Artist contracts and other written agreements can help avoid disputes and misunderstandings in a partnership

What are Artist Contracts?

Every contract should spell out each party's responsibilities and obligations, compensation, and what the project entails. It can be simply worded (without using complex legal jargon) unless the project specifically calls for it. While a contract may be simple, ensure that it is clear and avoids confusing or uncertain language. Some things to keep in mind with artist contracts:  

  • You should always have a lawyer look over an agreement, especially those related to long-term relationships, like gallery representations.
  • Even when you're working with friends, you should always have a written contract.
  • If you and the other party agree to make changes to an artist contract, you can address them in one of several ways:
    • Request revisions prior to signing. 
    • Include handwritten notes on the back or in the margins. If you add handwritten notes, all parties must initial them. 
    • Print and sign an addendum and put it in the existing contract. 

If a gallery or organization rejects or won't sign your contract and doesn't present you with their own contract, consider it a red flag. Galleries and organizations that are not keen on signing a contract might be attempting to take advantage of you or skirt financial responsibility. Ask why they won't sign a contract. If the answer is unsatisfactory, or they refuse to provide a reason, you're likely better off not starting a relationship with them. 

Letters of Agreement

Letters of Agreement resemble standard business correspondence. At the top, you'll find important contact information, tax ID, letterhead, and a title that denotes this is a contract. A Letter of Agreement (LOA) requires a tailored reply, so that should be clearly spelled out rather than buried in the document. It should say something like "This agreement must be signed and returned prior to Artist scheduling his or her job." 

Important Sections in Letters of Agreement

The letter should include important data like the date, client name, address, phone number, shipping number, the contact person commissioning the art, the job or invoice number, and other sections: 

  • Project information: Define the scope of the job and assign rights. Be sure to provide as much detail as possible for each section and how the deliverables will be handled. 
  • Revisions: Discuss what constitutes a revision and your policy.
  • Claims period: Do you have a claims period for defects, damages, etc.?  
  • Ownership: Discuss who retains ownership of the work — you, or will you transfer ownership to the client?
  • Property: Include a sentence that original art remains the property of the artists unless otherwise spelled out in the agreement. Add something to that addresses the art being returned in its original condition within 30 days of first reproduction. 
  • "Acceptance of Agreement": Once signed, the specifications, price, and fees are hereby accepted and that you (the artist) can begin work. 
  • Cancellation terms: If the other party cancels, note that all rights revert back to the artist.

Payment, Fees, and Shipping Terms

Specify the project price and payment terms. Include all fees and taxes that apply, along with any service charges you will add. On large projects, you might want to consider "progress payments" that are not directly linked to project milestones but rather the calendar. Don't forget fees and shipping. 

  • Define the terms of the final payment — how much and when it's due. 
  • Note that payment must be made as proposed herein and this contract is not valid until the client signs.
  • Decide on what fees you want the client to reimburse you for — telephone charges, travel, messenger services, storage media, models, etc. 
  • Discuss courier or shipping number here and note shipping charges will be added to the final invoice. 
  • Third-party shipping: Discuss your policy for obtaining 3rd party work.

Tips to Keep in Mind with Letters of Agreement

Be sure to use "Copyright Usage" rather than just usage. This can avoid confusion. When discussing copyright usage, be sure to include the following: 

  • Transfer of rights
  • Usage duration
  • Media limitations (if not spelled out in rights section)
  • Geographical use limitations
  • Free for rights granted
  • Number of insertions limitations (if applicable)

It's not recommended to provide unlimited revisions to a new client on a fixed price. Note that any rights not expressly granted to the client are retained by the artist. You can specify that the express usage requires an additional fee. 

Don't forget important terms that can protect you. Include a confidentiality, indemnification, and hold harmless clause. 

If you need help with artist contracts, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel only accepts the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.