Here at NINE dot ARTS, we believe in the power of art, specifically in art’s power to transform an environment into an experience, but that’s just one superpower art possesses. Others? How about aiding health and wellness, boosting empathy, creating a vibrant local economy and giving students a leg up in the global workforce, to name but a mere few. These are superpowers so awe-inspiring and colossal it’s like melding the X-Men, Avengers, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Justice League into one! Clearly, we take art seriously and want artists and our clients to do so as well. When we take on a licensing project, we do so with the utmost respect for the power and value of the original work. When we license, we’re looking for win-win outcomes for both our clients and the artists we work with: creating an affordable and unique art program for clients while paying artists fairly and protecting their copyright.
Our very first dot dot dot post myth-busted copyright as it pertains to artwork – as it turns out, there are some serious misconceptions out there! Here’s our super-fast intellectual property refresher:
- As soon as a work is created, the artist owns the copyright – no registration needed
- The artist retains the copyright for her/his lifetime plus 70 years
- The artwork’s owner only owns the physical piece not the copyrighted image of the work (confusing, we know!)
All this means that if someone decides they’re going to make tchotchkes with your art on it without your okay, you’ve got legal rights to shut that down ASAP. But, as we all learned in kindergarten, sometimes it’s good to share. Licensing an image allows you to share your copyright with another party. The only way that party can legally reproduce your work is with your permission. Yay for sharing!
But before you share, get a written licensing agreement that spells out the terms of the licensing agreement. The terms should include specifics like payment, contract length, the number of times a piece will be reproduced and at what size in addition to stating your rights as well as the other party’s rights. You could be compensated by a flat-fee structure, royalties or a combination of the two. If the licensing agreement is for an open edition, be sure to add an expiration date to the contract so that you’re not stuck indefinitely in it. That way, you’ll have the power to renew or discontinue the contract and not be at someone else’s mercy. We always recommend that you maintain your copyright and that you not sign exclusive agreements to protect yourself, your work and, ultimately, your pocketbook.
What does NDA license?
There are all sorts of ways a licensed image can be used: as a greeting card, album cover, calendar, poster, apron, coffee mug, book cover or open-edition run for a poster company. At NINE dot ARTS, however, we’re not in the business of slapping art on tote bags or iPhone cases. When we license a work, it’s usually for hotel guestrooms or hospital patient rooms. Basically whenever quantities are in the hundreds and more. While our dream is place original art in 100% of the spaces in our projects, the reality is that sometimes project budgets don’t allow for that, especially when you’re talking about hundreds of rooms. Rather than work with huge print and publishing houses to place generic posters, we seek out local artists and work with them to license their art for a single project, which allows us to produce unique reproductions that create one-of-a-kind art programs. We help our clients meet their creative and budgetary goals while we give artists direct financial support, licensing experience and exposure to markets they may not otherwise have access to. We’ve used licensing to create L-shaped canvases to latch over a headboard, 11-foot wide murals on vinyl wallcovering, prints on aluminum and good old-fashioned reproductions on paper. We’ve worked with artists from San Diego to Boston and Detroit down to Dallas.
How it Works
Because we license for individual projects with set reproduction numbers, we use a flat-fee structure to compensate artists for licensing their work. We ask for the flat fee in exchange for the digital file at the size we need it. The flat fees vary by project and by the quantity of pieces to be reproduced. We take an artist’s background and career trajectory in mind when setting fees. Just like the sale of original art, an established artist will generally garner a higher fee for licensing project than an emerging one. That said, whenever you take on a licensing opportunity, do your homework. Ask your friends and colleagues, do research, make sure you feel comfortable with the terms and that you understand what’s expected of you whether it’s creating a digital file or approving the proof during the reproduction process.
When you license a work with us, you can be sure we will protect your copyright with integrity. We make sure to adhere to the quantity agreed upon and if we ever need to print additional images, we send you an amended licensing agreement and pay an additional licensing fee.
Pros and Cons
As with any enterprise, licensing has its pros and cons. We understand licensing isn’t a part of every artist’s path but it can be an amazing way to help boost your career, especially when you’re first starting out. In no particular order, we’ve listed some pros and cons below for you to chew on.
- Extra income. Usually, we license a work already in existence, which means the majority of your work is already done! Licensing allows you to make more income on the same work – it’s like getting paid twice (or more)! You can supplement your original art sales income without having to wait tables, have a yard sale or dog sit every free minute. It’s a little bit of freedom that keeps you doing what you do best: making new work.
- Increased exposure. Imagine your work is licensed for a hotel and is in each of its 300 rooms. Let’s say that 100,000 guests stay in the hotel over the course of a year. That’s 100,000 new sets of eyes on your work you would never have had access to otherwise! Because we license original art from local artists and not the publishing houses everyone else uses, guests truly notice, engage with and appreciate your art. That may translate to future sales. Who knows – you might just be approached by Vampire Weekend or Penguin Books to do their next album or book cover!
- Potential devaluation. Ever since Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” artists have had a complex relationship with technology. On the one hand, reproducing work allows more people to share in it, while on the other, it might make it less valuable. However, you could argue that reproductions make the original even more valuable – a counter-intuitive notion of supply and demand. Van Gogh’s paintings, despite their ubiquitous presence in museum gift shops worldwide, garner hundreds of millions of dollars at auction. Of course, there’s no guarantee you’re going to be the next Van Gogh. To avoid future collector’s concerns about purchasing a reproduced work, you could sell the original and ask for an additional licensing fee or create a project-specific commission that you don’t sell.
- Over saturation of a particular image. Suddenly the same image is on everything from a wine bottle to a bed sheet to a poster. You see it at every big-box store, hotel and website you come across. That once arresting piece is now ho-hum – to future collectors and, worst of all, to you. To avoid oversaturation, you may want to limit the times you’ll license a particular image and the types of industries you’ll license to. If you’ve licensed an image to a hotel, for example, you may not want to license that same exact image to another, especially if it’s in the same city. You can always pull different pieces from your inventory for new licensing projects or create a separate bodywork just for licensing. Spread the licensing love among your works to maintain your unique artistic voice.
- Licensing is “too commercial.” We get it, you don’t want to feel like you’re selling out. Having your work on a pair of Chuck Taylors doesn’t necessarily say “fine artist.” That said, you might want to consider licensing a smaller, cropped section of a work. In that case, the original is drastically different from the reproduction, and you can still supplement your income and gain a new market share.
- Licensing isn’t for you. Sometimes licensing isn’t in an artist’s career path; there’s nothing with that. Artists should have their own goals for both their work and careers. We don’t ever want to stand in the way of that. We’ll never force you into an agreement you’re uncomfortable with – no matter what. If you’re not happy, we’re not happy either.
By now we hope you know one thing for certain: we’re on your side. We want artists to succeed and we want to develop avenues for that success whether by licensing or original art sales. We want to make a guestroom feel like a home, a patient room a place of meditation rather than pain, a corridor a source of excitement and discovery. Art makes each and every one of those things and more happen a hundred-plus times a day in businesses across the nation. The superhero-like power of art comes directly from the talent, creativity, vision and dedication of artists like you. Thanks for letting us ride your capetails.