and signed in a mutual rental contract. Both landlord and renter must also follow the law. But, throughout the rental period, one thing remains the same. The landlord OWNS the property and the renter does not. The landlord can change, alter, or sell that property as long as those actions do not adversely affect the renter or prevent the renter from using the rented property. The landlord can also choose to rent additional properties (such as additional apartments within the same building) to other renters.

    In licensing, there is also a property owner (Licensor) and an individual or entity (Licensee) that “rents” certain rights for that property. The copyright owner (Licensor) controls what is done with the art, how it is done (quality control), who can use the art, what they get to use it for, where they get to market products and for how long. The manufacturer (Licensee) will have specific rights to that property as explained in an Agreement (Licensing Contract) but can can only use that property according to that Agreement. There are also negotiations, contracts, legal terms and lawyers involved with licensing. That’s a lot to keep track of.
Licensing includes a steep learning curve for both artist and manufacturer. Manufacturers need to have a clear vision of the products they will be producing and selling. Artists can spend months, or even years, just developing a portfolio of art to license before they even have the potential of earning any income from licensing their art. Legal terms are difficult to grasp and the significance or specific terms such as “exclusive” verses “non-exclusive” and “first rights refusal” can be daunting to either party. But, when done correctly, licensing art is like a well choreographed dance—with everyone working together to create magic.
Some of the confusion about licensing lies in the perception of what licensing is about. Yes, it is about commercial use, royalties and financial gain. But, at the core, licensing is about copyright ownership.

Tomorrow’s blog will expand further on this very relevant topic.

My licensing agent Julie Ager (Artistic Designs Group) will be representing me at Surtex in booths 603 & 605.

For more information on art licensing and consultation, please contact me directly.

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