Friday, May 26, 2017

Bo's bLAWg - Copyright and Title; Two Distinct Rights

MJ Bogatin (“Bo”) of Bogatin, Corman & Gold, is an Arts and Entertainment Attorney in San Francisco.  He is also a long-time President of California Lawyers for the Arts. Bo is available to answer some of your questions surrounding the business of Art Licensing. - THANKS BO!

Dear Bo, I sell my original paintings, but retain digital files for licensing use on merchandise.  Does the purchaser of my painting have any right to use the image? Thanks. Jerry

Thanks for your question, Jerry.  You have identified the basic distinction between “physical property” and “intellectual property” rights.  Real property and personal property are ‘physical things’ which can be owned, and transferred in commerce.  Real property, of course is a house and the land on which it is located.  Personal property, or “personalty,” includes paintings, prints, merchandise, CDs, DVDs and books.  Ownership to both real and personal property is indicated by the term “Title.”  Just as the purchase of your house by a third party is deemed to transfer your Title to it to the new owner, so too, does the purchaser of your painting take your Title as their own.

Intellectual property interests are more ephemeral.  They are also your “property,” but they pertain to the artistic works contained in personalty:  the imagery contained in the physical painting, prints or on merchandise via license; the underlying composition and recording of music contained in a CD; the movie contained in the DVD, and the story and characters contained in the book of fiction.  In non-fiction, the Author’s intellectual property interest is in her written text, apart from the facts contained in the text.  All of these intellectual property interests, and rights in derivative works that can be made out of them, are the essence of Copyright.

You will recall that I previously provided the list of the Copyright holder’s Exclusive Interests:
With respect to your painting, Jerry, these include the rights to:
1.  reproduce the work in copies;
2.  prepare derivative works based upon the work;
3.  distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending, and
5.  display the copyrighted work publicly.

The notion to keep in mind is that these rights all attach to your copyright (your intellectual property in the underlying imagery), but not to the painting (personalty).  The people who purchase your painting get none of you intellectual property rights unless you expressly provide such rights to them.  An example of that, would be offering the purchaser the right to use the image in a family Holiday Card – presumably on the condition that your copyright notice is affixed!  You may also want to pre-approve the quality of the reproduction being made.  Clients of mine have provisions allowing for these additional rights and other conditions that they insert into their Art Sale template. 

I am reminded that one other provision I recommend be considered to include in the Sale Agreement is the right to borrow back the sold painting for a Museum or other show featuring the best of your artworks.  Most purchasers are so pleased with the notion that the artwork they are purchasing is one of your own favorites, they do not object to signing an agreement that allows you the right to borrow it back with reasonable notice, and on the further condition that the artwork is fully insured when out of their possession.  If you do not include such a right in your sale agreement, you would not be able to make the purchaser loan possession back to you.  The exclusive right of possession is the essence of Title to personality, just as Copyright is your exclusive right to the image in the painting.  Make sense? 

Disclaimer: The information contained in this website is not intended as legal advice. Because the law is not static, and one situation may differ from the next, we cannot assume responsibility for any actions taken based on information contained herein. Also, be aware that the law may vary from state. Therefore, this website cannot replace the advice of an experienced attorney. Receipt of this information does not create an attorney-client relationship. MJ Bogatin, Bogatin, Corman & Gold,
© 2017 mjbogatin


  1. This is a great point that I never thought about before (the right to borrow back.) Thank you Annie, and Bo!

    1. Me too Sarah! I love the great tips that Bo has. Thanks so much for stopping by the blog <3


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