Big Issues

Artists! We Need To Talk About Intellectual Property

A basic guide to intellectual property, knowing your rights and how to take your first steps into the big, scary world of art.

Here’s a basic guide to intellectual property, knowing your rights as an artist and how to take your first steps into the big, scary world of art.

When you start any kind of creative career, your mentors and peers may talk about the importance of getting your name and work out into the world. But when you start to share your art, it can be hard to be taken seriously by the platforms that offer to pay you with ‘exposure’ for your intellectual property. Especially when these platforms and companies offer opportunities to young artists (with only the promise of ‘exposure’) in exchange for your intellectual property.

What Is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is work and property that is the result of creativity. It’s the original song you put on YouTube and it’s the earrings your Aunty Meg sells on Etsy. Sharing your intellectual property can be a good thing, but when your artistic integrity is compromised or people take your work for granted then it starts to get dodgy. Because when your integrity and/or intellectual property are taken for granted, it contributes to the myth that being an artist isn’t a real job.

The Fine Print

If you work for a company in a capacity where you share your intellectual property, you’ll be asked to sign a contributor agreement. The contributor agreement and contracts you sign aren’t the iTunes terms and conditions: make sure that you actually read them and understand what will happen with the content that you create.

Art requires a combination of time, money and energy if it’s to be created and shared.

Contributor agreements typically include statements such as agreeing to engage as a contributor, agreeing that your materials do not infringe on someone else’s intellectual property, agreeing to certain deadlines and granting the company licence to reproduce, modify and publish your content. They are necessary to read. Know your rights.

Is it ‘rite’?

Unpaid artistic opportunities perpetuate the rite of “working for exposure”. They are considered a rite of passage in an artist’s career. The widespread acceptance of this ‘exposure’ rite suggests that the intellectual property of young artists isn’t considered valuable enough.

You Can Say No

Art requires a combination of time, money and energy if it’s to be created and shared. But when you also need to pay rent and finish that essay, it can be difficult to afford to take time off work or commute to a gig or a rehearsal. That time is valuable. You also might have studied or taken lessons to truly master your craft. That’s definitely worth something.

Know what your time and talent are worth. Jess Keble, lead singer of the band Crimson Nights, describes live music as “basically providing a service, just like any other occupation… They get compensation for their work, so why shouldn’t we?”

After I started being paid for my writing, I’ve turned down some companies because they could only offer their artists ‘creative development’ and the usual promise of ‘exposure’. My personal ethos is if the company is reputable enough, they can afford to appropriately compensate their artists. Exposure is nice, but it won’t pay your rent.

It’s OK To Take It

Of course, sometimes taking that unpaid gig pays off in the early days of being an artist. Braedon Hall, a musician and composer, has had some positive experiences with this: “It’s definitely OK to work for free. As a performer, it’s led to further paid gigs through either the same client or a different client who found me at the gig. As a composer, it lead to better relationships with directors/developers or gave my music a larger audience which resulted in further commissions.”

My personal ethos is if the company is reputable enough, they can afford to appropriately compensate their artists.

He does advise that you “make sure you’re getting something out of it, even if it’s not monetary. At the same time, learn to recognise when you’re being taken advantage of and have a plan in place to eventually be able to move away from working for free”.

Is It Right For Me?

Deciding if you’ll share your intellectual property really depends on who’s offering to expose it. Evie Hart-Reid, a photographer and videographer, says that “it’s very dependent on the company: how big their following is, the exact details of what the exposure is in writing and whether it would be worth it.”

Another way of determining if an opportunity is right for you is if it satisfies at least two of the following criteria: Is the art rewarding? Is the money worth it? Do you like the people who you’re working with?

What Can I Do?

If you’re an artist, be aware of what you’re getting into when you sign contributor agreements and copyright agreements. Remember to value your time and your craft. And if you’re serious about wanting support for emerging artists, walk the talk. Buy the EPs, read local writers, go to the gigs, share and promote their content on social media.

(Lead image: Kinga Cichewicz / Unsplash)