I’m a painter

I’m a painter


Once your painting or visual art work is finished, you can control its reproduction, exhibition, distribution in any media, anywhere in the world.

The exhibition right is an important right for visual artists since it has established that an exhibition fee ought to be paid to artists. It is important to know this when you are offered a show. The reproduction right enables the artist to collect fees whenever her/his work is reproduced.  Both Canadian Artists Representation Copyright Collective (CARCC) and Access Copyright track these royalties on behalf of artists.

Q: What happens to my copyright when someone buys my painting?

A: When you sell an artwork, the work in its frame may belong to someone else, but you still control whether it can be copied.

Notwithstanding the sale, you as the creator keep the moral rights: that is to say, the right to have their name associated with the work and to protect its integrity.

So if the person who bought your work tells you they like it so much they took a digital image of it and gave it to someone else, your copyright may well have been violated. That said, it can be difficult to control whether someone copies your work, and very time consuming to address. For more information on your rights as a visual artist, check the Canadian Artists’ Representation (CARFAC) website. If you have questions about a specific artist/dealer agreement or any questions about contracts, it’s important to get legal advice.

In order to protect yourself, put your name on your work, and keep an inventory of all of your work. Know your rights.

Q: I am a painter who has a portfolio on my website. What if my work showed up on a greeting card made by a company in a foreign country?

A: Unfortunately, for many visual artists, there are some companies that take images from digital portfolios and sell them. In order to pursue this, you would have to take legal action, which could be difficult and expensive given that it’s a company in another country.

Here’s what you can do in the future:

  • put only low-res imagery on your site
  • invite people to contact you directly if they are interested in your work
  • if you want people to contact you, make it easy for them to do that: put a link to the contact page on every page
  • put your contact information on the actual image that you upload, so that even if someone does a Google search, that information is on the image itself

Q: I’m a visual artist and have had my work shown in galleries. I recently became aware that another artist has created a work that is much too similar in concept and appearance to a work of mine which I had done before her. How can I stop her from showcasing it? What should I do?

A: There are two questions: 1) has this other artist seen or been exposed to your work; and 2) how similar is it to your work? Since it is similar in concept and appearance, and you had your work displayed beforehand, the best thing to do is to write a letter to the artist asking her to cease exhibiting the work. If you think that this letter will be ill-received or dismissed, then consider speaking with a lawyer and having the lawyer contact the other artist.

Q: I have been offered an opportunity to show my work in a group show at a commercial gallery but they want me to pay $60 and sign a contract. What should I do?

A. If you’re offered the opportunity to be represented by a gallery, we strongly recommend that you contact CARFAC or one of its provincial branches (CARFAC-BC). Do not sign a contract that you do not understand. And do not show at a gallery without checking references. Talk to your peers or contact an artist-run centre through PAARC (Pacific Association of Artist Run Centres) to find out if the gallery is credible. When a gallery asks you for money, it’s often a scam.

Legal tip: contracts with reversion rights

It’s really important to have a contract whenever you leave work somewhere on consignment. Make sure you are in regular contact with the owner, and make sure you have the right to get it back. Also, make sure you always have something called reversion rights in your contract. That means that rights go back to the owner in the case of death or insolvency. If you don’t have reversion rights, the actual property (scripts, unpublished books, jewelry, etc) become the property of the estate or trustee, and they might not return them to you, especially if there are a lot of debts. If the owner of the gallery or store dies or you find out that the publisher is bust, then contact the trustee in bankruptcy or the estate and get your name on the list of creditors. Then at least you are notified of what is going on.