Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Do I Need a Lawyer to License Crafts?

Dear Rich: I'm a crafts artist and I create fantasy animals and sell them as sculptures and prints. A company wants to license two designs for fabric for use in children's products. They're asking me to sign a license for three years. According to the contract, I can still sell sculptures and paper prints. I just can't do clothing. bed sheets and similar fabric items. I think I understand the agreement. I'd hate to blow most of my advance on a lawyer if I don't need one. But people are telling me I should see an attorney. What do you think?
That's a tough call. We talk about licensing at our crafts law website (where we also offer a sample license agreement for purposes of comparison). If you can't make it over there, here's what we suggest: If you’re a savvy, confident businessperson capable of reading contracts -- and this is especially true if the other side provides a concise easy-to-understand agreement -- you can probably negotiate your own license.  If legal agreements just make you nervous, and a company wants to license your best-selling or signature work, you might as well secure some backup and retain a knowledgeable licensing attorney.
Watch out for "assignments." One warning flag that you might need an attorney is if you see the word “assign” or "assignment" in the proposed license agreement. An assignment means that you are selling legal rights in a work to someone else which is far different from the “rental” arrangement of a typical license. If you assign all your rights in a work, then that’s it—you can’t reproduce and sell that work any longer. There may be an occasion where an assignment makes sense—for example, sometimes you can assign all rights for the term of the license and they will be assigned back to you after it’s over, or you may receive a large sum of money for an assignment. Nevertheless, if the licensee seems to be angling for an assignment, have an attorney review the draft agreement to guarantee that you’re not permanently giving up all rights.