Commissioning new digital work: dealing with rights

Commissioning new digital work is another alternative to working with existing copyright material or working in situations involving no other copyrights except your own. This process may present an easier path than working with existing copyright, although relationships between artists and commissioners have always been tense in commissioning relationships! Historically, artists have lacked the so-called ‘moral rights’ in the UK and US jurisdictions to prevent the mistreatment of their artworks once they have been sold (and to thereby prevent damage to their artistic reputation). This has contrasted to civil law countries like France and Germany, where artists’ moral rights have been championed. Own-it ran an event on commissioning work and rights, which is available here as a podcast, and it clearly articulates way to clarify copyrights and ethical issues in the commissioning collaboration.

REMEMBER: you are permitted by law to use copyrighted material (without having to seek permissions) for: research and private study, criticism, review and news reporting, incidental inclusion, and educational purposes.

What commissioning work does give you is the freedom to choose how you want to set up the rights. You can choose whether you buy out rights, share them, collaborate with artists to make them available under creative commons licenses. AmbITion organistions that have been through this process make the following recommendations:

  • Talk to the artists involved BEFORE contracting stage about the work also being digital, and you needing to also seek digital rights. If there are problems immediately, then the artist may the wrong choice for this project, but consider explaining why the digital work is being made (for education? to reduce touring costs?); how you plan to promote and exploit it (as a participative cultural experience for audience enjoyment or education, etc.?); and how you will ensure the quality and aesthetic of the work meets everyone’s expectations. Show digital work produced by other companies, and offer the opportunity for wary artists to speak to an artist who has already been a part of a digital commission.
  • Write the terms and process of the digital production into a contract, showing what rights you are buying out, sharing, or collaborating around via Creative Commons. Consider length of time, territories, whether the work can be shared by others.
  • At the beginning of the production process, run a digital learning session, to show artists the kit, digital distribution channels and consumption devices that the digital content will be viewed on/participated with. Consider bringing in digital natives to run these sessions – they’ll be infectious with their passion!
  • Discuss any issues arising about the digital work in public with the whole creative team, as they arise. The sense of dealing with the issues collaboratively, in conversation will empower everybody.
  • Show work in progress and the final product to the creative team involved – they may even become ambassadors for digital work if they got on with the process and liked the output!
You can also find out more about copyright and where to get detailed advice depending on your circumstances here at copyrighthub.co.uk.

Stellar Quines theatre company allowed their journey of creating a digital work with cast and crew to be considered as a case study for AmbITion: watch their story.

If commissioning new work is not for you, then read up on how to clear existing copyrights.