Intellectual Property Law

Beginners Guide to Licensing Your Art

Whether it's for staging a home, helping a company design its products, or creating a design scheme for a specific product, art licensing is a growing industry that every artist should consider looking into

Are you an artist looking to expand your horizons with how your artwork is presented and shared with the public? If so, then licensing out your artwork may be a great avenue for you. Unlike artwork that is sold to an individual forever, an art license allows an artist to sell the rights for the sale and redistribution of a certain piece of work, usually a print, for a specific amount of time. Once that timeframe is over, the artist regains control over their artwork, its sale, and its redistribution again. 

Whether it’s for staging a home, helping a company design its products, or creating a design scheme for a specific product, art licensing is a growing industry that every artist should consider looking into. Today, we are going to go over the basics of art licensing for those who are ready to get their feet wet. Let’s get started!

Register Your Copyright 

Whenever you create a piece of artwork, your copyright protections will automatically go into place. However, this is different from registering your copyright with the US copyright office. When you register your copyright, you give yourself additional protection if an infringement does happen. There are several benefits to registering your copyright and if you are looking at licensing your artwork, registering your copyright is something you will want to do. A registered copyright is easier to defend in court, it will allow you to collect on statutory damages and attorney’s fees, and it provides a public record that the copyrighted work is yours. Some artists prefer to register their copyrights only after they begin licensing a certain piece of artwork. For other artists, they register their copyrights as they go along in the creation process.

Do Your Research

As with anything, before you jump into art licensing, it’s important to do your due diligence first. Stock up on an arsenal of books, websites, and other resources that talk about art licensing. What better way to learn the process than by following the cues of those who have already done it. 

There are plenty of blogs and websites created by artists who talk about the ins and outs of art licensing and what they have found success with. Some great websites include Theabundantartist.com and MariaBrophy.com. Understanding how the pros do it will allow you to have confidence in art licensing in terms of charging a fair rate, working in the right market, and negotiating appropriate and fair terms. 

Know the Market You Are Selling In 

Once you have an understanding of what to expect from the art licensing world, it’s time to decide what market you belong in. Licensing your artwork means understanding the type of artwork you create and where that artwork would best fit. Does your artwork resonate with specific products like mugs, t-shirts, or other commercial uses or does your artwork fall within the realms of smaller scale, independent businesses? Knowing this will help you decide whether you should pitch to distributors that provide goods for big box stores or whether you should work in a more grassroots method by reaching out to independent, small business owners. 

Create a Public Online Portfolio of Your Work 

Before you can move forward with finding clients that are interested in licensing your artwork, you need to have a portfolio or art catalog for them to look at. There are different ways you can compile your work, but an online public portfolio is one of the best ways to have your artwork on display for others to look at. When you are making pitches, it is easier to attach a link to your portfolio because your potential client is more likely to look at it than if you were to upload attachments that are large and tedious to download. You can start setting up your portfolio using easy builder sites like WixCrevado, or Behance.

When you are creating your portfolio, make sure the artwork you are displaying matches the market you want to work in. For example, if your artwork would serve well as a designer label for different drink products, then you want to display that type of artwork on mock up drink products. When you are creating your portfolio, make sure to have a style guide. This is a technical term meaning you have 10 to 12 images within the same theme for prospective clients to look at. This will give them an idea of how your artwork varies within that theme and whether or not you would be a good fit to work with. 

Use The Power of Social Media 

One of the best ways to get the ball rolling in striking art licensing deals is by having a social media platform and networking through it. Whether it’s an Instagram feed, a Facebook page, or even a Tik Tok account, social media can help you to have an online presence that displays your artwork. This way, when you connect with businesses and brands, you have a quick and easy point of reference to sharing your artwork. Not only will a social media presence allow you to connect with other businesses on a professional level, but allows them to see you as an individual as well. 

Following the social media accounts of businesses and brands you like is another way to stay in the loop of what they’re looking for as well. Staying connected will allow you to tailor your artwork so that it can match their brand and best of all, it gives you a direct connection to brands and companies you want to work for. Do not be afraid of connecting over social media with different brands and companies in search of an art licensing deal. 

Pitch to Brands You Would Like to Work with

The best chance of gaining an art licensing deal is by pitching to brands that you genuinely want to work for. Chances are as an artist, you have a design niche you are really good at. Pitching to those niches will help you narrow your focus and will allow you a better chance of securing a licensing deal. Your interest in creating their artwork will show through your designs and it fosters a meaningful partnership overall. 

Always Retain Ownership of Your Artwork 

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of art licensing is making sure that you retain ownership of your artwork even if you license it out. Retaining ownership means you do not sign over the copyrights of your artwork to whoever you are working with, even if it’s for a short period of time. 

When you license out your artwork, be sure to specify in the contract how your artwork will be used and whether or not the brand has creative license to modify or adapt your artwork. Almost always, artists do not give their clients the ability to change the licensed artwork. Rather, artists may consider having a clause that allows for the artist to make changes if necessary to specific pieces of licensed artwork. 

Having protections like this in place allows you to have control of not only that specific artwork but over your brand in general. The last thing any artist wants to deal with is having a brand or company change or alter their artwork in a way that changes the public perception of that artist. This can be damaging for future licensing deals with prospective clients. 

Create an Art Licensing Agreement

The final piece to licensing out your artwork is having an art licensing agreement on hand. Whether you provide your own agreement or sign the agreement provided to you, all art licensing agreements should contain some basic pieces of information including the following: 

  • Who your art will be licensed out to 
  • What your advanced rate will be and what your royalties will be
  • The length of the agreement
  • Terms and conditions about nullifying the agreement
  • Any information regarding changes to the artwork and who can make the changes

License Your Own Art Using Print on Demand Sites

One of the best ways to get your feet wet in the licensing world is by licensing out your own artwork through online print on demand sites like Art.com. Through these websites, you can have your prints sold individually and framed or have your artwork sold on products. This is a neat way to generate passive income all while sharing your artwork with the world. Displaying your artwork through similar print on demand sites is another way to get exposure to other brands and businesses as well. 

Conclusion 

Artists, especially budding ones, can unfortunately often devalue themselves and their work. When it comes to licensing out your artwork, you have to remember that you as the artist are the one who has the ultimate control over your work. Don’t let a brand or company corner you into giving up the rights over your artwork or devaluing the monetary value of your work. The more you license out your work, the quicker you will understand how to truly market your brand. For many artists, this is what leads to the expansion and the start of a solid foundation in the art licensing world. 

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