Maria Brophy

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art licensing / business of art / Written Agreements

Should You Send Your Art Images to a Company in China?

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Drew Brophy, painting art for a children's line of products

Drew Brophy, painting art for a children’s line of products

One of my readers asked: 

A company from China saw my art online and loved it!   They asked me to send 3 images they can print on fabric.  They promise to pay me royalties when the fabric sells.   

I’m not sure I trust them, but I really want to do it.  How should I handle this?”

It’s a great question, and I’m going to answer it from a very practical point of view.

But first, a cautionary tale:

A consulting client of mine sent a slew of art images to a company in China.

He was so excited to have his first art licensing deal, that the artist spent over 200 hours developing the art that the client asked for.  The artist even did extra work, creating sales sheets for the client (the client should have had their own art dept. doing this themselves).

The client kept promising payment, but  strung the artist out for over 18 months.  The artist continued doing unpaid work for the client, believing that he would get a big payout later.  But the money never transpired;  the client never paid a dime.   It was a very expensive lesson this artist learned.

It’s a mistake to send high-res art images to a client in China without doing this first:

1-  Getting a payment up front and;

2 – Having a signed, written agreement

Payment and a written agreement is especially important when sending your art to someone in another country, where the culture and laws are different from ours.

What difference does the culture make when it comes to the art business?  In America and Europe and the U.K., it’s unethical for someone to steal artwork and print it on their products.  In some cases it’s illegal, which can cost the offender money as well as their reputation.  These two facts are a great deterrent.

But in some cultures, taking art isn’t “stealing.”  It’s merely a way of doing business.

There are many “artists” in China that copy paintings of Western artists and sell them as originals.  Their own government doesn’t crack down on the theft of art, so there’s little discouragement.  This lack of respect for intellectual property trickles down to the general public and is often accepted as a way of doing business.

Am I saying that you should never go into business with a company in China?  No, of course not.   You can’t be paranoid; you’ll miss out on opportunities based on fear.

What I’m suggesting is that you trust, but be careful.  Handle your art business professionally.

My advice:  Express that you are excited about having your art printed on their product.  Offer them use of your images with an advance, payable up front.

An advance up front is best, because a company willing to pay up front is a viable client.  It’s a form of insurance, too, because collecting royalty payments from a company overseas can be difficult.  Getting a payment up front will ensure that at least some of your time has been paid.

Draw up an agreement that states that you keep ownership of copyrights and that they get to use the art only for the specific product for two years.

Instruct them to sign the agreement and wire payment.   Wire payments are the best method when dealing with companies overseas.  It’s been our preferred method, and most people  are happy to do it.

Promise the client that upon receiving payment, you will begin work on the art and then email them the hi-res images.  Wait for the money to hit your bank account before sending the images.

If they are willing to wire your payment, it shows that they are committed and legitimate.

If they disappear, then you know they were not serious clients.   (And you can pat yourself on the back for saving yourself the trouble of dealing with a client that isn’t committed.)

Remember this timeless truth:  Money always separates the serious from the not-so-serious!

Maria Brophy xxoo

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20 Comments Should You Send Your Art Images to a Company in China?

  1. Steve

    Another philosophy…don’t trust anyone who isn’t standing right in front if you. I read a story of an American artist who sent a crate of her oil paintings to a gallery in Ireland and never heard back from them, losing everything.

    Reply
    1. Maria Brophy

      Steve, had that happen to us, and we KNOW the people. It’s been 3 years, still trying to get the art back, or payment. Never again will I ship art to galleries overseas, without money up front. Not even if I know them.

      Reply
  2. Marie Kazalia

    What a well written article, Maria! Thank you for being so sensible.
    I am so glad that you pointed out that artists should get an advance. It would be best to fly to China a see the printing done. If it’s a large contract it will be worth it. I lived in China for two years, and I know that very inexpensive high quality printing is readily available. Many US book publishers go to China (especially Hong Kong) to get books printed there to reduce costs. But they have someone from their US company fly there to supervise the printing and shipping. Often they deal with the same printer each time, too. I’ve also traveled all over China, and spent time in Taiwan. (As well as other Asian countries that make excellent papers and do quality printing, such as India and Thailand). The artist you mentioned was very foolish, and opened himself up to that situation. What happened to him could happen in the US too, or in any other country, because he behaved unprofessionally and neglected to protect his own interests. Did he even sign a contract before doing all that work and sending off his images?!

    Reply
  3. Lance Klass

    Very smart question and a very smart answer. I’m glad you took up this issue, Maria, as the question comes up again and again and so far as I know, no art blog has really addressed it, at least not as well as you have.

    In the case of China, one can assume that aggressive Chinese companies will steal artwork wherever and whenever they can, and if they don’t sell their products with stolen art in the US or other country of origin, they’ll sell the products in Europe or Asia or elsewhere.

    I try to work only with Chinese companies that have offices in the United States. A footprint over here means that legal actions can be brought against them here. No US office and you can forget about legal action because it’s virtually impossible to enforce contracts or copyrights in China. The government just doesn’t care, and doesn’t regulate huge areas of activity, especially anything relating to intellectual property.

    So my advice would be (1) deal with an American office of the Chinese company, if one exists, (2) if not, send low-resolution jpegs and as you wisely advise, get payment up-front to seal the deal before sending reproducible artwork.

    Reply
  4. Tyler Watkins

    One of the best things about your articles is that it gives us the confidence to make the tough choices. When a client promises to pay later, or whatever…we can remember back to one of your articles that says…Money always separates the serious from the not-so-serious!

    Reply
  5. Marie Kazalia

    I hope that we are all here to learn something helpful. When I was in China, there was a live execution of several young men on local television. The men were on their knees with hands tied behind them. A uniformed man went up to each from behind and shot them in the back of their heads–one at a time. Their crime–counterfeiting Marlboro cigarettes! I was told that the family of each man would receive a bill for the cost of the bullet and that they better pay it. (I never forgot seeing this!) Penalties are harsh in China. Sorry for such a gruesome comment to make my point. But if an artist makes a bad deal with a manufacturer or publisher in China, and it happens–I’ve heard lots of stories on both sides– it probably has to do with not understanding the differences in other cultures from long distance.
    I’d like to talk more about those differences, if anyone is open to it? With the goal of increasing understanding so as to improve business dealings (or something like that).

    Reply
  6. Lance Klass

    While that’s a horrific example of extra-legal retribution, I can’t see that it has any bearing on the vast problem of theft of intellectual property in China. The stories are legion, from art products appearing at the HK and Shanghai Fairs with stolen art and being sold to retailers all over the world, to the release of pirated movie and music DVD’s that has Hollywood going nuts. Occasionally a regional or local party chief will demand executions to prove a point or stop similar activities (or get back at rivals, and so forth) but there’s no national policy of tamping down rampant theft of intellectual property. Apparently the Chinese government itself through the PLA even has a major cyber-theft program attacking government, educational and private industrial military and product trade secrets. Obama was going to bring this up with Xi in their recent meeting and I believe they touched on it without a firm resolution. Theft instigated by the Chinese government is massive, and considering that most major corporations in China are owned at least 51% by the national government, we can consider that art theft inures to the benefit not only of the corporations that commit the theft but also to their ultimate owners, the Chinese government itself. This is not a cultural difference. It’s a pattern of criminal activity that goes unpunished and is sanctioned at the highest levels of Chinese government.

    Reply
    1. Marie Kazalia

      Lance,
      The streets of Hong Kong are full of guys selling *Copy Watches*– that is fake Rolex watches. Sellers push carts full of fake Chanel handbags etc and run when the police appear. But I don’t buy the fakes. Hong Kong is a gorgeous sophisticated city. There are real Chanel shops and real jewelry shops selling authentic Rolex watches in Hong Kong. The fact that underground criminals (organized crime called the Triads) exist in Hong Kong does not hinder the legitimate businesses. I attended the Hong Kong Art Fair and there were not fakes and forgeries, but lots of recognized names of artists internationally. The fact is that the city streets in China and Japan are extremely safe day and night from violent crime. Can you say that about city streets in the US? In the US stolen art annually has a higher dollar amount than illegal drug sales. The FBI has long maintained a database of stolen art. I know because I worked in the museum profession and have spoken with the FBI about missing art. Daily I receive multiple scam emails from would-be fake American art buyers. What are those scammers in relation to the legitimate art sales going on in the US? Nil. If you are determined to see that side only you will see that side only. I have an extensive list of reputable galleries in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai. I have spent time in those cities. Hong Kong has a gorgeous free art library, Taipei has an enormous national library. Tokyo has many amazing galleries and museums. I wanted to avoid the stance that the USA is pure and superior by contrast to dark evil Asia. It’s just not the case. I spent a total of 4 years in Asia and I am basing my comments on my personal experiences there. I studied the Mandarin Chinese language at a university in China. When I spoke in Mandarin on a trip to Beijing, doors opened for me in every sense. I also lived in Japan and studied the Japanese language. You bet etiquette matters in business dealings! How could you say otherwise?! As an American, when I lived as an expatriate outside the USA, I could more clearly see how the news media slants everything. The US news media slants their reports to make it seem that we are the good guys. Other countries do the same. I hope that you are not basing your opinion entirely on what you watch on TV? I think my suggestion to discuss cultural differences in order to better understand doing business is a good idea. But it requires an open mind. If you are not open to it, that’s fine. Please allow others who may be to respond.

      Reply
  7. Kathleen Denis

    I’m a heavily published/licensed artist for over 15 years and from experience I will never deal with someone in or from China. They have stolen many of my images from the companies who legally produced my images on products while in China. The take it from the print house and give it to their buddies down the street, print it on other products and sometimes even sell them back to well known US companies – how stupid people can be who have no morals. The only good thing that came of it was that when we caught some of them, the law suit paid for our property taxes for a couple of years. If your images are good, find a reputable licensing agent or fabric company in the states who will protect your rights. The Surtex show in NYC is a good place to start. Walk the show and show your goods. Blessings.

    Reply
  8. Rebecca Bat-Raphael

    Thank you, I used to manage an art gallery and the gallery owner offered to send one of my paintings to auction in France. I never saw the painting again or got paid for it. My only excuse is youth and being naive. I should have asked him for a written agreement or receipt, then I might have had some legal redress.

    Reply
  9. alertid

    Howdy, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one
    and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam responses?
    If so how do you stop it, any plugin or anything you can advise?
    I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any support is very much appreciated.

    Reply
  10. Susan Neese

    When having money wired to your account…..wouldn’t be a good idea to have a special bank account set up for it, that contains no money. I’ve heard stories of scams where they drain peoples accounts ….when they have your account number.

    Reply
  11. Carlos C

    Hi Maria, all your advice about licensing is very helpful as it covers even the different cultures involved when licensing art.

    China hosts various Licensing Fairs each year. And even more other manufacturing related fairs each year. It’s going to be my first time to present my art ever in person. How do I go about presenting my stuff? Do I show them my portfolio immediately? Or should I have them sign an agreement first?

    Reply

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