Dear Rich: I am an artist and was recently approached by a woman who wants to use one of my images on t-shirts. She has proposed a simple arrangement doing 24 shirts at a time. As she sells out of one batch, she will make another 24. This is not a million dollar transaction but I have no idea how to respond to it. How do I know what the going rate is? The short answer is that artists get anywhere between 5 to 20% (or more) of the revenue generated by the shirt. It depends on the demand, the size of the print run and your bargaining power. Sometimes the royalty is paid only after costs are deducted; sometimes it is straight off the top. Some online T-shirt merchants even let the artist set the royalty.
Beyond the Royalty
You should also ask yourself a few questions. Is the amount of money coming in worth your time and energy? What if you're not satisfied with the quality of the reproduction? Will the arrangement preclude you from other more lucrative deals? Do you have any reason to believe the t-shirt maker is not a trustworthy business person? If you have any doubts, it's probably a good idea to make the initial term of the agreement short, perhaps six months to a year (you can always renew). And it's best to keep it nonexclusive as well (you can always amend it later). And as they say in the music business, don't do a handshake deal, get some paper. Below is a sample short form t-shirt license taken from Getting Permission (written by the Dear Rich staff). Explanations for the agreement and a much more detailed long- form merchandise agreement can be found in the book, as well. And of course, make sure your artwork doesn't cross over into personality rights,trademarks, or otherwise illegal content.