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Katie Lane’s Low-down on Work-for-Hire versus Assigning Your Copyrights

Posted by Rebecca Blake on March 21, 2016

Katie Lane illustrationAttorney Katie Lane recently addressed a question she often hears from her creative clients: what’s the difference between work-for-hire and assigning copyrights? Work-for-hire is a term which is frequently misunderstood, and confused with an all-rights buyout. Lane explains that a work-for-hire agreement means the client owns the copyright to whatever the artist creates: “From the very moment the thing is created, it’s owned by the client or your employer.” In contrast, when an artist assigns the copyright, the artist owns the copyright, and is selling that copyright to the client.

Lane further explains that for a work to qualify as work-for-hire, it has to either be created by an employee within the scope of that individual’s job (in which case the copyright belongs to the employer or firm), or it must meet one of nine categories, such as contributing to a collective work. Lane also points out that the agreement between the artist and client must stipulate that the work is work-for-hire.

Lane concludes by cautioning artists on the real limits work-for-hire agreements place on artists, such as prohibiting them from displaying the work in their portfolios. If a contract stipulates a project is work-for-hire, and the artist thinks it may not meet one of the nine qualifications, Lane’s advice is to negotiate before signing to see if the terms can be changed to assigning copyrights.

Lane’s full article, Work for Hire or Copyright Assignment?, can be read on her blog. The Work Made for Hire blog features articles written from a legal perspective for creatives, and includes tips on negotiating, reading contracts, and a comprehensive article on orphan works.

Illustration of Katie Lane © Dylan Meconis 2016. Used with permission.

NYPL Adds Public Domain Images to Digital Collections for Reuse by Artists

Posted by Rebecca Blake on February 02, 2016

The New York Public Library (NYPL) has added over 674,000 public domain images to their on online database of digital collections. The public domain database includes prints, photographs, maps, video, and manuscripts, which can be downloaded in high resolution. The NYPL statements on the collection indicate that the materials are out-of-copyright, and the public is invited to “go forth and reuse!”. However, a closer look at the NYPL selection process indicates that some images may not be public domain, or may have additional rights assigned, and artists are cautioned to proceed carefully before using the images.

The collection was developed with the NYPL Labs, an interdisciplinary team within the library with the mission of positioning the Library’s collections for the digital age. The NYPL Digital Collections overall provide a great resource of research, educational, and reference material for designers and illustrators. Visitors to the Collections can search by keyword, scroll through recently uploaded items, or browse collections such as Fashion, Nature, For Designers, or Book Arts and Illustrations. For illustrators needing reference material for historic projects, for example, illustrations of 1930s era farm life, the search features and collections can be a tremendous aid. To select for public domain images within a collection, the user checks the “Show Only Public Domain” filter selection. This filters for only images the NYPL believes are out-of-copyright.

NYPL Public Domain filter selection

Above: When in a collection, be sure to select for only public domain images to view images the NYPL has flagged as available for reuse.

While the newly added materials are described as “public domain” (items for which the coyright has expired or doesn't exist), the Library doesn’t commit to that legal designation. The Library legal team utilizes services such as reverse image searches and the Catalog of Copyright Entries to research the copyright status of items before release. However, because of changes in US copyright law, and the lack of provenance on many images (in particular photos), the NYPL demurs to definitively state the items are public domain. Instead, their blog post on the public domain additions clarifies that the legal team was unable to find copyrights to the items, and states that the Library is unable “to guarantee that we have not made a mistake in either the facts or the law.” The rights statement on the public domain images reads “We believe that this item has no known US copyright restrictions.” The statement also warns that the items may be additionally restricted: “The item may be subject to rights of privacy, rights of publicity and other restrictions.”

NYPL public domain image rights statement

In celebration of the release, the Library is inviting the public to apply for a “Remix Residency.” The NYPL Labs is accepting proposals to reuse and remix from the collection to create “transformative, interesting, beautiful new uses of our digital collections.” As examples of such uses, they’ve provided links to sample NYPL public domain remixes, such as “Navigating the Green Book,” an exploration of travel guides that showed restaurants, hotels, and other establishments open to African Americans during the age of segregation. NYPL Labs is accepting proposals through the end of February. Recipients of the residency will receive a $2,000 stipend, consultation with the Lab’s staff and curators, and workspace in the NYPL research rooms.

Designer Jonathan Barnbrook Releases David Bowie “Blackstar” Graphics for Noncommercial Use

Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 29, 2016

In remembrance of David Bowie, designer Jonathan Barnbrook has released the graphics used on Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, for non-commercial use. Barnbrook announced the release via Twitter, and on Bowie’s Facebook page. The Facebook post describes the release as a tribute to Bowie: “Barnbrook loved working with David Bowie, he was simply one of the most inspirational, kind people we have met. So in the spirit of openness and in remembrance of David we are releasing the artwork elements of his last album ★ (Blackstar) to download here free under a Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.” 

The post encourages fans to use the artwork for t-shirts, tattoos, and other artwork, but cautions that the license prohibits the use of the elements in anything that will be sold. 

Barnbrook is an award-winning designer and typographer based in London. His studio has designed books, corporate identities, CDs, websites, and motion graphics, and distributes original typefaces through VirusFonts. Barnbrook worked closely with Bowie on a number of projects, including the design of packaging and collateral for the albums Heathen, The Next Day, Nothing has Changed, and Blackstar. In an interview with Dezeen magazine, Barnbrook acknowledged that the Blackstar album design marked Bowie’s mortality: “The Blackstar symbol [★], rather than writing ‘Blackstar’, has as a sort of finality, a darkness, a simplicity, which is a representation of the music.” 

Below: Some of the graphics available for download. © Jonathan Barnbrook

Blackstar graphics © Jonathan Barnbrook

Copyright Infringement Dispute Highlights Issues of Plagiarism on Social Media

Posted by Rebecca Blake on December 29, 2015

Illustrator Ally Burguieres discovered this past Fall that one of her illustrations was posted to Taylor Swift’s social media accounts. The work was a copy of an illustration Burguieres sells as a print, and the fan who copied the work signed her own name rather than including Burguieres’ credit line. Swift apparently posted a snapshot of the fan’s post to her Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram accounts to promote her 1989 tour. After a year of negotiating with Swift’s representatives, Burguieres posted on Facebook that while her infringing work was immediately removed from Swift’s account, she was offered a four-figure compensation with the stipulation that she donate the amount to an animal charity. She refused the offer since it did not include her primary request: that her work be credited to her. (Swift’s representatives dispute this account.)

In light of Swift’s outspoken support of artists’ rights, the dispute received a lot of attention. Burguieres declined to pursue the matter any further. In an interview in Hyperallergic, Burguieres stated that she was satisfied with the attention the dispute brought to the issue of plagiarism. She put her finger on the issue artists have with the culture of sharing: “I know it’s a sharing culture now, and I have no problem with sharing artwork and having a collaborative culture as long as it’s credited.” 

The dispute casts a spotlight on the tangled issues created by the prevalence of fan art, a poor understanding of copyright, and the confusion created by the terms of use on social media sites. News reports of Burguieres’ dispute with Taylor describe the pirated illustration as fan art, but the term is not accurate. Fan art is typically artwork created by fans of popular visual media – comics, movies, TV shows, video games – and uses trademarked or copyrighted images. Numerous sources caution that the creation of fan art constitutes copyright infringement. (Read Plagiarism Today’s “The Messy World of Fan Art and Copyright” for a decent review.) A further complication is the misunderstanding of the terms of use issued by social media sites. For example, a widely-held myth is that anything posted to social media is “public domain” and free for reposting and downloading.

For individual illustrators, copies of their work made by fans creates a situation complicated by the illustrators’ reliance on licensing income to support their livelihood. On one hand, the adulation of a true fan is affirming and copies of the illustrator’s work can, if properly credited to the illustrator, generate publicity. On the other hand, fan art can dilute the licensing value of an illustration. Some illustrators are tolerant of fan art. Others who request that fans refrain from publishing copies of their work – something well within their rights – are often excoriated as greedy.

In Burguieres’ case, the situation was further complicated by the fact that the Taylor Swift fan who copied and posted Burguieres’ work signed her own name to it. Swift and members of her team were not aware that the image was pirated. The ease with which the image was reposted to Swift’s multiple social media accounts – and from there, reposted, downloaded, and shared countless times – essentially meant that as soon as the fan uploaded the copy, Burguieres lost any semblance of control over her image.  

Of course, the situation would have had a different outcome had some common sense (and basic courtesy) been followed. The fan should not have signed her name to an illustration that was a close copy of someone else’s work. (In fairness to the fan, she appears to be young and naïve – the case makes a good argument for adding copyright awareness to high school art curricula.) Swift’s publicity team should also have credited the original illustrator once the piracy came to light. After all, credit for her creation was the outcome Burguieres desired the most: “It shouldn’t be that difficult to give credit.

Below: Burguieres’ side-by-side comparisons of her illustration and Swift’s social media post. (© Ally Burguieres, used with permission of the artist)

 

Allly Burguieres illustration

Apparel Company Counters Piracy Accusation with Bogus Claim of Copyright Infringement

Posted by Rebecca Blake on December 28, 2015

Canadian illustrator Eric Kim reported that his illustration of pro wrestler Randy “The Macho Man” Savage was pirated by apparel company Freeze Central Mills Inc. In October, Kim discovered that Freeze had taken his artwork, flipped it, erased part of the image, and printed it on red sweatshirts with a holiday message. Although the sweatshirt image has been altered to appear as if it were created from cross-stitch embroidery, the illustration was clearly traced from Kim’s original. The sweatshirt was sold by 80s Tees in time for the 2015 holiday season.

Kim immediately took action, contacting Freeze Central Mills through his lawyer, and requesting a fee of $1,500 for the use of his image, of which $1,000 would have gone to legal fees. According to Kim, Freeze returned an offer of $350, a paltry sum. (Kim estimates that 1,440 sweatshirts were sold, generating $20,106 in income for Freeze.) The website which sold the sweatshirt, 80sTees, was far more accommodating to Kim, removing the shirt from sales, and adding Kim’s credit line and a link to his website. 

What is even more troubling about Freeze’s response to Kim is that they told him that he “was in trouble with the WWE (Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment) for even making the image” since he was violating the copyright of the image. If Kim’s recounting is accurate, Freeze is incorrect on several counts. Randy “The Macho Man” Savage was the ring name of the wrestler, Randy Mario Poffo, who developed the character while wrestling for the Worldwide Wrestling Foundation (WWF). WWE  doesn’t hold the copyright to the character. While the character has been trademarked by Savage’s wife (the wrestler died in 2011), the trademark specifically covers action figures and accessories. 

Kim might have concerns should his image violate Savage’s (or his estate’s) right of publicity. However, right of publicity generally permits individuals to control the commercial use of their images. Kim created his illustration and posted it in his portfolio to showcase his skills; he never intended to market the image commercially. Additionally, right of publicity is not covered by federal statute, but is controlled by state law, and varies widely. (For more information on right of publicity, check out attorney Robert Clarida’s article on the topic on our Tools + Resources page.)

The irony of Freeze’s response to Kim is that the company, not Kim, sought to profit from the image. If the company was truly concerned with legalities, their marketing team would have done due diligence to ensure that using the image didn’t violate intellectual property or publicity rights. In fact, Freeze appears to have a history of violating trademarks. In February of 2015, the company was found to have violated trademark law in marketing goods bearing Bob Marley’s image. And in August, Adidas filed a lawsuit that accuses Freeze of violating their three-stripes trademark. In light of their history of trademark violation, Freeze’s response to Kim appears to be a blatant (and somewhat hypocritical) attempt to deflect the illustrator by raising bogus fears of copyright infringement.

Below: Eric Kim’s comparison of his illustration (left) and the Freeze sweatshirt. (© Eric Kim, and not the WWE! Used with permission of the artist.)

Illustration of Randy

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