Artist Copyright and Finance Basics

As I'm putting together my online store and business plan, it occurred to me that I've had more than one encounter with shady people offering me "Free Advice" and "Amazing Opportunities" that I'd like to share with other creatives, especially those just getting started.

Read all contracts you enter into BEFORE you sign them

Read EVERYTHING in the contract. Ask questions if there are things you do not understand. I know it's a total pain in the ass - but you'll be glad you did. This includes the contracts for your online business website, printing services, shipping services, and distributors. I was recently able to save myself over $500.00 simply by paying attention to the details of a contract.

Free Legal Advice

If anyone offers you "Free" Legal Advice - run like hell for the first exit. First of all, it won't be "Free" and second of all, it probably won't be correct. Which will end-up actually costing you a bunch more money when you have to hire someone to fix the mistake or mistakes that may have been made. Trust me, I just had to fork out a few hundred to a lawyer to correct a situation for me that I brought upon myself through my own naivete and stupidity.

Have a good basic knowledge about Copyrights to your own work.

I was once approached by an employer, a Fortune 500 Multi-Billion Dollar Corporation in a totally unrelated field, to write a children's book about their medical product in an effort to help the child patients deal with their fears. I was immediately flattered ... UNTIL I discovered that -

  1. I was not going to be paid for the work, outside of my hourly pay for the work I was already doing for this company. Hence - write the book in your spare time and just give it to us when it's finished.

  2. I had to agree that I would have no copyright - no rights at all to the finished book.

Once I realized what was going on I told them, "No Thanks."


A “work-for-hire” situation arises in only two distinct situations, (1) a work prepared by an employee made within the scope of his employment and (2) a work specially ordered or commissioned under a written agreement signed by the parties that is specifically for use as (1) a contribution to a collective work, (2) as part of a motion picture or audiovisual work, (3) a translation, (4) a supplementary work, (5) a compilation, (6) an instructional text, (7) a test or answer material for a test, and finally (8) an atlas.

Any work made (1) without the required written agreement or (2) not falling into one of the enumerated categories will not be recognized as “work-for-hire” situation validly transferring a copyright to an employer. Do not make the mistake of assuming that a written work for hire agreement is valid in all situations. The creative may yet and still own the copyright to his work. For example, a written work-for-hire agreement commissioning oil painting that is not ultimately used a part of a collective work will not be recognized as a valid agreement to transfer copyright ownership to the commissioner of the work.

Just because a work-for-hire writing exists does not also mean that the agreement is valid or legally operative to transfer ownership of a copyright. There are also many non-intuitive exceptions to the work-for-hire “scope of employment” situations such a where a university professor retains the copyright to his lectures provided in the scope of his employment and not his university employer. However, grade school teachers do not retain similar rights in their teaching materials. The main take away here is don’t make the mistake of assuming that the “working creative” retains no copyright interest in his work.

Be wary of people who insert themselves into your business

This is usually done under the guise of "Here, let ME help you." (they're assuming you don't know what you're doing.) Basic rule to follow - If you have not specifically requested help from someone, just say, "No." I read an article about "Hero Narcissist's" who love to do things like this - they want to "save you" when you don't actually need saving so they can later use this as leverage over you. Steer clear of manipulative people like this. It never ends well.

Making Art is a lot of Fun and things like reading contracts, resisting the temptation to take shortcuts or the easy and cheap way out is difficult - but if you are serious about running your own studio and store with a modicum of integrity and peace of mind - these tedious tasks must be done. In the end you will feel a lot more competent and savvy as a business owner.

Until next time .. Here's the O'Jays with "For the Love of Money" -


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