biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies 09: licensing q+a with lilla rogers

by Grace Bonney

today’s first biz ladies post (stay tuned for 2 more!) is something many of you have been asking me about at the biz ladies meetings over the past few years- licensing. since it’s not a field i know much about, i decided to go straight to one of the best in the business- lilla rogers. lilla represents some of the best artists in the industry and has helped them license their work with companies like ikea, target, land of nod, barneys, crate and barrel, pottery barn, conde nast, teneues, and nickelodeon- just to name a few. when it comes to licensing surface design, lilla knows her stuff. so i was thrilled when she agreed to answer your questions over the past few weeks. so, for those of you who submitted a question (or just wanted to see others’) lilla’s answers are ready! she’s touching on many aspects of licensing so if you’re curious about licensing (or working with an agent) at all, this is a must-read. thanks so much to lilla for taking the time to answer these questions and thank you to those who submitted them!

CLICK HERE to read lilla’s Q&A after the jump!

Question: Emma: Hi, I’m starting out as an illustrator (1 year left of college) and my question is really quite basic! – how do you go about getting your illustrations onto products/ textiles? Do you need to work through an agency or can you contact companies (such as urban outfitters etc) directly?

Answer: Lilla: I could fill a book on this. Best thing to do is go to great shops and see what’s being sold. See what you love. Make your work great. Then, send it to companies and see how it goes. You can visit trade shows and see what that’s about. You can try to get an agent. It’s incredibly competitive. You have to have something special and have a regular, consistent, and effective promotion strategy. A great rep is a great thing because they already have the relationships with the companies.

Question: Erika: I currently license my designs to several manufacturers of paper goods (cards, invitations, announcements, napkins, party favors, etc) but am interested in making the jump to other products. I’d love to design dishes, tabletop items, tea cups!, place mats, sheets, wall art, etc etc. Do I really need an agent?

Answer: Lilla: You don’t need an agent. Some artists do it on their own. Some are good at it. It just depends on what you want to do with your time. However, the artists I rep are able to do art full-time and not have to deal with contracts, promotion, invoicing, second invoicing, image rights management, web site updating, vetting jobs, and so on. The agent may do trade shows and that alone is a huge help.

Also, a good agent knows how to show and sell your work and to whom. They know what is being bought and where the hot areas are. They can work with you to help you create pieces that will be great for their clients. They have connections with companies. They also have clout when negotiating, by virtue of knowing what’s typical and what isn’t.

This is why it is so difficult to get a good agent; they are a very desirable thing to have. They are like a protein shake for a career. We often can get an artist’s career to blossom big-time. That is very rewarding for us. We get over 1,000 submissions from artists a year and only take on a few artists every now and then. I have to turn away talent I love, all the time, and it kills me!

Question: Erika, Part 2: If I do need an agent, where do I look for one; and what type of questions should I be asking an agent; what should I be looking for in an agent? Oh, and the all important question: how much should I expect to pay an agent?

Answer: Lilla: You don’t pay an agent. You are a team. The agent bills the client and sends you your percentage. Licensing agents generally take 50%; Illustration agents (magazines, books, advertising, corporate) tend to take 30%. Agencies that do both can be somewhere in between.

Question: Nadja: I am currently in the process of redoing my website and apart from posting products i want to add a section which features prints. – how can i prevent people from simply printing them out and making them their own? is there a way to protect original artwork shown on the internet? i want people to be able to see the things i make, but i dont want them to steal my design.

Answer: Lilla: Great question. You can make that section password-protected, and ask interested folks to email you for the password. You can send your clients the password, too. Reputable companies will go to you if they want your work. They won’t copy the work. This raises the whole question of how much does one not show one’s work and how much to keep it under wraps. You have to get your work out there. The upside far outweighs the downside.

Question: Penney: I am also interested in trade mark, watercolor , copyright questions. Hate to watermark my work, but want to protect it also.

Answer: Lilla: You can watermark your work. I’m not a huge fan because it’s distracting. Let’s face it, there is so much work on the web and in shops that anyone can copy. So the way to go is to make lots of great art and promote it directly to your clients.

There are copyright laws which protect you. If someone totally copies your design you can go after them and/or the company that manufactured the product.
Just by virtue of having created the art you are the owner and have copyright.
The main thing is, is another artist going to be strongly influenced by your work if they see it on the web? Yes. Just like you were and are influence when you look at other artists’ work. You can be influenced but you cannot copy or look derivative. In fact, it’s sad to copy. It means you think you have no voice of your own. Plus, it’s illegal and immoral and wrong and most manufacturers don’t want to touch it.

Question: Yvonne: “So great that you are providing these resources for the community. Thank you! Question for Lilla: If my merchandise is textile based, bibs, aprons, cosmetic pouches, etc. Which fabrics/prints are ok to use in terms of textile designer copyright and what are the guidelines for use?”

Answer: Lilla: I think what you’re asking me is the following: you make products like bibs using fabric that you purchase in stores. You want to know if it’s ok for you to sell your products since you don’t own the copyright to the fabric artwork. This is fine because you are buying the fabric so the artist and manufacturer are paid for their product. You are not stealing. I assume you are selling at small venues such as craft shows and on etsy.

Should you sell to a mass-market manufacturer, that is another story. Not because of the greater quantity. It has to do with cost. The manufacturer could buy the fabric at retail, just like you do, and then produce the bibs, but they wouldn’t. It would be too expensive. They would probably negotiate a deal with the manufacturer to buy the fabric wholesale, assuming they had the right to do so. The artist would get a royalty from sales. There are other options, too, depending. For example, if your manufacturer wanted to make bibs, and the fabric manufacturer didn’t mind, you could negotiate with the artist for the right to use the art on fabric for bibs. The key to remember is, is the artist getting compensated for use? If you are buying the fabric in a store, then the artist is getting a royalty from your purchase. Ok, that was really boring and dense. But you get the idea.

Question: How do you negotiate your rights with licensing? It’s your artwork, but which rights do you license to companies/manufacturers/etc?

Answer: Lilla: This is a very broad question. Basically, you negotiate with each manufacturer. You want to give them the rights to use the art on products they create. You want to give them an exclusive in these areas. You want to keep the rights in other areas so you can leverage the piece in many product areas.

For example, let’s say you license the work in bolt fabric. That means that the manufacturer can use your work in bolt fabric. It generally means you can sell the work in all other areas, like you could sell it to a puzzle manufacturer. So you give the fabric manufacturer use and exclusive in bolt fabric. That’s easy.

It can be incredibly complex, however. Maybe it’s a stationery client. There are a jillion potential stationery products like pencil cups and notepads. Calendars. Locked diaries. File folders. Do you give the rights to all these things? You need to have a conversation and see what they produce. Then, maybe you give a right-of-first refusal in things they don’t currently produce but would like to in the future, perhaps.
Look, the bottom line is, you need to vet the company to see if the are reputable. If they are, then you want a good, long term relationship that is good for you and good for them. No one wants to work with a difficult artist and no one should work with a difficult client. I don’t care how desperate you think you are.
They probably already have a way they work and you can go with that. But we are constantly educating clients. (And they are educating us!)

Question: How do you negotiate your rights with licensing? It’s your artwork, but which rights do you license to companies/manufacturers/etc?

Answer: Lilla: The very short answer is that generally you license the rights for the categories of product that the client will produce. For example, if they make bedding, you license the rights for bedding. There are many exceptions and variations to this rule.

Question: We exhibit at National Stationery Show, so it’s quite impossible for us to ALSO have a booth at Surtex (since the shows are concurrent). Are there other shows you’d recommend?

Answer: Lilla: Printsource NY is a good show.

Question: If someone wants to purchase the copyrights along with a particular artwork, so they can reproduce it in the future, how would i go about figuring out a price?”

Answer: Lilla: I would need to know more to answer this question. What is the product? What is the artwork? How many images so they want to buy? Is this a start of a collection or a one-shot deal? Is the company a top-notch company or start-up? Why do they need the copyright? Can you just sell the rights to their product? How long have you been in business? Is this your first piece of art or are you selling like crazy? Does the client have a budget? Do you know other designers that work with this company? This gives you a flavor of the kinds of things to take into consideration.

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