Question About Licensing Artwork

Another SAQA member recently posted a question to our Facebook group asking about licensing one of her quilts. This was her question:

I’m looking for advice/recommendations on possibly licensing an image of one of my art quilts.

I have a dragon boat-themed piece and someone has asked if they can license the image for team shirts. I’m thinking it might be easier to put the image up on a site like Society6 and just have them buy the shirts that way (since it’s unlikely to be a large run of items), but I have zero experience in this area. Thoughts?

One of the presentations I give talks about licensing, so I was happy to post a reply.

My Response

To answer your question: There are a couple of ways you can handle this particular situation. Let me give you a few "for instances".

1. Charge a flat fee, and hand over a copy of your picture for printing. This is a “friendly” transaction.

PRO: Simple, easy transaction

PRO: No set-up or pre-sale work is required on your end, provided you already have a photo of your quilt. The person using your picture has to do all the legwork to get the image printed on shirts.

CON: There is technically nothing preventing the person using your image from using it for anything else. There are no limits, rules, or conditions set in place on the use of your photo.

2. Charge a flat fee. Write up a contract stating the terms & conditions of the purchase, including the permissible use-cases. Both of you sign it & your customer gets a copy, as well as a photo of your quilt to use for printing.

PRO: You have some legal coverage to protect your work.

CON: You have to set up a contract before the transaction.

CON: Unless a lawyer looks over the language in the contract, it might not be completely water-tight. However, it’s definitely still better than nothing.

3. Create a shirt yourself using your quilt & offer it for sale on a website such as Society6 or RedBubble. (I’d personally recommend taking a look at RedBubble if you choose this route. The pricing model is different. On Society6, the website sets the cost & you get 10% profit. On RedBubble, the website gives you a base cost & you set your own markup.)

PRO: No licensing contracts necessary. Anyone who wants 1 or more of your shirts can get them online without any human interaction.

PRO: Once the shirt is set up online, you’re totally hands-off on all sales.

CON: You have to create the shirt online before it can sell.

CON: There’s no bulk discount. (This won’t matter for a small print run.)

CON: Shirts printed on Society6 and RedBubble can’t be customized. (Such as putting individual numbers or last names on the back.)

From the information you provided in your question, I personally would suggest going route #2. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a contract of terms so both parties involved are on the same page with price and permitted use. It doesn’t need to be a multi-page document. You also aren’t responsible for creating the shirts yourself, and the person using your art can customize them if desired.