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Commission agreement checklist

The work

The agreement should clearly describe the work you’re being commissioned to make. This description could be in the main body or in an appendix or schedule, and may include details like:

  • name of the work
  • theme/subject matter/purpose
  • dimensions
  • material or medium


The description of work reflects what the commissioner asked you for, and what you agreed to provide.

Preliminary design

You might be asked to provide a preliminary design of your work. Read carefully what the agreement says about delivering the preliminary design.

Make sure the commissioner knows if, and how, the end result may differ from the preliminary design. For example, the colour of a digital mock-up may not exactly match the final printed material colour.


  • You have enough time to complete the preliminary design plus the final piece in the time specified.
  • The amount of changes to the preliminary design the commissioner can ask for without any charge is specified.
  • Potential differences between the preliminary and final design are understood and agreed on.

Acceptance and completion of work

The agreement should set out requirements you need to meet for your commissioned work to be accepted as complete. These are very important: they are often linked to payment.

It should cover these questions:

  • Must you send the final piece to the commissioner by a certain date?
  • Is there a preliminary design to match, and how closely?
  • How long does the commissioner have to accept or reject the work after you submit it?
  • Can the commissioner ask for revisions – if yes, how will this affect payment?


The acceptance clause clearly details what you need to do for the piece to be accepted by the commissioner.

Intellectual property rights

In general, current UK copyright law recognises you, the creator of the work, as the owner of copyright for work commissioned by someone else. However, this can be changed by contract. Historically this was different — read about copyright in historic commissions.

Most commission agreements will include a clause about copyright. This sets out how much control you’ll have over work that you create. It may state the commissioner is the copyright owner. Make sure you understand the implications of that, and are happy for them to own the copyright for all works you create for them under your agreement.

How does the agreement answer these questions:

  • Can the commissioner use the work however they want or only for certain limited purposes, like online promotion?
  • Will you be able to use the work for your own purposes?


  • You have read the copyright clause carefully.
  • The commissioner and you both understand what rights you will keep and how the commissioner may use your work.
  • You know which words to look out for and what they mean – our information on copyright and contracts has a glossary.

Moral rights and credit

The right to be credited, known as the ‘right of attribution’, occurs automatically when you create your work. This gives you the right to request that you’re appropriately credited for your creation.

It is 1 of 4 rights known as ‘moral rights’. Moral rights belong to the artist or creator and cannot be transferred during the artist or creator’s lifetime. A commissioner may ask you to waive those rights in the commission agreement. You should consider whether you want to be able to retain your entitlement to be able to enforce your moral rights.

Retaining your moral rights allows you to state in the commission agreement how you would like to be credited for your work, including in any materials that accompany the commission.


  • Does the commission agreement ask you to waive your moral rights; if so, are you happy that this is appropriate for this commission?
  • The commissioner and you both understand whether you will be credited and how this will be done?


If you are being paid for the work that you are being commissioned to create, read carefully what the agreement says about how and when payment will be made.


  • Is the amount stated in the commission agreement correct (what you expect to be paid)?
  • Does payment take into account any expenses you incur in creating the work, or will this be covered separately?
  • When will payment be made to you — for example on completion of commission or in stages?
  • Are any reasons given why the commissioner may withhold payment, and if so, are they reasonable?
  • If you are VAT-registered, does the payment include VAT?

Delivery, ownership and insurance

You might make the commissioned work ‘off site’, which means it’s created in a different location from where it will be shown or kept. The person commissioning the work may ask that you deliver it to their premises, and may even ask you to install it.


  • Who is responsible for getting the completed work to the commissioner?
  • Where will the work need to be delivered?
  • If you are responsible for delivery, does your fee cover delivery costs?
  • What happens if the piece is damaged in transit before it is handed over to the commissioner?


Sometimes commission contracts cannot be completed – for example, if the artist or creator is unwell and cannot deliver the piece on time.


  • There is a plan for what happens if someone is unable to carry out their responsibilities.
  • Is it possible to ask for extra time to finish the work if you cannot deliver it by the deadline?


The content of this article is not intended to be applied to individual circumstances. It is not legal advice, and is not a substitute for independent legal advice.