Copyright question about designing a set of icons
January 21, 2015 7:24 AM   Subscribe

I am asking for a friend, who says -- "I am in contract negotiations with my former employer to develop an indeterminate number of software icons for their software product."

"In my initial contract I'm asking for $YY per icon, and they get a nonexclusive, perpetual, worldwide, nonexclusive (other than sublicense to client's licensees, and use online) license to use the icons, but I retain copyright.

"They want to retain the copyright on the icons. How much more do I charge them? 1.5x $YY? 2 x $YY? more?? What is the industry standard for selling a copyright?"
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit to Work & Money (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is kind of a weird one. What does your friend have to gain from retaining copyright on icons for a software product they don't own? Normally the person commissioning and paying for the work gets copyright.

If this were my product, I would want copyright on designs commissioned for my products. If a designer wanted to retain copyright on icons for my product, I'd be extremely suspicious that I might be held to ransom in some unspecified future situation, and I probably wouldn't want to work with that designer.
posted by pipeski at 7:40 AM on January 21, 2015

What does your friend have to gain from retaining copyright on icons for a software product they don't own?

If the icons are generic enough, the designer could license them to other entities in the future. It’s fair to ask for more money for a copyright in order to compensate for the lost revenue from licensing. Unfortunately, a designer would need a lot of leverage (and almost certainly an actual lawyer, which I am not) to negotiate to keep the copyright, for the legal headache reason mentioned by Pipeski, and because there are plenty of other designers out there who would be happy to sell the rights at basically no extra cost.
posted by tepidmonkey at 8:28 AM on January 21, 2015

Former art buyer here. There really isn't an industry standard for selling the copyright.

If they want to retain copyright, they want work for hire, which is not a license. Work for hire means you are signing away the copyright to the work. You may retain the right to use the work as part of your portfolio, but that should be expressly noted in the contract.

I will say -- many artists will not do work for hire because retaining the copyright is so important. When I bought artwork as work for hire, we used it in every application in every consumer product good we sold -- books, greeting cards, fabric, online, posters, stickers, dinnerware, clothing, etc.

Jessica Hische brilliantly addresses the work for hire vs. licensing pricing conundrum. Please note that she is a well-known illustrator and letterer so her pricing is much higher than anything I've seen.

On a personal note, I bought work-for hire icons for as little as $50 and as much as $1,000, depending on the reputation and work of the artist.
posted by hmo at 8:38 AM on January 21, 2015

Your friend will get good answers if they post their question on Stack Exchange for graphic designers (link). Make sure they check out some of the existing discussions, for example here and here people suggests adding 3x the initial design fee (adding means adding to, so a total of 4x). Keep in mind too that there may be 3rd party license fees (such as the software tools used to produce the icons) that need to be tacked on to the final figure.

Relevant: standard template from AIGA addressing all of these issues.

Relevant 2.0: since we are talking about a software company, your friend should NOT feel bad charging more for copyright transfer, a software company is the ideal client to understand and empathize with these types of issues.
posted by rada at 9:39 AM on January 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

This seems like a very standard work for hire which I would NOT expect the artist to retain any rights.

I don't know why I would ever give my work for artist the write to resell the icons used in my product / brand.

If I wanted to do that I'd go to the creative commons and find a icon set that works for me, or make a request for likely less money.

If this came across my desk (and I am involved with these contracts at my software company) I would go find another artist if they dug their heals in.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 2:03 PM on January 21, 2015

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