Contracts - Work for Hire or License? Help!

  • Dear SVS,

    I would be very interested in learning more about children's book illustration contracts especially licensing the rights to use the art vs. work for hire agreements.

    What did you guys do when you were starting out?

    I've been illustrating on my own for two years now - basically "winging it". Until this year I just signed the client's work for hire contract and was happy to be paid to illustrate "while I considered myself to still be learning", however -

    My business has really grown this year and I've got three children's book projects going on right now with self publishing authors. I sent them all contracts granting them sold and exclusive licenses to produce, publish and/or sell in printed book format the Artwork....

    One of my clients had a lawyer look at my contract and change it to work for hire. Besides the fact that I would no long be considered the creator of the art, MY BIGGEST CONCERN is - does this mean that if I drew a similar character in my style that I could be violating that copyright?

    I think that understanding children's book illustration contracts is very important and maybe other people on this board are wondering the same thing? 🙂 i would be very grateful for any feedback. Thanks!

  • @Kathy-Jurek Have you taken the Illustrating Children's Book course? There's a section on contracts where Will goes into different types, clauses, etc. I can't recall if it answers all of your specific questions, but definitely give it a go if you haven't yet, it would be a great place to start.

    I don't much like the sounds of what you'd be giving up with this work for hire contract 😕 I'd be hesitant with that one too... Good luck!

  • @DanetteDraws Thanks so much. I haven't taken the class but I bought the membership to access all of the classes so I will check it out.

  • The course goes into a lot of detail about contract. I would not personally sign a work for higher unless you get a lot more money.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    Hi Kathy,

    You definitely want to avoid work for hire contracts if you can. It is a really bad business model for the whole industry. So the next logical question is "What should I do then if my client only does work for hire"? The answer to that is sort of rough, but you need to seek other clients using your previously published work in your portfolio. The educational market is the only one that really uses the work for hire contract and their pay is terrible anyway. I advise my students to take non art jobs if they need to in order to get work in front of clients that don't use the work for hire model. Most major publishers in Trade books do not use work for hire contracts. So avoid educational work and you should be fine.

    In answer to your specific question, the client can't own a "style" they can only own the specific character that they bought with that project. So as long as your new characters are different a little bit your should be fine. No company would go after you unless it was blatant and intentional on your part to use the same character.

    If a client wants work for hire, I suggest trying to grant them an "all rights" contract with you keeping the copyright. They get to use the work in anyway they see fit so it still fits what they need. (Note: this is still not a great option, but it's better than losing the copyright to the work).

    I know all this kind of stuff is confusing, so hang in there. Let me know if you have any other questions. : )


  • This is incredibly helpful!

  • Lee,

    Thank you so much for your response! I am working for an author who is self publishing and is actually paying me very well considering she's self publishing and more than half the illustrations are spot illustrations. We've had a really good rapport and I've already been paid for the character designs and want to do this book so I decided to just sign her contract with the provision that I have the right to show the work in my portfolio and marketing pieces. I am working on two other books for self publishing authors who signed my contracts giving them a license to use the work for their books so I feel like I am making progress in some of my contract negotiations. 🙂

    I appreciate the answer to my style question.

    I understand that you may be adding a business class to SVS Learn in the future and I am greatly looking forward to that!

  • Regarding Work for Hire - I understand why you would say don't do it but if I hadn't accepted any work for hire contracts during the past two years, I wouldn't have had any jobs! So I think for me it has been ok and also to do work for lower pay so that I could gain experience and at least be paid something while I still consider myself to be learning. I am in a position where my husband's income can support us so whatever I make is extra and I am making a profit and will at least double last years income so I am happy with the direction I am heading in.

  • I Have done work for hire, But I am still learning so i do take on the book project to gain more experience. I do not agree working this way though , it's horrible.

  • @Lee-Holland I think it's an investment in my career which I waited for a really long time to pursue. I'm currently working on 3 children's books right now and I'm so happy to be doing it. Only one is work for hire. But I have a collection of published children's illustration in my portfolio which were work for hire and helped me get these current jobs. Each project has been a step in a positive direction where I am being paid to grow my skills and portfolio. So if I do a project as work for hire and it suddenly catapults into the public domain and is very popular, people will come looking for me and I may get more work even if I don't make any more money off of that character. It gives your mind a lot of peace to look at things this way.

  • Hi everyone. Great thread. I have a question based on what had been discussed. I have done 13 illustrations for a client who paid me very little for each. The original agreement was for a self published book, but since starting, she now wants to send the book to a publisher. We didn't have an agreement in place, just a simple friendly agreement that I will create the illustrations. (I have learned my lesson). I have added them to my facebook page to promote my skills and she is asking me to take them down. What should I do? Do I have the right to show them in my portfolio? Thanks in advance. Any advice would be appreciated.

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