If you live in California, then you probably have heard the Coastal Commission had a falling out with the artist that designed the current Whale Tail license plate. Now in order to free themselves of their current debacle, they decided to hold a contest to come up with a new design. And of course, the contest also comes with a contract that the new artist must sign in order to enter their design.
Let me start this by saying even without all the drama behind this license plate, no freelance illustrator should ever sign a contract (such as this one) that surrenders all the rights to their work.
But unfortunately, this project (when coupled with that contract) puts the new artist in a very dangerous situation. The contract clearly states that the illustrator completely releases the Coastal Commission from all liability and puts everything squarely on the illustrator. Now, normally this may not seem like that big of a deal. As an illustrator you’re usually responsible for creating original work. But here’s the catch (pardon the pun): The criteria and subject matter for this project doesn’t give the new illustrator very much leeway with a new design. So if that final illustration looks even remotely similar to the previous illustration you could be liable for infringement. And given Wyland’s (the previous illustrator) stance in regards to his work and his contentious relationship with the Coastal Commission, the new illustrator will likely find himself (or herself) unwillingly in a lawsuit over the new design.
Now, don’t get me wrong here, Wyland should have every right to sue whoever infringes his work. All content creators should. But what you have to take into great consideration here is the way the contract is written and the parameters of the project. Whenever I receive a new contract from a client, I always weight the risks (the liability I’m willing to accept) with the commission being paid. I’m not willing to accept very much responsibility if the commission is pretty low.
Now before you consider taking on this project, please ask yourself this question: Do I risk my career, my livelihood, my possessions, possibly even my home when the payoff is only 1,000 dollars? I hope your answer is NO!
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