What Are The Legal Implications Of Licensing Your Art?

Licensing is oftentimes one of the better pathways to profitability for artists. If you can establish a work well enough to attract licensing offers, it can generate a significant revenue stream.

With that success, however, also come the legal implications of licensing art. An art attorney will want clients to be aware of these five licensing concerns.


The point of licensing your work is to ensure that you retain ownership. If someone wants to purchase full ownership of a work, it's your option to make a sale. Exclusive licensing is also an option, although an art lawyer will usually encourage limits on exclusivity. For example, the license might be exclusive to a certain sector like a specific industry. Also, many artists license by region, such as only offering one license per licensee per country.


Every license should have a limited period, too. No one in the world of art law wants to create a perpetuity. In most cases, a period measured in a few years is best.

Grants and Limitations

The license should have a limited scope based on specific grants. Legal counsel for art transactions will usually include contract terms that state that all unspecified rights remain with the artist. You should avoid making any overly broad grants. If a licensee wants to display your artwork on a T-shirt, the grant should specify what type of shirt, down to the sizes and materials. You may also want to limit the grant to a certain production run to defend the uniqueness of your art.


Most licenses include some combination of fees and royalties. A flat fee can activate the contract, meaning it'll be enforceable. Likewise, fees can provide immediate income. Royalties are nice, though, if you believe a licensed product might make lots of individual sales. Royalties are usually expressed as either a dollar-per-unit figure or a percentage of overall sales. Be aware, however, that parties sometimes end up fighting over royalties if there are disputes about how many units are sold.

Name and Likeness

Frequently, licensees aren't solely interested in the work of art. They may also be interested in linking their products to the artist's brand. You want to be as clear as possible regarding how the licensee can or can't use your name and likeness. If you do grant these along with licensing your work, there should be clear limitations. For example, the displays of the image and name usually are only used in conjunction with this display of the art.

For more information about art law, contact a local lawyer.