Starving Artist? Or Money Grabber?

By Karen Middleton in Misc > Art Opinion

The term “starving artist” is so familiar it has its own page on Wikipedia. And most of the artists I know seem to work very hard for the money they make.

So I was intrigued (and perplexed) when I read a blog post where artists were being called “money grabbing” because they were requesting, or stipulating, a licensing fee for the extended use of their images.

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In this particular case, a few customers who had chosen to purchase images with an attached terms of use, were upset at being restricted in how they could use their purchase.

In many cases, the terms of use were provided prior to purchase, and the customer then had the choice of whether to continue with the sale or not—so they were informed of these restrictions before making the purchase.

Given all that, I felt that the artists in question were getting a bit of an unfair name. . . “money grabbing” seems harsh for people just trying to make a living.

So what can we do about this? Is it just a case of educating the buyers?

Should we place explanations on our marketing portals (our websites, point-of-sale pages, etc) on how we may be holding down a day job, raising children, or both; and that our artwork gives us that little extra to help make ends meet, especially as regular, paid employment is scarce these days?

Should we all join an amalgamated union, so that all artwork is provided under the same terms? Some form of national, or global protection, such as offered by the ACID or the AOI, would help, too, though these come with heavy membership fees, which is why this isn’t always an option.

Would these steps even help?

The truth is, without licensing fees or restrictions on use of artwork, the whole system breaks down. When anyone can use any artwork (in any way they like, for as long as they like) there’s less money returning to the artist for supplies and future artwork.

If artists ceased all terms and conditions, allowing free use of everything we created. . . well, we might as well give up and live on welfare—or give up and get a “proper job.” The only problem is, there aren’t many proper jobs around.

Surely we deserve to be paid for the work we do—often taking days, weeks or months on a piece?

Licensing our art is actually a way of keeping costs to the customer low, providing us with the opportunity to sell multiple times, rather than asking a hefty price for an original piece, where the entire hours, materials and skill must all be accounted for.

Many of us are hoping that the reminders of usage and copyright we hesitantly place on our work will be respected and adhered to. Does this make us money grabbing, or are we just asking to be paid for what we do?

Most creatives are more than happy to share the results of their talent. . . I’ve personally found the enjoyment, friendships and satisfaction gained by doing so, far outweighs the occasional negatives (like stressing over finances, keeping long hours at the drawing board, etc).

But it’s dangerous when assumptions about artwork, and how it should be “free” (or “free-er”) appear on the internet.

That’s why it’s up to us, as artists, to keep reinforcing the message, and keep fighting for our rights, in the same way that musicians, writers, authors, photographers and publishers also fight.

So please, don’t feel guilty for asking buyers (online, or elsewhere) to respect your copyright. Or your terms of use.

For centuries, artists have had to fight for their rights, and today, in the digital age, it’s not much different. . . the only difference is how, and where, we do it.

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