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What Is Art Licensing?

Pablo Garcia
Pablo Garcia

Art licensing is the process by which an artist grants a license to a “licensee” to use her work in connection with a product, service, or promotional campaign. The terms of the license are contained in a licensing agreement. The agreement sets out the terms under which the licensee may use the art and the artist’s compensation for its use.

Paintings, graphics, logos, photographs and other artistic creations can be licensed. Art licensing is a significant marketing tool for many services and products. It can also be an important vehicle for an artist in selling and promoting her work. Art attached to a mass-marketed product can provide an artist with invaluable exposure.

Woman painting
Woman painting

Manufacturers and service providers rely on the emotive power of art to attach a special significance to their product or service. For instance, a sports logo or an emotionally moving symbol can come to represent a particular product. It could also be an insightful or beautiful image that becomes linked with a particular brand.

When artwork is licensed, the artist retains ownership of the work through a copyright or design patent. The licensee may duplicate the work in connection with a product or service. In exchange for the use of the artwork, the artist is paid a royalty by the licensee on sold products incorporating the art.

Art licensing agents can assist in finding potential licensees for the artist. The fee for this representation is a percentage of the licensing revenue. Many licensing agent agreements require that the artist use no other agent during the specified term of the agreement. They will usually have provisions as to how and when the representation terminates.

An art licensing agreement should contain any limitations on how the licensee is to use the artwork. This can include the specific type of product on which it may be used. Agreements also specify the fees and royalties paid to the artist. Some agreements provide for a set minimum payment regardless of how the product performs in the market. Most agreements will set out the duration of the license, whether it can be renewed, and if there are any geographic limitations.

Some basic art licensing agreements are downloadable on the Internet. For those unfamiliar with the licensing process, artists' forums suggest some research and self-education before committing to a licensing agreement. Talking with someone who works in the licensing field can be helpful. The Graphic Artists Guild has a handbook available on pricing guidelines and ethical considerations in licensing fees. There are also attorneys who specialize in the representation of artists and are able to give advice about specific agreements.

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