• Hey everyone,

    I'm applying for illustration freelance gigs & I need to know: does the client retain all the copyrights to the images?

  • SVS OG

    I'm not an expert but I believe that you can keep the rights to your work. It might be in how you write up the contract. I think that Lee White has talked about this a little in the Business of Illustration class. If you are a member of scbwi, the answer you're looking for might be in "The Book".

  • SVS OG

    @amberwingart Have you watched Lee White's "how to make money in illustration part one" ? he really goes into detail on this subject - it is a short class and it is really well done like all of Lee's videos - here is the link 🙂

  • It really depends on the client, Bad client want to pay a low price and keep all the rights to the work. And good high paying clients let you keep the rights. This is what I have found working for publishers.

  • They have the right to use the image but usually it depends on what your contract says. Artists retain the intellectual rights to the created piece but it is the client that owns the rights to use it how they like. It is a very fuzzy thing because some companies do include that they own all rights to created material.

  • @MuttsGraphix The gig I just got is for "work for hire" so that she has all of the copyrights, but she's going to credit me as the illustrator.

  • Does anyone know of a place to download an illustrator's contract that I can use? This is my first gig and I don't know what to write...

  • Check out The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook. It is a great resource for contracts and has whole chapters related to who keeps the rights in different situations.

    A true work for hire (where the client keeps all the rights) is when you are employed full time with benefits for someone. If you are being contracted and they keep all the rights, that is called a "buy out" and it typically should cost the client 3X your normal rate.

  • @corykerr Holy cow - really?? Oh boy, I've really kinda messed myself up on this one then... I've been wanting to do a tarot card set of my own and all of a sudden I get hired by this woman who wants to do the EXACT SAME THING I've been thinking about doing on my own. But she wants it to be a work for hire, but give me attribution, just no rights. She also wants to be able to use the images on mugs, t-shirts, etc. Now I'm wondering if I should turn this one down...

    @Lee-White - what do you think? Should I bow out of this? Or should I say no to the work for hire? She's made it clear she definitely wants a work for hire. I need to make a decision before I meet with her on Thursday...

    She's really nice, but I've kind of had a strange feeling I was going to get unpleasantly surprised by this one, even though it's a $10,507 job...

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    If she wants the rights, you can do a number of things.

    1. Give her the rights, but add an extra fee for it. $50 per image perhaps for a buyout.

    2. Offer you royalties on the project. This rewards a successful project and costs her nothing.

    3. Don't give her work for hire rights. Just giver her the rights to do the tarot deck with a certain number of copies.

    Keep things upbeat. Things like "I'd be happy to sell you the rights to the images. That costs $50 per image extra for a buyout." etc. Just keep it up like it's all normal. Because it is normal. Clients have to deal with rights licensing all the time. It's part of what we do.

    Sometimes it's our job to educate the client on these issues. It's not super fun, but it's essential.

  • @Lee-White Thank you again, Lee. I'm feeling like a dunce again, because I already told her it wasn't necessary to give me royalties. I should never be allowed to speak to clients. Seriously. I'm just kicking myself.

  • @amberwingart It's okay. All is not lost. @Lee-White has some great thoughts. I'll throw this one in there too: we all go through this learning curve as we figure this stuff out.

    If she is a good client/person/etc, she'll respect that you're interested in this being a mutually beneficial relationship. If one side of the deal is getting screwed, then that causes poor feelings which in turn hurts the work and future projects. It is in both of your best interests to make sure you cut a deal that works for both of you.

    Also, I know $10k feels like a lot, but remember how much work you're anticipating. Don't get star struck by the big numbers and make sure to get some money up front and then each time to turn over work AND (I can't stress this enough) absolutely under no circumstances do you turn over high resolution files until you receive the final payment. No matter how rushed, or what story you're told, no print ready files without full payment. I call this a "studio rule" to my clients. I often tell them, "I know that you're not the type of person that would stiff me, but I've been burnt before, so I have a couple of simple rules to avoid that. I hope you understand."

    Also, make sure you have a "kill fee" in the contract. In fact, I have a little video that might help:

    The most important thing to remember is that you'll be okay. Everything will work out and be fine. Present your case and work out a mutually beneficial deal or walk away. Either way, do so professionally without burning bridges and you'll be okay.

    You got this!

  • @corykerr Thank you again, Cory. I'm feeling a lot better about it now. I just have to keep reminding myself that it's my first time, so of course there will be some hiccups. I haven't gotten to the business videos here yet though because I'm working my way up. I guess I'm going to have to jump ahead 🙂 .

  • Congrats! The assignment fits you well I think. According to the rights, I stand with Cory. If you hand over the rights, the customer can resell your illustrations all over the world, therefor you have to be rewarded. I onces made the mistake by handing over the rights with small extra costs, the costumer reselled the illustrations to several other companies. Its really not Funny to walk in to a store and see the books over and over, knowing how much effort there was, and the payment I got at that time. Be ware of that. Good luck!

  • @amberwingart You'll do great! and business mistakes are not lethal, they're lessons. I'm happy to help anytime. Hit me up here or on

  • @corykerr Thank you! That video of yours is really helpful, btw! I'm working on the contract right now, but it brought up yet another the illustrator responsible for the photography of the pieces if it's done in traditional media? Is there any extra charge to the client if we are?

    I posted that question to Lee on another thread, but I'm not sure who's going to see it first & I have to have the contract to the client today...

  • Wow. This is getting really complicated. The client wants me to sign a contract that says the following:

    "Waiver of Copyright and Credit for Creation. The Visual Artist acknowledges that the Visual Art is being ghost created for **** and the Visual Artist shall not claim any copyright or moral rights over the Visual Art. Furthermore, the Visual Artist grants **** full authority to claim they were the creator of the Visual Art and may take full credit for same. The Visual Artist shall in no way object, or disclose to any third party that they were the Visual Artist of any visual art."

    When she and I spoke, she said she was giving me attribution and in the job description on Upwork, she said she's giving attribution to me. She never said anything about me pretending like she drew it. Earlier in the contract, it also says I can be sued if something else I create looks like it's derived from this deck. So basically, if I do my own tarot deck with animals, I can be sued and I can never tell anyone that I created her deck.

    I'm using the contract from the Graphic Arts Guild. Shouldn't we just have ONE contract? Should I be signing a SECOND contract for the same project?

    I don't feel right about this. I know that $10,000 is a lot of money for a first illustration job, but this is feeling less and less right. I'm charging her $133 per image and giving her full copyrights.

    It seems to me that I shouldn't be signing a second contract, because mine and hers could conflict.

    @Lee-White @corykerr - I'm not sure which of you will see this first, but help would be greatly appreciated... 😞

  • SVS OG

    Goodness me @amberwingart ...again I'm no authority on contracts, but I'm pretty sure that letting the client pretend to be the artist, and you not even being allowed to claim that you're the artist of the work - is utterly bonkers and a completely unreasonable thing to ask!

    Every artist is going to want to put their work in their portfolio, to show what they can do, to get future work, and so on, even if they can't show it until the project is published. It's a basic part of being an artist. It's dishonest for your client to pretend that they created the work. It also contradicts the 'giving you attribution' part that you originally discussed.

    I don't like the sound of this at all - also the 'being able to sue you if you do something similar' part. Your art and your style is your own and you don't want to be getting into problems like this. Personally I'd lay out the terms that you want (sensible ones, using your own contract, and just one contract in total) and be prepared to walk away if you can't come to a good agreement. Hope it works out for you though... good luck...and hopefully someone with more experience will comment too.

  • SVS OG

    @amberwingart This sounds so shady to me - your work is too good for this person - I would chalk this up to a learning experience before you do all of this work - I think the terms of the contract are unkind and unethical - one thing though is anyone can now see by reading your post who your client will be and that you are making a Tarot deck that they will be pretending to have made will they sue you after you make the deck for them because of this post where the cat has been let out of the bag? Not meaning to make you nervous but they have made it clear that they are not reasonable and are litigious - I do like Dulcie's idea of bringing your contract (where you keep the rights) and walking away if they are not willing to be professional - (sorry this is a bit of a rant )

  • Thank you, @Dulcie & @Kevin-Longueil - I'm just not feeling right about it either. It's especially concerning because when we spoke on the phone the other day, I told her that literally just 3 days before I found and applied for her job posting, I'd started creating a tarot deck myself that I was going to self publish and it's this EXACT same idea! So I told her I would discontinue that and do a different deck in the future when I finish hers. But at NO point in the conversation did I tell her that I would be a "ghost writer" for her and that she could claim she created it. In fact, she said that she'd give me attribution (I wouldn't do it if she didn't, because then this would give me no future work and 20 months worth of work would be useless to me).

    Kevin, yeah, I think this thread would definitely constitute a breach of contract, if I signed it. I already know there's no way I'll sign that. In fact, for only $10,507, I don't feel comfortable selling all of the rights because she wants to use the images in a popular app, as well on merchandise.

    I've been working on my contract all day. A fellow artist said that I should just give her the choice between publishing rights, where I charge her $133 per image (equalling $10,507) or exclusive rights, where I charge her $300 per image, but not sell her a buy out. What do you think - is $300 an image too much? That's be around $20,000 - I don't know if that's too much to ask...

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