One of the most important things I am actively learning is how to value my own work and skills. Early in my career a grad school student at a famous and respected Museum contact me about creating fossil reconstructions of rabbits for a journal. After much consideration we settled on $350 for five reconstructions in one figure, a little under priced for the amount of work required but not badly.
My trepidation began when we met to discuss the work. She showed me an illustration from a previous artist. When I commented that the illustration was good, she scoffed saying, "This is all I got out of her..." My blood went cold at her tone. She spoke of her previous illustrator like she was a cow who's milk had gone dry and now was hamburger. Despite this I decided to go ahead with the project, after we worked out a contract of course in case she turned out to be crazy. I sent a rough draft. Below is the correspondence that followed presented without spelling corrections.
"So usually in the case like this, that is a single picture and relatively small amount of money, the artist just presents an invoice and is paid on the basis of it. I have looked at the contract anyway and I think that the Copyright part won't hold too. It will be published in the [museum bulletin] and in this case all copyright goes to the journal. That was with all other pictures I have ever published copyright always goes to the journal, so if you want to keep the copyright you probably have to write a separate agreement with the journal what makes the things even more complicated. So summarizing, I do not thing such kind of contract will work here. If you need some kind of a backup that we will pay you, I think I can ask [scientist] to write a letter, but that is all. It really looks a bit too serious for such a small case ;) If it was for a book ...
Now I had already talked to another artist working at the same museum and she keeps the rights to all her art work... thinking that there was a misunderstanding I responded.
"Ah! I suspected the contracts might go through the legal department. Don't worry it might sound complicated but it's actually not difficult and contract protects you as much as me. I'll see if I can look into it.
I do not know how pictures are handled at the museum, but I do know that freelancers are allowed to keep their copyrights. For example (museum artist) in mammalogy always keeps her copyright. Copyrights are expensive and I want to keep the price down for you. What do you mean "some kind of backup that we will pay"? I don't want you to have pay any extra money. I don't believe that is necessary. I know this might seem a little confusing but don't worry. We have plenty of time before December. It doesn't make me uncomfortable, this sort of thing happens often. So to sum up. I'm excited about your project and willing to work things out."
To this she responded:
"I thought the thing over and I am not convinced that this copyright arrangement you propose will work for me. I prefer the museum (as a publisher) to acquire also copyright, not only certain limited rights. The reason is simple: I may need the illustration for another purposes (a scientific book, perhaps) and it will be much easier to negotiate the use of such a picture with the Museum. Also, because this illustration is a reconstruction of extinct animals, it requires certain amount of my expertise and guidance, thus it is not merely an artist's vision. So, if you are not happy with surrendering copyright and accepting just invoice in lieu of contract, we will not proceed. Anyway, the sum we were talking about is rather small to bother our legal department."
What the hell. This felt like a slap in the face. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then each of those words are the product of a thousand decisions. Like I didn't spend years and thousands of dollars training to be a science illustrator. I was furious. I fumed to my father about the ignorance and entitlement. Dad suggested I send her a box of crayons with a note saying "Knock yourself out"... But stubborn is my middle name.
"Your terms are unacceptable.
Have you spoken to the managing editor of science publications at [museum] about freelancer artist rights? [Because I had] According to intellectual property law "Authorship of a creative work that provides the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, and sell that work. Any artist creating artwork automatically owns the copyright to that work unless provision have been made prior to the start of the project to transfer authorship to the buyer" This provision can take the form of a contract or a letter of agreement. A letter of agreement does not need to go through the museum's legal department. Also in a letter I can grant a scientist free and open publishing rights in perpetuity, while retaining the copyright. This means that for $350 dollars you would have the rights to publish the image as many times as you wish.
Even if the original work is sold with an invoice, that does not transfer copyright or publishing rights. Which means that if you used another artist in the same way you proposed to use me, without a transfer of publishing rights in writing they still own all the rights to their work.
I cannot afford to sell the original artwork and the copyrights for the amount you have offer. Please understand. To sell the complete copyright known as an "all rights buy out" would mean I could not even claim that I had created the illustration or display it in a portfolio."
To this there was no response.