Sunday, September 27, 2020

Contractual Obligations

Something that I find naturally evolves alongside my artistic development, is my contract writing. It's an integral part of freelance practice, and something I think is easy to overlook in creative training. When I was still in school, contracts were discussed and examples shown, but only very briefly, a lot of what I know now is the result of independent research, trial and error.

Why use contracts? You can definitely just use verbal or text message agreements, and I've done projects like that. But these sorts of arrangements are really only feasible for small projects among people you are close with. For big projects, and especially projects with strangers and corporate entities, a contract is an indispensable piece of insurance to protect your creative rights and paycheck. Projects with larger companies will often see a contract delivered unto you, so that's another reason to have a thorough understanding of what you might want in a contract.

So, in your best interest, brush up on contracts. Or make friends with people who break kneecaps.

It's actually very easy to write contracts. There are plenty of templates and examples out there online, free and paid. You can simply grab one of those, copy and paste in whatever names, entities, and outcomes are relevant to your project, and voilĂ , send it off to the client.

But! It's good to know how to draft up your own contracts, or to extensively modify a template to suit the particular needs of a project. Unless you're very consistently delivering the same sort of product to the same client, the details of projects will vary wildly, and you need to adjust accordingly.

What should be in a good contract? In general, most of my contracts contain, at minimum, the following items:

1. Establish the involved parties, when the became involved, and what's being worked on.

2. Deliverables: What are you going to produce, how many, what format shall they take?

3. Fees: breakdown the cost, have an addendum that revisions (later) can incur additional costs.

4.Confidentiality. Who knows what dark secrets will come to light during the project. For seriously confidential projects, expect to sign a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA for short). For now, this just establishes you basically won't leak any business information to competitors.

5. Client Approval: Obviously, you have to make them happy. This lets them know they have discretion in this project, but also reaffirms that additional work costs can be negotiated at your discretion.

6. Termination: Sometimes it doesn't work out, someone will ask something the other can't give. It happens, but need to cover your bases. If you've already invested a lot of time, effort, and materials, you should be appropriately compensated.

7. Parties sign and date, to finalize the pact between artist and patron. If you want to spice things up, consider the addition of wax seals.

A Note on Negotiation:

Remember when writing a contract, or being given one, that traffic goes both ways on this street. A client has the right to ask for revisions on a contract. They may want to amend budget, format of deliverables, or who has final rights to the work. And conversely, you have every right to propose amendments as well. Don't accept things you don't like, see what can be compromised on.


Okay, but how enforceable are these contracts? Luckily, creative copyrights default to you. Now, if a client breaks contract, fails to pay, or some other transgression... well, then you're going to have to hound them. Essentially, if they don't give into you reminding them of their signed obligation, then you may have to take them to small claims court. This is easier if you are also a lawyer or a lawyer nearby owes you a life debt. This is a good juncture to highlight that I am, in fact, NEITHER a lawyer or accredited source of legal advice, I'm just passing on what I think I know. Recall a comment about kneecapping.

Anyhow, I hope this is helpful, and as an example I've attached a template of my usual contract. It started life as a free template I found online, and over the past year has been modified and tweaked as I do and learn new things. It's not wholly original, but it's flexible and functional.

- NW

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Nick, it was really helpful! And I agree, contracts are one of the most important parts of our job and they really do just rush by the topic in school lol