This morning, Danielle sent me an email in response to yesterday’s entry, saying she’d started it as a comment but that it got too long and that maybe it should be a post but that she didn’t know if she’d ever publish it. So, I asked her if I could. Her commentary is important because she straddles two worlds; working in the apparel industry but much of her work is technically graphic arts. The line she must draw is difficult but she sums it up nicely by saying her conduct is governed by a sense of professional decency. If you ever hire an artist for apparel industry related work, Danielle’s comments are a must read.
This post does a service for patternmakers that I’m trying to do right now for my own profession- that is define ethical business practices as a freelance fashion illustrator, in the absence of any sort of standard regulation or available education about such things.
This post doesn’t really help me resolve the questions I have about my situation though. I find myself struggling with a lot of nuance I don’t really understand well, because I am in some senses a contractor, but on the other hand I am dealing in graphic images where copyright is a big deal.
To my mind, technical illustration is very similar to patternmaking. I’ve found no better way to charge for this kind of work other than by hourly rate, and regardless of what the copyright law might be for images, I would never ever use drawings I developed for a client for any other client or purpose without express permission. This just makes sense to me though I never articulated it and I realize now it is a sense of professional decency.
Figure illustration to my mind is a bit stickier. The style I’ve developed is my own and frankly I’d like to exert a reasonable level of control over how my illustrations are used (moral rights, different media, control over sublicensing). Thus I’m more inclined to sell the figure illustration “by the sketch” and specify the copyright terms in writing (in my simple, non lawyerly way) so both the client and I are aware of what is to be expected. This is all negotiable in the same way that the use of a patternmaker’s trade secrets may be – exclusivity is expensive, limited rights can be very reasonable. To my mind, it is obvious that by commissioning the project that a client has the right to use the illustration for production and promotional purposes for their line. It even seems to me that it would be proper for me not to license the image for print or other media for as long as the client is in business. In fact, even if it isn’t specified I consider those terms an unspoken “gentleman’s agreement” as you say, upon which I build my reputation.
When I get inquiries about freelance design, which I am open to doing, I find I get in over my head when the client asks me about ownership of the “design”.
Frankly, I don’t care about whether I own the design that I “designed” or not. I have no desire or plans to manufacture apparel ever and as far as I’m concerned the technical drawings and ideas I develop are “work for hire” and belong to the client. Being that most of the time they are mashups of traditional design elements, just arranged and styled with a specific client in mind, they are neither particularly original ideas nor is the ownership of the design valuable to me and my business.
However, in the absence of written specification otherwise, the illustrated images technically belong to me under Canadian copyright law, whether I was paid hourly or by the sketch. With figure drawings, I want to own the sketch itself. I want to make sure no one can sublicense the image without my permission, use the image in contexts other than production or promotion of my client’s line, take credit for the illustration itself, or get another artist to alter the image. However, I have not figured out a satisfactory way to explain to a client the difference between ownership of the design and the ownership of the sketch. It seems to be more difficult to understand when the designer and the illustrator are the same person.
See, unlike this contractor, I’m not claiming that I own the design (which I suppose is the intellectual property of the client now). Say, if I drew a sketch (or even took a photo for that matter) of a house it’s not like I own the house, right? The sketch belongs to me.
Bringing it up at all seems pretty paper-happy (though usually it is only the paper happy clients who do bring it up), and honestly I don’t think I have a great understanding of what I’m talking about yet. For the most part I work with Gentleman’s agreements and act as ethically as I know how (barring ignorance) so that I’ll hopefully never have to deal a dispute, while knowing that (at least in Canada) the sketched images themselves are technically my property in case I ever find they are used inappropriately.