Use an Artwork Release Form to Protect Your Work

Use an Artwork Release Form to Protect Your Work

by Belle Wong, J.D., March 2019

Working artists today have access to additional means of income from their artwork that go beyond the traditional practice of selling their art to individual buyers. If you've been approached by a business for permission to use your artwork in their products, whether that product is a film, an event, or a physical good, it's a good idea to protect yourself with an artwork release form.

Situations Where An Artwork Rights Release Form Is Important

These days, there are countless situations where an artist may encounter the need to either draft an artwork release form or review some type of copyright release form for artwork.

If you're in the business of distributing and selling your artwork, you may have encountered any number of the following situations:

  • A film production company wishes to use your art in a scene in one of its movies.
  • A website asks for permission to use one of your photos to illustrate an online article.
  • An art gallery wants to include your sculpture in an upcoming exhibition.
  • A manufacturer thinks your charcoal sketch is perfect for a series of coffee mugs it is releasing.

These are just some examples of occasions in which artists will find the need for an artwork release form in order to protect their rights to their artistic creations. Whether it's a release to sell artwork to a film company or an artist release form for an art exhibit, what all standard artist release forms have in common is their focus on protecting your rights to your original artwork.

Using an Artwork Release Form

Whether the company wishing to use your art is asking you to sign their standard release, or you're drafting your own artwork release form, there are a number of terms and conditions that you should consider before you sign.

The following are some of the sections or clauses that should be included in any artwork release form you sign:

  • The artwork. The form you use should include a full description of the artwork that is the subject matter of the release.
  • The rights being granted. This section requires your careful consideration, as it specifies exactly what rights you are granting. In general, you want to make sure you are granting rights that are limited to a specific proposed use, and also that you are not giving away your copyright of your artwork. For example, if a film company wishes to use your painting in a scene in their movie, there is no need for you to give the company a broader right to use your painting in other ways.
  • The time period during which the rights are granted. Unless it's a situation where the other party needs to be permitted to use the rights you are granting in perpetuity (that is, without a time restriction), the release form should clearly state the specific time period for which the rights are granted.
  • Compensation for the rights granted. This section should specify not only the payment you are entitled to receive for the use of your artwork, but also when and how such payment should be made. For example, the party to whom you are releasing the rights may wish to pay you in installment payments, or you may have negotiated a percentage of the profits or royalties. This information should be clearly set out in this section.

If you're reviewing an artist release form that's been drafted by the company that wishes to use your artwork, their form also may include other terms, such as your warranty that you are the creator of the artwork in question, or that you hold the copyright to the work and are entitled to grant the rights set out in the form. If you're uncertain about any terms in the form, you may want to obtain the advice of a professional experienced in copyright issues.

Permitting others to use your artwork can be a good source of income for today's working artist. If you find yourself fielding such requests for your art, having a properly drafted artist release form on hand for such opportunities can go a long way to protecting your rights over your artwork.