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What is fair to charge for licensing/copyright?

Full disclaimer, I'm not an artist, but recent experience commissioning illustrations for a book I plan on self-publishing has got me wondering about the costs of licensing, use right, copyright, etc. Commission prices are one thing, but how much can/should an artist charge if you want to use their work in a commercial product? Buy out the illustration entirely thereby obtaining the copyright? Does it matter (much) how the image will be used or how successful you expect the product to be? Should artists usually demand royalties or is a flat fee more acceptable under most circumstances? A cursory Google search did not yield much information beyond advising artists to always charge an additional fee for licencing (and especially the copyright), with which I wholeheartedly agree, but should be the fee be, say, about as much as the commission itself? More? Less?

Apologies if this has already been brought up in a previous thread.
Apologies if this is a little long — I don't have a ton of experience in this area, but after talking to artfolks and working a bit of freelance... well, I'm sure I picked up at least a little bit on the subject!

I think it's a combination of being up to the artist (people value their time differently) and the estimations of the wages they'll lose by giving up copyright, or certain rights (printing it only as a poster, printing it as a book cover/movie poster/pencil case, etc).

So, let's say I get commissioned for a painting. There was no special contract (no written contract, no written consent of me giving up copyright, etc) — this commission is just for the commissioner's personal use, and I retain all rights to the work. I can sell prints, make a book, and technically advertise or license out the work to another company for profit (though the last one is important, the first two are gonna be pretty bread and butter. Passive income is important!). The commissioner is paying for an image they want, and that's just about it. If the artist doesn't specifically give special rights to the commissioner, the copyright and reproduction rights will belong to the artist. Pretty easy, I think.

But, sometimes people need rights. If you're a publisher, will you be releasing your book in America/overseas/etc? Is there going to be a paperback AND a hardcover? It it an eBook or is it print? Or both? Do you need perpetual rights, or is the book only going to be printed once and then you don't need the image again? How many copies do you expect to sell, if you want to try to offer royalties? What will your terms offer the artist? The more you need, the higher the fee is bound to be.

Personally, I wouldn't sign a contract that didn't allow me at least some reproduction rights (prints, self-promotion, etc) and I'd rather not give up copyright at all. Furoticon is awesome in that regard — artists get to keep copyright, and they get the reproduction rights that they need. Win-win!). I once (and only once) worked with a certain company that didn't want to allow prints, claiming "Blizzard didn't allow it, and we're copying their contract." I went ahead and edited the contract (adding in the parts I wanted), sent it back, and they signed it. They were going to be in some legal trouble if they didn't, considering they had been using the image for months without paying me or getting my permission. Protip — never do that. ;)

So! The fees should definitely be more if they're giving ANY rights up (even temporarily)! Royalties are definitely a thing that can be arranged if you don't have a ton of dollars in advance, but don't be surprised if an artist refuses — there's always that chance the product could fail and the artists loses profit AND their rights. Be really clear about what you want to actually use the image for. You could have exclusive rights just to the book cover, and allow the artist to license out the art to be used as... idk, a month in a calendar or something.

There are plenty of resources to help, but you might need to frame your search from the perspective of an artist. :)


Hope that helps!
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One thing to keep in mind:

You won't *just* need an illustration for a book — typography is pretty important too. Fonts are not always free for commercial use, and I can't recommend dropping the image into Word and putting your title/name on it in Times New Roman. The illustrator themselves might have this skill, but they will (or at least should) charge extra for that talent.


I feel the website quotes a little low on book covers, but I think that's more for typography/design/placement/photography/etc. An illustration can go above and beyond those costs quite easily because of the time and effort they take.
What about the proportional cost of the fees to the commission itself? If an artist charges, say, 50.00 for a commission, how much should the license to use the image in a single book cost? How much should the reproduction rights cost? The full copyright?


Lv. 3 Rage Squid
First and foremost get any licensing agreement in writing in the form of a contract. In this contract, you will strictly set which specific works shall be reproduced (or, if any and all works, specifically designate so), the number of reproductions (if unlimited, state unlimited), the medium and use of reproductions ("digital, print, and any medium in and not yet currently in existence until the end of time"), whether or not they shall be altered in any way, shape or form, limitations or restrictions on whether they can use it for their own profit, the percent profit they may make, the time frame of when they can profit, and restriction of allowing further generations of retailers from accepting similar usage rights.

For your own profits by selling usage rights, I would set the price according to how much you can milk it by. If it's for a small enough cause, a small indie band using your image as their CD cover, you can get away with a price of a one-time $50 to $200 fee. If you're designing a U2 album, multiply it by 100. Bono has that kind of cash in-pocket.

In the end, it's a contract. Contracts, until signed, are discussions. Have you ever crossed things out and written on a contract and handed it back? Did you know you could even DO that?

It comes down to what you and the licensee find fair. If either party feels cheaped out, make a counter-offer, and if they won't budge, no deal. If they make verbal promises or additions, GET IT IN WRITING. If they're saying "you could be featured and exposed by us if you do this deal", get all the specifics in writing, or they're just bullshitting you.

So that's the answer; make considerations as to the medium and limitations of use, the potential exposure, and popularity/wallet size of the licensee in question, and try to get some money off of them.