A Story about Copyright Ownership from an Artist's Perspective

Tonight, I wanted to share a personal story with you about a time when I lost hundreds if not thousands of dollars on potential sales - all because I didn't have a clear and professional contract. If you're a fellow artist/calligrapher/stationer reading this - while I wish you won't be able to relate to this at one point or another, I have a feeling you probably will.

before i dive into the story, take a peek at the 2 contracts i swear by here - at 40% off through tonight at midnight!

Stationery and Calligraphy Template by The Contract Shop | A story about copyright ownership from an artist's perspective

A couple years ago, I designed a beautiful custom wedding crest for a sweet SJM couple, along with some complementary watercolor floral paintings that we used throughout their wedding invitations. When we finished designing their invitation suite, it was time to chat about their day-of details!

I provided my couple with a list of options for their day-of designs, including welcome favor tags, programs, a ceremony backdrop, menus, place cards, and more. To stay within budget, they chose a couple of the options and said they would forego the others (is this raising a red flag for ya?).

A few weeks after their beautiful wedding weekend, I saw a photo from their wedding featuring their wedding welcome bags - and I was FLOORED.

They had taken the artwork I created for their invitations, and used it to print their own welcome tags, welcome gift labels for at least 4 different items (each with a unique design), a wedding weekend itinerary card, and water bottle labels. And they likely printed more details, but that is all I could see from Instagram at that point. 

What made matters worse? Not only did they print my artwork without my permission (making me feel like they didn't respect me as a businesswoman - and that the designs I created for them didn't have enough value to be printed professionally), but they also manipulated the artwork from their designs. They digitally picked apart flowers that were a part of their crest and invitation, creating ew designs of their own. Again - all without telling me, and all without my permission.

maybe they didn't know any better...

Now I have to say - I honestly, truly love my clients - that couple included! And from chatting with many clients since this instance, I've found out that most clients who don't work in the art or wedding industry simply think that if they pay for custom artwork, they deserve the rights to the digital files of said artwork for free to use as they please. An understandable assumption if you're not familiar with copyright law, but...

Did you know that's not the case? Did you know:

  • hat you legally own the rights to all artwork you design - whether it is a custom commission or a shop product design? 
  • That the artwork made by you is immediately protected by federal copyright law - whether you register it or not? 
  • That if you find out that a client id print your artwork outside of something you created and sold to them, that you have the right to invoice them for the value of that piece?
  • And that no one else can alter or sell what you create (unless they pay for a license to do so - in which case they still can't alter your designs - just print and/or sell them depending on your license agreement)?

I knew all of those things, but since I didn't have a professional contract at the time when I designed that wedding artwork and stationery - there wasn't a whole lot I could do. The random contract I googled and edited on my own definitely didn't have a copyright ownership clause, it didn't protect my business, and it definitely wouldn't have held up in court.

what would i do now, with a solid contract?

If I had a solid contract at that time, I could have sent them a simple, professional email saying how beautiful their wedding was - but that as per our contract, I would be sending over an invoice for the designs they printed with my artwork. 

But because I am ot a fan of confrontation and prefer to love on my clients from the beginning, I would have instead simply referenced our contract at multiple touch points during our design process.

I would have made it super clear during our original day-of details convo that if they would like to commission me to create some of their day-of details and print others on their own - that all they'd need to do was purchase an extended license agreement for those designs, and everyone would be happy as a clam! No hurt feelings, no money lost, no awkward convos, and no legal issues. 

what you can do to protect yourself

the two contracts i swear by:

*Please note that the print release contract is technically for photographers, but I've chatted with Christina (the owner of The Contract Shop) and she said all we need to do is swap the language of photos/photographer for art/artist, calligraphy/calligrapher, or stationery/stationer and it would be PERFECT for us to use as our print agreement, too!! 

And at $29.40 on sale - you can't beat that!!

have any questions?

I know how tempting it can be to fall back on the "welllll, this free Google contract is probably okay" mindset, until it's not. Unti you've lost out on money like I did.

Have questions before investing in a solid contract this year? end me an email and let me know! I'm happy to chat and help you decide which contract is best for you.

Also, please know that I'm in no way a lawyer and this isn't legal advice, but that I 100% trust in Christina (she's a fellow calligrapher so she really gets us!) and the contracts she creates.

PS - Skip all the way to the bottom? I know that was a long story ;) Here's my stationery & calligraphy contract, and here's the print release contract I use when I send digital files of artwork to clients. They're both 40% off (no code needed!) until TONIGHT at midnight!

his blog post contains affiliate links, but I would 100% still share this email even if I wasn't an affiliate. I own and use both of the contracts I mention in this email, so you can trust that I believe in them!