Copyright uncovered: What to know about contracts

    Every quarter, our Legal team answers some of your most commonly asked questions about copyright. This month, they highlight what to look for before signing on the dotted line of that contract.

    Question: I’ve been sent a contract. What do I need to do before signing it?

    Firstly, what type of contract is it? Remember, if you are a Copyright Licensing or Artist’s Resale Right member, we may be able to look at the contract for you as part of our Copyright Advice Service.

    We deal with licensing agreements for our Copyright Licensing members – an agreement between you and someone who wishes to reproduce your work in anything from a magazine or book, to a postcard or mug.

    Alternatively, if you have been commissioned to create a new piece of work in the UK, we may be able to give you advice on the copyright implications of your contract.
    In the meantime, here is a checklist of some useful questions you should ask yourself before signing on that dotted line:

    Do I have the complete contract?

    A contract might refer to a ‘schedule’ or ‘appendix’. Make sure you have been given all the documents referred to, as the schedules could contain extra information.

    What is the governing law?

    Not all agreements will be governed by English law, particularly if the other party is based overseas. Copyright laws are different from country to country, so there may be different copyright implications.

    Is the contract clear about the grant of rights?

    A ‘license’ is when you allow someone to use the work for specific purposes and you retain the copyright in the work. An ‘assignment’ is the transfer (sale) of rights: in this situation you will not retain the copyright.

    Is the license exclusive?

    An exclusive license would be highly restrictive because you would be excluded from allowing any other party (including yourself) from making use of the work.

    Does the agreement refer to moral rights?

    It is not advisable to waive your moral rights. Moral rights are a bundle of personal rights given to creators, including the right to be identified as the creator when your work is commercially published or showcased to the public.

    Does the contract mention the duration and territory of the license?

    You should be careful of terms such as ‘in the universe’ and ‘perpetual’ as these terms have no limitation. So for example, the contracting party may for now only use your work in one territory but a contract saying ‘in the universe’ would also allow the work to be used in other territories too.

    Is the language clear?

    A contract should have clearly defined terms that do not create any ambiguity. For example, the same term should be used consistently to describe your work (whether ‘artworks’ or ‘the Works’ for instance), and this term should be defined to state which work exactly is part of the contract.
    Remember, you do not have to accept the terms being proposed. If you are unhappy with the contract, you can attempt to negotiate.

    Copyright advice for members

    Are you a Copyright Licensing or Artist’s Resale Right member? Remember to take advantage of our free advice service for members:

    Find out how it works

    We also have lots of useful information about copyright on our website. Browse related pages:

    Copyright uncovered: What should I know about moral rights?
    Knowledge Base

    The content of this article is not intended to apply to individual circumstances. It does not constitute legal advice, it is not a substitute for independent legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.

    Image: Howard Hodgkin, Artist, London, 2006, Brian Griffin © Brian Griffin. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2016.

    Posted on 30/06/2016 by Laura Ward-Ure