This is not the dining room in which my work was placed. I have blurred the image of a perfectly good painting in a perfectly good dining room to illustrate the point of my story (Image from the Internet)
Today's post follows last week's MM on the topic of contracts. This one's personal, pointing up the importance of not signing a contract unless and until we are comfortable with what we are signing. It also reminds us that not every bit of visibility for us is necessarily helpful. I hope you'll share your similar stories here, along with any advice you have to offer about your situation. Here's my story:
A few months ago I got an e-request from a producer’s assistant to have my work included in a TV program about home design. “Your work is integral to the dining room, where it is placed, and we’d like your permission to shoot it,” said the production manager.
“Lovely. Send me a contract,” I replied.
Here’s what the contract required me to agree to: “To use and authorize others to use, including by assignment of this agreement, the Property as so incorporated in the Production in the distribution, sale, licensing, marketing, advertising, promotion, publication, exhibition and other exploitation of the Production and other film or video productions in all markets and media (whether now known or hereafter developed), throughout the universe, in perpetuity.”
In other words, they wanted free rein to use the image of my work as they wished. And what they were willing to offer me? Nothing. Nada. Bupkus. No payment, not even credit as the artist. I don’t have to get paid—the feature was on someone's interior design work, with my painting part of the environment she'd created—but I do have to be credited. “It’s not our policy,” said the production manager. Well, it’s not my policy to sign away rights ‘throughout the universe, in perpetuity.’
I asked the production manager: “What exactly does that mean, “throughout the universe in perpetuity.” She emailed back: “It means forever.” I laughed out loud, reminded of the time I asked a waitress, “What’s the soup du jour?” and she came back with, “It’s the soup of the day.”
Pressing her, I found out it means the production company would have the right to show the program and repeat it at will; put the content into a new form—a compilation, for instance; or into an as-yet untried medium, such as a holographic broadcast; and, apparently, to broadcast the program to Neptune in an endless loop of home decorating tips.
“I want credit as the artist,” I said.
“It’s not in the contract. But your work is essential to the shoot, so we’d love you to sign the contract.”
“If it’s essential, I want credit.”
Back and forth, the bottom line being that if they don’t get my permission, they will shoot the room and blur the image of my work. “So blur it,” I replied. “But it’s essential to the show,” said the production assistant. You can see where this was going. I stopped responding.
Then came the call. “We’re going to include your name in the show credits.”
“Fine, send me a contract with that detail spelled out," I replied, adding, "and if you can do it for me, you can do it for other artists.”
The contract came. Here’s what they added, italics mine: “In consideration of Licensor’s compliance with this agreement and subject to broadcaster approval, Licensor will receive credit in the end credits of the episode(s) in which Producer uses the Property in the form of “title of work” [I would supply the specific information] dining room painting by Joanne Mattera”, the size and placement of such credit to be at Producer's sole discretion.
Give me a break. I’m no lawyer but even I can see the hole big enough to drive a truck through. They offer me a contract that credits me and my work, but they also give the broadcaster the right to rescind the agreement and the producer the right to put it in the teeniest point size possible in, say, black type on a black ground. This is what you call chutzpah, faccia tosta, balls, no shame. Under duress you offer credit but it comes with more strings than a puppet. No thanks.
So if you’re watching a home decorating channel and you see a big blur of red on the wall in a feature about a recedorated dining room, that blur would be my painting. Assuming the decorator signed the same kind of contract that was offered to me, that blur may well be broadcast throughout the universe in perpetuity.
This would be just a funny/annoying story if it were not for the fact that it’s the way that artists often get treated—i.e. We love your work. Let us use it/have it/show it and we’ll give you nothing in return and make you sign a contract you can't back out of.
. Don't sign any contract until you understand what you're signing. Where will your work be shown? What's the context in which it will be shown or used? How will it be insured? What's the benefit to you?
. If you don't understand the language, consult an attorney. Start with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, but even if you are asked to pay a fee, know that this kind of consultation is a deductible business expense
. This is a different situation from mine, but some galleries do nothing but rentals, whether for corporate clients or for the film industry, while other dealers have found it to be a useful side business. No gallery should rent or loan your work without your contractual approval. Ask: Who's responsible for damage or loss? What's the rental period? What's the rental fee? If you agree, the gallery should take care of shipping, and both you and the gallery share in the fee.
. In a situation like mine, even if a fee is offered, are you being asked to give away too much for what's offered? One-time rights allow you to retain control of your work or your image, whereas "throughout the universe in perpetuity" is just prepostrously (and uncontrollably) broad
Who’s got stories or cautionary tales about a request that didn't offer much?
. . . . . .
More on getting your work out into the world
Check out Joy Garnett's report on Making a Living as an Artist (With or Without a Dealer), posted on the College Art Association's conference blog.
. Part 1 here
Best quote of the post comes from Bill Carroll, artist, former gallery director, current arts administrator:
"You are ALWAYS responsible for your own career. A smaller gallery especially cannot be working on your career all the time. Most of the people I know who make a living off their work have several galleries — you need to look for galleries in other cities outside New York City."
. Part 2 here
Best quote of the post comes from Sharon Butler: "You need to get the gallery to notice you, not by sending them your work, but by creating a SCENE. By making your voice heard. Any effort you put into building the community will be rewarded. So: rather than trying to bust into someone else’s scene, make your own."
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