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Mind Your Business: The Id of Artist Rights

In this months Mind Your Business, Mark Simon travels to the land of Creativity, swimming the rivers of Development to the fields of Production.

Art Ist being advised by competing Ids. All images courtesy of Mark Simon.

In the land of Creativity, there is great joy as there are creative seeds to be sown. The rivers of Development run deep and flow through the fields of Production. As with all land, in Creativity there are owners and there are tillers.

Hello. My name is Art. Art Ist. Like most artists, I often find myself acting as an owner and a tiller at different times. Knowing when I can reap the rewards of my own healthy creative crop and when I cant is very important.

Upon my shoulders are the weight of my artistic and job decisions. Should I follow the Angel of Great Risk and try to retain all the rights and profits to everything I do by working for myself? Can I do that? But then I hear the sweet whisperings of steady money from the necessary Evil of Work-For-Hire and staff positions. How do I resist the call of the paycheck? Do I have to?

As creatives, we all have dreams of our concepts being accepted by millions and having the riches of the world thrown at our feet. This dream is part of what pushes us to continue through the dark forests of rejection.

I believe that true happiness lies not in blindly seeking out and accepting only one goal, but in how we live our lives, every minute of every day and what jobs we accept as we wind our way along the road to eventually reach that goal. Methinks there could be a happy medium twixt my opposing shoulder nymphs.

Perhaps I should listen a bit closer to each of their arguments so I can make informed decisions as I till my creative soil.

The Angel of Great Risk, but a better fit for some personalities and greater rewards.

As I lean my head to my right, I hear the Angel of Great Risk whispering that I should only develop my own projects and always hold onto all the rights. Ahh. It sounds wonderful. Full control over my own properties. Yes! But, what if it takes me a few years to get a deal for one of my ideas. What if it takes 10 years? Or 20 years? Or never? Thats not unheard of. How will I survive until then? I dont want to sell French fries. This angel may not be for everyone.

Then I feel a tugging on my left ear by the necessary Evil of Work-For-Hire. Work for someone else, he says. Let your employer find all the jobs, deal with clients, and pay your insurance and taxes. You can then concentrate on being creative and not worry about all those business things!

Hmm. Good point. How can I be creative if Im always dealing with business issues, tracking down payments, marketing for clients, putting proposals together, paying the bills? The freedom to just create and getting a steady paycheck doesnt sound bad at all. It may not be as bad as I thought.

I think I should peel these concepts and see whats really inside. Angel, I say. Lets say I do decide to work for myself. Will I really have full control over all the work I do?

After a short pause, I hear his soft voice saying, Wellllllll. Not always. Some freelance work may also be work-for-hire.

What exactly is work-for-hire? I ask.

The angel responds, Work-for-hire is where the person or company paying for your work is the legal author or artist of record. They own all the rights to the work, not you.

Ouch. Why would I do that? I ask.

You may not have a choice, sighs Angel. Many projects, such as comicbooks, television series and movies, are collaborative projects. Lets say you draw storyboards for a movie. The characters are based on the script and director notes. The backgrounds are based on the production designers concepts. The other illustrators design the creatures and vehicles. Your boards are not original pieces of art solely designed by you. All the designs and concepts which are created collaboratively are considered work-for-hire and are usually owned by the funding source.

Staff artists are all work-for-hire as well, adds Evil. The company who pays your salary is the legal owner of the work you do.

Oh, I respond. That makes sense. But I still own all the designs I do on my own dont I?

The Devil of Work-For-Hire. Loss of ownership, but security of income.

That doesnt seem fair, I said confused.

Evil smiles. It is fair to the company that is trying to protect their investment in you as well as their corporate proprietary information to which you have access.

Maybe this devil isnt so evil after all. Much of what they both were saying about someone else owning the rights to my art bothered me, but it made sense when I put myself in the position of the concept creator or company owner. If I created a show and characters that were really popular and had to hire artists to work for me, I should still own the rights since I created it and/or paid for it. Further, why should someone else be able to make money by drawing or animating the characters I created and/or paid for without my permission?

Angel gently butts in. I still think you should only do your own work. You dont want to sell out.

Evil responds incredulously, Sell out? What are you talking about? I get a weekly salary for doing what I love to do? You dont even have guarantees of making any money next week.

Im learning a lot, but this constant bickering in my ears is annoying. I decide to swat both of these tiny creatures off my shoulders and take the smarter, center road.

I may try the freelance route and see how I do. Or I may try working for a larger company if I dont like running my own business. I wont know which Ill like better until I try them both. I do know that I will never give up on my dream of creating my own property. It seems that the best road to that dream is paved with business contacts and experience gained while tilling in the artistic fields. I dont have to starve while waiting for my dream. I just have to work to get there.

Mark Simon is an award-winning animation producer and lecturer who is also the author of Mark Simon is an award-winning animation producer and lecturer who is also the author of Facial Expressions, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation and Storyboards: Motion in Art. He can be found lurking around at and may be reached at Marks books may be found and purchased at