Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tribal Artist's Copyright Guidelines

Feather News

In a poster contest for children that is being administered by the Mohegan Tribe family services department, one of the rules states that the original artwork submission and copyrights of the work will belong to the Tribe.

Do the children really understand what rights they are ceding to the Tribe? Is it legal or even ethical for the Tribe to extract these rights from children?

The contest began on November 1, 2008 and submissions will be accepted until January 16, 2009. The theme of the contest is, "Ask me, See me, Be me ... Drug and Alcohol Free ... Honoring Our Ancestors."

The rule in question states, "Posters (originals and copies) entered into the contest become the property of the Mohegan Tribe and may be reproduced and displayed by the Mohegan Tribe at locations as determined by the Mohegan Tribe. Posters may be used in publications, exhibits, displays and on websites as determined by the Mohegan Tribe. Any applicable copyrights will be held by the Mohegan Tribe."

The prizes for winning sumbissions are not stated except to note that there will be "great prizes in each age group." Three age groups are eligible: children between the ages of 6-8, 9-11 and 12-15.

An artist's copyrights for a work of art are totally separate from the physical work of art. "An artist can often sell a physical piece of art verbally, but the copyright or exclusive license must always be transferred in writing and the artist or the artist's authorized agent must sign that transfer," according to Tad Crawford who wrote The Legal Guide for the Visual Artist.

The issue of copyrights on artwork hit home for the Tribe in the earlier part of this decade whent the Tribe spent over one million dollars for 102 paintings on the Pequot War and of Indian chiefs but failed to secure the copyrights for those paintings. The paintings were created by David Wagner, a Connecticut artist. As a result, the Tribe cannot make copies of the artwork.

Crawford has the following suggestions for those considering submitting their artwork into a contest: "Many contests pose no problem ... Does entering the contest require that the artist transfer the copyright to the sponsor? If so, the contest should not be entered.

"If the contest requires that exclusive rights be transferred to the sponsor in the event the artist wins, then the artist must evaluate whether this transfer of rights is reasonable. The sponsor should only seek limited rights, such as the right to publish the art in a book of contest winners or to make a poster for a certain specified distribution. If the sponsor seeks more than this, the artist should demand fair compensation for the additional rights that appear unnecessary to fulfill the purpose of the contest.

"In addition, if the sponsor seeks free art to use for commercial purposes, such as promoting or advertising its products, then the artist should be especially wary of entering. Not only does this situation appear very similar to working on speculation, which should be an anathema to all artists, but it would require a prize that would be a fair fee to the winner.

"Just as the artist safeguards his or her copyright, so ownership should be maintained over the physical artwork embodying copyright. Contest applications must be read carefully and contests entered only after thoroughly weighing whether the impact of the contest on ownership of the copyright and physical art is fair and ethical."