Get It In Writing
It is critical that you have written agreements in place for all of your creative projects and collaborative relationships. These agreements do not have to be lengthy or written in "legalese," but such agreements provide both protection and perspective. By articulating what you and someone else have agreed upon you are defining each party's obligations and safeguarding your interests.
Type and scope of agreement
To a certain degree, every agreement will be different, depending on the subject of the agreement. A contract with a string quartet to commission a musical composition will not be the same as a consignment agreement between a gallery and a visual artist or a sync license between a film producer and a band. Still, many contracts share certain common features:
- Finances. How are you being paid, and how much? If there are costs involved in a project, how are those costs allocated?
- Copyright. Does the agreement involve a license or a transfer? Is this a work for hire?
- Warranty. What are the obligations and promises of each party?
- Dispute Resolution. What happens if there are disagreements or a breach of the contract?
- Governing Law. What law applies to an interpretation of the contract?
- Venue. Where do you have to bring claims and disputes if you go to court?
Templates and contracts
There are numerous templates available on the Internet, free or not, for various types of agreements. But a template is just that: something that serves as a model for others to copy. No template will necessarily address the needs and circumstances of your particular project or your particular relationship. While templates may serve as a starting point for an agreement, it is generally prudent to consider working with an attorney experienced in drafting agreements involving creative work. That arts attorney will have insight into what may be needed in the agreement and will confer with you about how to shape the language that best works for you.
It may be that you are a singer and a production company wants to sign you to their roster of artists. The company emails you a contract and says it needs to be signed by the end of the week. Do not be intimidated by that common pressuring tactic.
If that company is sincerely interested in you, it will wait for you to sign what it sent. But, before signing anything, you would be wise to contact an attorney who practices in this area to review the language and to fully explain what everything means. It is crucial that you ask questions before agreeing to anything; once you sign the contract, it is generally a done deal. The time to make changes in the language or to not sign it at all is before you sign it.
Remember, that everything is negotiable. If there are terms and conditions you don't like or which seem to favor the other party more than they should, ask for changes. You may or may not get them, but you certainly won't get any of them if you don't ask. Of course it may be that the other party has all the power and refuses to make any changes: "take it or leave it." That becomes a choice on your part, a business decision. Going back to our example of the singer and the production company, if this company is interested in you but won't negotiate, then perhaps it might be worth it to just walk away - if one company likes your artistry, surely another company will as well. Remember your value and be confident in it - don't necessarily take the first deal that comes your way.