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Monday, May 11, 2009

Copyright FAQ

Good morning. Today's piece was inspired by a patron who commissioned a digital art portrait of his character. He was unfamiliar with my copyright policy on commissioned artwork and he asked a number of good questions about it. Answering his inquiries inspired me to write this post.

I want Sue to do a commissioned art piece of my character. I own copyright to my character. Who owns copyright to the picture she does?

When I do a commissioned piece, I own copyright to the artwork. I claim no rights to characters I illustrate, just to the image I have created. If you want to buy copyright to my commissioned artwork, just let me know when you make the commission. It's likely I will be happy to sell you full or partial rights to the art.

If I don't purchase copyright, what can I do with commissioned images Sue has created for me?

I allow my patrons a number of uses of commissioned pieces I've done for them under my 'personal use' policy, unless otherwise specified. By personal use, I generally mean any use not intended to make a profit or be part of a commercial enterprise. Posting my artwork online with a description of the character, using it at an avatar in a chat room or sending digital copies to a dozen friends are all personal use, as far as I am concerned. In return for personal use, I ask that you give me credit for my art--ideally on the piece itself. Should the piece be too small for my name to appear on it, adding a tag or putting up a blog post giving me credit will do. If possible, a link to my web site, Art by Susan Van Camp, is always appreciated.

I want to post a picture I've had you do of my character and put my copyright notice on it. In this case, how should I give you credit?

Add my copyright notice next to yours. I suggest wording similar to this:
Goony copyright by Paul Patron
Artwork copyright by Susan Van Camp

If I want to purchase copyright, how much will it cost?

That depends on what you want to do with it. The more limited your uses of the final image, the less I will ask. For instance, if you want to self publish a book of stories about your character and include my art, the price for that is likely to be low. If you want to buy all rights, including my right to do prints of the final piece, display it on my website and use it as anything but a sample of a commission I have done, that's going to be quite a bit more. As with many things, you get what you pay for.

Do I have any control over what you do with the artwork? Can I ask you not to alter the image from its original form, for instance?

Not unless you buy copyright to the image.

If you post the image online, will you give me credit for my character?

Yes, if you will provide me with character name and how you want it attributed when I make the commission. I like giving my patrons credit when they hire me to do work.

Will you post me a digital copy of the final piece for my personal use?

Usually I will. Depending on the piece, I may charge for this service.

May I make prints of art I have commissioned from you under terms of personal use?

You may make up to twenty physical prints of a commissioned image, on a printer you own, and only from a file that I have provided to you. You may not make physical prints from your own scan of one of my artworks unless you have gotten permission from me. If you want more than twenty prints or if you want higher quality prints than you will be able to make from the file I send, I will usually sell prints of my commissioned artwork at a discounted price to the patron who hired me to do the original piece.

I hope I've covered everything. If this topic has brought up questions for you, feel free to post your inquiries as a comment or drop me an email at


Seth said...

This actually brings up something I wanted to know. I was actually thinking of asking for a quick sketch at the con (yes, ANOTHER one... ;-)) of characters I have created for use in a comic I'd like to do someday, but have not yet gotten around to copyrighting. What would the issue be with that? Because if they're my creation, but this would be the first officially copyrighted thing involving gads, copyright stuff gives me a headache.

Susan Van Camp said...

Seth, have a look at Creative This is one of several organizations working on copyright for the rest of us--that is, folks who can't afford thousands of dollars of legal services to wade through the muck that is U.S. copyright law. I use them myself; a lot of the art on my site is posted under one of their licenses and it appears to work well.