Thursday, August 11, 2011

Protecting art when submitting to companies

A recent question was asked on one of my online groups regading how an artist can protect themselves from companies that request that all art being submitted not be preveiously registered with the US Copyright office.

From my own experience, there's only one way to protect yourself. Don't submit to to any company that would make such a request...and make sure you register your art before it is displayed on websites,  marketing materials or submitted digitally to any company--unless it is with a company that you know respects your rights as copyright owner. 

By law, art is copyrighted automatically by the creator the minute it is drawn on paper. Registering it with the U.S. Copyright office creates a timeline that can be proven if the rights are ever contested. And since those rights CAN still be transferred to another party after the formal registration is made, the terms mentioned by the person who posted this concern were uneccesary and nreasonable. In my opinion, it sounds like the company  making that request wants artists to submit art for them to either purchase outright (so they own all rights and can register the art under their own name) or else for them to use as "inspiration"...and they don't want a formal registration to hinder them from their goal.

Understand, however, if their goal is to own ALL rights and register copyright under their name, they would also own the right to create derivatives of that work AND to license that work to other companies. If YOUR goal, however, is to license your art to multiple companies and/or create a signature style and brand, it is probably not in your best interest submit anything to this company. However, if an artist has already sent this type of company any samples to pique their interest, make sure to save a copy of the cover letter and list of the images sent or viewed, ALL correspondence, documentation of phone conversations, meeting, or anything else that will prove a timeline in case it becomes necessary to prove ownership in a court of law at a future date.

Now, if a company that specifically requests art not be registered with the US Copyright Office contacted YOU and requested your submissions, ask them to first sign a nondisclsure agreement and see what their reaction is. My guess is they will refuse. However, if they do sign it, that will help protect your rights if you ever discover they have used your art without your permission later on.  And, a company that is willing to sign a nondisclosure agreement usually does not have undesireable motives to begin with.

Unfortunately, it is only too common in this tough economy for artists to submit art to companies who are basically "fishing" for ideas and/or inspiration so their inhouse (or other) design staff can get instant info on trends, color palettes or styles by offering submission "contests".  Unless you already have a signed nondisclosure or an existing working relationship, this is never in the interest of artists who are creating a unique brand and look and who spend many hours, weeks and sometimes years creating a large portfolio of art collections for licensing.  Artists can even  find themselves in a position of looking like they copied someone else's style or look if art being offered for consideration isn't copyright registered prior to or concurrently with those submissions. 

In the case of the artist who initially asked the question, by registering her art PRIOR to submitting it to this company AND keeping copies of all submissions, communication, etc, she would have the leverage to file a suit if she ever discovered that this company had indeed taken her art and used it without her permission.  Even if you deal with a company that may be totally above board and have integrity, you cannot control the actions of third parties or employees who may leave that company.   So the basic mantra in protecting one's copyright is to (1) know who you are submitting to, (2) register your art regularly and (3) save all correspondence.