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Who Owns the Design?


JackMann
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So, this occurred to me a while back.  Sometimes, instead of Reaper commissioning scupltors, they come to Reaper with a mini they've already designed in their own time, and Reaper buys it.  Now, Reaper owns the mini.  But if it's, say, a new species the sculptor has designed, who owns the rights to the species?  Or if it's a specific character, does Reaper own the character?  Or does the sculptor?

 

Like, let's say I'm a sculptor.  I create an anthropomorphic spider with a very distinct look.  I call this cutie a Ulobo.  I sell the mini to Reaper, which uses the name.  Later, I decide to use this species for an RPG I'm working on, with minis involved.  Can I use them?  Can I use the name?

 

Is there a standard answer to this?  Is it decided on a case-by-case basis?  How do other companies do it?

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Patrick Keith sculpted some unique aliens that Reaper sold, and he later used the same alien design for a race in his own new Counterblast line, so I'm guessing it's all dependant on the contract or agreement or whatever legal document is involved.

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Well, I did a lot of work on software contracts for Stanford back when I had an actual real career-like job, and in my experience the answer to this is somewhere between what Darsc said (it varies from contract to contract) and BE PROACTIVE and work out the details beforehand.

 

This is what licensing is all about. One side owns an IP, and either they wish to employ the other side to publish or distribute their works, or the other side sees some benefit in asking to do so. Who owns what can get a little complicated, which is why it is best to establish this in the first place.

 

But be prepared to get turned down if you have an untested design and you try too hard to hold onto all the rights. Unknowns tend not to have the same leverage as better-known artists and companies with higher profile IPs.

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When Reaper buys a spec piece (a sculptor's own design) Reaper owns the IP to the design as well. We as the sculptor/designer can't do anything with it except sell more of the same to Reaper. That's SOP in the industry as a whole. There can be exceptions to that rule, as in Patrick's case, but those are few and far between. I typically ask for right of first refusal. If the company is selling or going belly-up, I ask that they offer me the chance to buy back the IP before anybody else.

 

Gene

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When Reaper buys a spec piece (a sculptor's own design) Reaper owns the IP to the design as well. We as the sculptor/designer can't do anything with it except sell more of the same to Reaper. That's SOP in the industry as a whole. There can be exceptions to that rule, as in Patrick's case, but those are few and far between. I typically ask for right of first refusal. If the company is selling or going belly-up, I ask that they offer me the chance to buy back the IP before anybody else.

 

Gene

 

Orcs? :poke:

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Gene's answer addresses the standard contracts. Absent such a contract, the IP is owned by the creator and all derivative works (unless sufficiently transformative*) are also his.

 

BTW, this is copyright 101 and very similar rules cover copyrights for other media.

 

* "Sufficiently transformative" means "whatever a court decides, after very expensive litigation, is sufficiently transformative". There's no bright-line rule.

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In the UK, the design of any sculpt - even one commissioned specially - remains with the sculptor even after payment is made; and this includes all reproduction rights. You could get round this with a contract, but in 14 years of freelance sculpting I only ever saw one contract. I don't know if contracts are more common in the US?

 

Basically, a UK sculptor *could* screw over a company they worked for and sue them for all the money a figure ever made... but it doesn't happen, because A. they'd never get another sculpting job, and B. it would be a very sly and nasty thing to do.

 

The whole UK industry is just a huge gentleman's agreement, really. ^_^

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