The subject of artist credit seems to be coming up more frequently, and it’s an important one. So I thought it was time for a blog post about it, so I can enter the debate. I can do this not just from the artist’s perspective, but also from the other side because in a previous life I was a web content creator for a couple of big broadcasters. But just to forewarn you, I am most definitely biased towards the artist (naturally).
By Artist Credit, I mean that when an illustrator’s image is used, for example, on an article on a popular website without their permission (which is bad enough), the creators name should be clearly cited as the originator of the work.
It also happens very frequently in the book publishing field, where much-heralded cover reveals all too often happen without the actual artist being named. Important to note - not always. I’ve very often had authors go above and beyond to shout from the rooftops about my art for their book - and publishers too. But sadly in many cases the art is revealed, poured over and praised with no mention of who actually drew it.
Here’s why that’s a problem for us:
These days in the freelance illustration world nearly our entire economy is internet-based. We show our wares on social media and portfolio sites, hoping to get commissioner’s eyeballs on it. We chase likes and retweets and shares and comments because this drives the work in front of more peepers, and thus onto more commissions. It’s how we build a steady career.
It also relies, for better or worse, on reputation. What kind of clients you’ve worked with. What scale of publication has talked about your work. This isn’t just so we can feel good about ourselves - it’s because it projects a professional trustworthiness to other potential clients. ‘If the artist worked with those guys, they must be good at their job.’
As freelancers we have to spend most of our time online boasting about ourselves. It’s not a natural state, certainly for an Irish person (we like to talk ourselves down rather than up - I’m sure that applies to most other nations too btw). But it’s absolutely necessary because we have to market ourselves and our abilities in a very crowded space. There are a HUGE amount of superb illustrators out there which is inspiring of course. But it also means there’s a lot for clients to choose from, so you have to get yourself in the picture (excuse the pun).
So for those reasons, a credit to us is of monumental importance. If it’s a hugely popular website, or a property with a massive fanbase, or a gigantic client, it will get our work to a huge breadth of people. And if our names are there, with a link to the rest of our portfolio, our nets are cast wider than ever and we can put some more food on the table.
Now - I did say I’d represent both sides of the conversation. And so I can be empathetic to the people in charge of posting those articles. I was, as mentioned, a web editor for years (most of my 20s) and I know that these things simply don’t cross your mind. You are instead thinking ‘did I fill out the SEO field’ or ‘did I set the right publish date’ or ‘only 54 more posts to go’ or ‘f*** this, I need a pint.’ Who drew the cool picture you’re using is not high on your list of priorities. Unless, for copyright reasons, your bosses insist that it has to be done. It’s required in order to publish the article. This really is how it should be.
When I worked at Channel 4 Music, one of my (really boring) tasks was to fill out royalty forms for any song that was used on any show in the entertainment programming (shows like T4, Shipwrecked etc). It was mind-numbing, but it had to be done so that those artists received their royalties. If it wasn’t done properly then the broadcaster could be in huge trouble. Well, if you’re a web editor you’re probably not in huge trouble if you don’t name the artist. While our model is based on licensing, so strictly speaking you should purchase a license to use that image, I think it’s fair to say we freelancers at least see the economic and marketing benefits of a clear credit on a major site or for a major client. Think of it as a type of royalty - not dollars exactly, but something which will probably convert to dollars down the line.
We do own the copyright to the work though, so it should be legally clear that it should say ‘©Artist Name 2019’.
It’s got to come from the top down. How we do that I have no idea - but one thing is to at least talk about it. Openly, without fear of sullying our reputations or putting sites off sharing our work. Maybe as the subject gets more airtime, content publishers, book publishers and more will feel some pressure to make the credit mandatory.
Some people are working hard to bring the conversation forward. A great campaign, started by illustrator Sarah McIntyre (correct me if I’m wrong!) is Pictures Mean Business. They’re on Twitter too so if you’re an illustrator - give them a follow here and use the hashtag #PicturesMeanBusiness.
Just make sure you’re polite and professional about the whole thing. I don’t think it’s constructive throwing a wobbly (is this post a wobbly? maybe.. I don’t think so) .. and you do want to work for those clients again (believe me - repeat business is the name of the game). So before you tweet, see if you can privately negotiate a fair credit with the culprit before you go public.
I didn’t do that this morning. That was a mistake. But it’s happened to me enough that I was compelled to write this mild wobbly.
Pictures Mean Business for us, folks. And credit means more potential for more business.