Advice for Digital Artists: Always Have a Contract
In the world of digital artist community, people work on trust. Usually, this is a good thing since we need to trust that the person doing the work will finish the project and that the person paying for the work will actually pay. However, there are times when the trust gets broken because one person expects something that the other didn’t.
I hear the following all the time: “We’re friends, so we don’t need a contract.” Yes, you’re friends until you get into a disagreement over who should have done what.
Here are two examples:
• I hired Will (not his real name) to rig an aircraft model for me. I didn’t have a written contract nor a list of parts that I expected him to rig- I simply assumed he would rig all the parts that move on a real aircraft.
When he sent the model back to me, I saw that he rigged the landing gear nicely, but didn’t rig the rudder or wing flaps. He also decided to fix some mapping issues, which I didn’t ask him to do, which caused him to spend more time on the model. This caused us to get into a disagreement over it and some upset feelings: I expected him to do more work and he didn’t do it because I didn’t give him a specific list of what I wanted him to do.
• Another issue came up when Peter (not his real name) made a set of hand-held props which he sent to me to sell on my site, Vanishing Point. He told me that he worked with Cary (also not his real name) on the models and asked that I give Cary credit in the product description.
About a week later, Cary complained that he wanted more credit and a cut of the product sales. Peter told me that he thought Cary did the work as a work-for-hire situation and that he didn’t expect to give him a cut of the sales.
Cary then complained to a few marketplace sites where I had uploaded the product for Peter, which put me in an awkward position.
Since Peter and Cary didn’t have a written contract, they both expected different things. The other problem was that they assumed they knew what each other wanted, so there were no e-mails to say Peter would give credit in a specific way or that Cary would be paid a certain amount.
So, my recommendation is to always have a contract that lists the specifics what each person expects. Every situation and project will be different, but here are some examples of what to include:
1) The work to be done:
• Are you being hired to make a model a model from scratch? Will you rig it? Will you UV map and texture it?
• Will you need to make promotional images?
• What happens when you find an issue that needs correcting? At the very least, you should speak up and ask what to do, rather than just doing it.
• How many revisions does the client get?
2) The compensation:
• Will you be paid a set amount or ongoing commission? How much?
• If you’ll be paid a commission, how long will you be paid? Will it be for a certain length of time or a certain amount?
• When is compensation expected? Will the amount be paid upfront or at specific milestones?
• When the project is complete, how long does the client have to pay the final amount?
3) Who owns the model:
• If you’re getting paid to do work, you will probably give up all ownership and copyright of the model. But this is something you can negotiate.