Cartoonist/Illustrator Tom Richmond On Why You Should Never Give Away Your Artwork For Free

I know I have been in this situation many times — and email comes in and someone has a project with a small or non-existent budget. Usually it’s a personal project. Usually it’s for an existing piece of artwork.

Since most of the work on my website and blog are commisioned projects for clients, it’s easy enough to say no — the artwork they’re asking about was created for a client’s logo or mascot character and is not available to use by someone else.

But I do have some non-client work on my site, and this is where the free use issue comes in.

Tom Richmond, quoted over at The Daily Cartoonist, says

It would be so easy to just say, “Yeah, go ahead and use it”. After all, it’s already done and will take you no more time, right? So therefore it has no value?? That is the perception of many would-be users and sadly of some creators.

I run into this quite a bit. It’s not that I don’t believe my artwork has any value because it’s already created, but for a personal blog I have been guilty in the past of allowing people to use the artwork as long as there is no profit being made. Nowadays I will only do this under very specific situations.

Richmond goes on to explain

…illustrators are not really selling their time in creating a piece of art, they are selling the rights to use that art. That value is still there for the copyright holder. It is unfair to the illustrator, and damaging to his/her profession, to just give that value away…

This is key for both clients as well as creators to understand. Many people have an “hourly rate” mentality when they thing about this stuff, so if the illustration is already done, then it doesn’t need to be paid for —right? Wrong. Usgae rights are what you are paid for, in addition to your time to create the work.

This is basically licensing, and it’s one of the reasons Disney makes so much money – those characters were created many, many years ago, but they still generate cash each time they are used on every last product.

Disney on the other hand has been using their financial muscle to get the copyright laws extended over and over again to protect their characters — that’s how much value there is in artowrk that’s already been created.

I personally think Disney is wrong here — in my opinion the copyright lengths were fine, and coercing the govemment to change the laws because you stand to lose money just isn’t fair. Copyright laws were designed to promote creativity, not protect businesses forever.

Anyways, Richmond brings up a good point that is always worth repeating: don’t give away your work for free, and don’t work for free or on spec, or for small-time “contests” that are just sneaky ways to get free work out of creatives.

Do you think 100 chefs would prepare meals, let you eat them all and then agree that you only had to pay for the one you liked best?

Tom Richmond: Don’t give it away » The Daily Cartoonist