Licensing Art is the Industry Standard

All Intellectual Property is Protected by Copyright Laws

Visual art, such as photography, illustrations, and graphic design, is intellectual property and is protected by U.S. copyright laws just like literary works and music. This gives artist the right to license their artwork for others to use and to prevent others from using their artwork. The licensing model is the intellectual property industry standard. Recent stories in the news have illustrated that we cannot freely copy and redistribute music or an author's writings without proper compensation and written approval. We all remember the stern warnings in our Language Arts class about plagiarism, the FBI warnings on DVDs, and the button “I agree with this licensing agreement” on the last software program we installed. Visual art is governed by the same copyright laws and, therefore, requires written agreements for use.

Licensing Art Usage is Not New

Licensing usage is a business model that has been around for a long time. This is nothing new. For example, portrait and wedding photographers have, since day one, been able to protect this business model by ownership of the negatives. If you needed more prints you had to pay the original photographer for more. It makes sense because if you need to use only one print you just have to pay for one. And if you need to use more, they are available for a reasonable price. Everyone benefited from licensing artwork.

It was easy to maintain so photographers did not feel the need to continually communicate that they were following the licensing usage business model. There was no reason to go to great lengths to protect their copyright, because the customer could not easily copy the image. The same was also historically true for other visual creators such as illustrators. The illustrator would retain the original illustration and if their client needed to use the illustration again they would have to ask the original illustrator. This is the historical model upon which all artists have been running their businesses for over 175 years, and this usage model still thrives. Now, many businesses, including stock agencies, recognize that the benefits of licensing art usage are shared by everyone not just the artist.

New Technology Has Resulted in Strengthened Copyright Laws

Recent advances in reproduction technology such as photocopy machines, have made it easier to copy intellectual property of every kind without having to contact the creator for the original. While this technology has made great advancements for society, it threatens the livelihood of all artists. Therefore the Copyright Laws of the United States were updated in 1976 to strengthen the rights of artists who previously relied on owning the original. This has given artists greater protection as technology evolves.

Technology is also why you have heard more news about artists in every medium working hard to protect their copyrights. As technology advances and makes it easier for people to copy an artist's work without their permission, artists are taking a stand and are being more vocal to protect their copyrights and their livelihood. Artists who do not follow the licensing usage business model are either following old business models which no longer apply, or they are new artists that are unaware of their rights and responsibilities to themselves, their clients, and their colleagues. These artists will find it difficult to make a living and stay in business.

All Professional Art Organizations Follow the Licensing Usage Business Model

Intellectual property is an artist's livelihood and their long term investment, which is why I never sell my copyrights. I know not everyone has had experience with the licensing usage of visual artwork. Therefore, in addition to the articles on my website, I compiled a list of useful resources of professional organizations for you that I hope will explain any questions you may have.

Advertising Photographers of America - APA have an excellent explanation of the value of copyright to the individual artist titled, "Licensing, and the Value of Copyright" by past APA president Jeff Sedlik

American Society of Media Photographers - ASMP put together this great handbook for “Working With An Architectural Photographer” who follows the licensing model.

American Society of Media Photographers - ASMP also put together this similar handbook for “Working With An Assignment Photographer” who follows the licensing model.

The Graphic Artist Guild - GAG has created a great article about “The Code of Fair Practice for the Graphic Communication Industry”.

The Graphic Artist Guild - GAG has also created an “Ask First Campaign” to raise awareness about artists' rights.

American Institute of Graphic Arts – AIGA has created a series of articles about “Design Business and Ethics

The series covers:

Business and ethical expectations for professional designers with information on copyrights and licensing

A Guide to copyright for artist that illustrates their right to license their work

For more information on copyright please read my article on U.S. copyright laws complete with links for more information.