By Daniel Hernandez
When hiring someone to design an album cover art, having the designer sign an agreement stating that the artwork is a “work-for-hire” could save a ton of time and money.
A piece of artwork being a “work-for-hire” means that the creator of the work has assigned copyright ownership of the work to the person paying to have the work created. When someone creates a piece of art, he or she technically owns the copyright to that work from the moment the work is “fixed in a tangible medium.” However, when a “work-for-hire” agreement is involved, whoever commissioned the original author of the work is deemed to be the legal author of the work and thus automatically owns the copyright to that work.
For a recording artist to use cover art to promote him or herself and sell merchandise, he or she obviously must have the legal right to do so. However, without an agreement to the contrary, even if the recording artist is commissioning someone to design the artwork for his or her album, legally speaking, the designer most likely only granted the recording artist a license to use it as the actual album cover. Not to sell merchandise. Perhaps not even to sell physical versions of the album.
Rather than having to deal with licensing the artwork with every use, a work-for-hire agreement allows a recording artist to pay a one-time fee to use the artwork however he or she pleases.
If you’re a small artist, it’s unlikely that the creator of the artwork will go through the trouble of filing a lawsuit over a couple of t-shirts or posters you sell with the artwork on them. However, if you have any expectation of making it big one day, it’s best to set yourself up to be unrestricted when using the artwork — that way you won’t find out years from now that you owe royalties from the 5,000 t-shirts you sold. Imagine how expensive it would be if Iron Maiden had to pay the artists behind their album covers every single time they sold merchandise with that design.
Even if you already paid someone to make a cover art, it’s usually not too late to get an agreement stating that the artwork is a work-for-hire. If you need assistance drafting or negotiating an album cover art agreement, do not hesitate to contact us at the Law Office of Adam C. Freedman, PLLC.
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