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