You’ve already found your passion, so let Nolo's Artist's Bundle coach you through the business and legal side of getting your work on the market. This bundle covers everything from copyrights and patents to pricing and business structure, including:
finding and utilizing free ways to promote your business online
completing and filing required business forms
the elements of a license and merchandise agreement
What’s the difference between licensing my work and assigning it to another company?
In a contract for the production or sale of your artwork, you can do one of two things: license your artwork or assign your work. An assignment is like a sale -- you usually give up all ownership rights to your art. A license is more like to renting your work -- you temporarily transfer your rights but keep ownership of the art.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a company is wants an assignment or a license. You may have to read the proposed contract very carefully. Look for:
Reversionary rights. If you get the rights back to your artwork, you are most likely dealing with a license. This return of ownership is usually referred to as a “reversion” or “reversionary rights” in most license agreements.
Assignment terms. Be careful if a license agreement says it is “perpetual” or lasts “for the life of the copyright” or has similar language. This type of agreement is probably an assignment of your rights.
Will I be violating any zoning laws if I run my art business from my home?
Most cities have zones for commercial, industrial zones, and residential use. Some cities prohibit all kinds of business activities in residential areas, but most allow small, non-polluting home businesses. You just need to make sure your business isn’t a nuisance to the neighborhood.
To find out what your city’s zoning laws permit, it’s probably easiest just to call the local planning and zoning office and ask. If you’d rather do some research before alerting officials to your plans, read your local ordinances first. They’re probably available online at your city’s official website; if not, ask at city or county clerk's office, the city attorney's office, or a public library.
Zoning ordinances may approve certain kinds of businesses, or they may simply allow “customary home-based occupations.” If you read your ordinance and still have question but think your business will be legal, talk to the planning and zoning folks.
Should I sell my artwork on consignment?
Many people who produce artwork sell it on consignment, which gives them a way into sales outlets that they might not otherwise have. With a consignment arrangement, you provide work to a reseller, who agrees to pay you proceeds from the sales minus a commission. If your product doesn't sell, the seller can return it. The seller takes very little risk because it doesn't have to purchase goods.
There are risks for you, too. Before you sign up, sign a written agreement that spells out the inventory being consigned and other details of the deal, including who pays for shipping, how you’ll be paid, what insurance the seller has to protect you against loss, how long the seller will keep the work, and how you’ll settle any disputes that come up.
I’m thinking about renting studio space with other artists. How can we make a legal agreement about our obligations?
Many artists need rent studio space but can’t afford to do it alone. First, make sure you’re compatible when it comes to sharing work space—think about smells, dust, noise, drips, hours, storage, clean-up, and visitors. In addition to sharing space, you might share equipment (kiln, lights, tools) or save money by buying supplies in bulk.
A written agreement is crucial. Be sure to cover:
Who pays what share of the rent, utilities, insurance, and security deposit
Who owns equipment and, if you share ownership, who has the right to buy out the other if the arrangement ends.
Scheduling, if you can’t all use the space at once
Can I use another artist’s work if I’m creating something new?
It depends. You may have heard of the “fair use” rule, which lets you make limited use of copyrighted work without the author’s permission. The idea behind the rule is that the public should be able to use portions of copyrighted materials for purposes of commentary and criticism.
Subject to some limitations, it’s usually fair use to make use of copyrighted material for:
Criticism -- for example, quoting part of a book in a book review
Reporting -- for example, summarizing a work, with brief quotations, in a news story
Scholarly comment -- for example, quoting a short passage in a scholarly or technical work to clarify or comment on it
Nonprofit educational uses -- for example, photocopying limited portions of written works by teachers for use in the classroom
Parody -- ridiculing a well-known work by imitating it in a comic way
In most other situations, copying without permission violates the author's copyright.