contracts and kill fee featured art

Contracts, What is a Kill Fee and Why is it so Important?

How Good is Your Contract?

I was talking with an artist friend today when the conversation turned to contracts and the dreaded kill fee. He was involved in a project that was on shaky ground and it didn’t look like it was going to go the distance. There were rumblings that the client was unhappy with the agency. They were thinking about leaving and taking the project with them. It had nothing to do with him or his work, in fact everyone was very happy with his progress up until that point but if they left it meant he would lose the job through no fault of his own. He was worried about what would happen from there. Would he be paid? What happens to his art? Who owns the copyright, and all the other things that go along with project termination?

Does Your Contract have a Kill Fee?

I asked if his contract contained a kill fee. He told me it didn’t cover that sort of thing. He had never had to deal with a project that ended early or involved a kill fee. That got me to thinking how many artists are out there working without a safety net? Before I go any further let me say one thing, I’m not an attorney. In fact I have no legal training whatsoever. I’m just a guy who’s been in business a lot of years and seen a lot of things. I’ve learned a lot from the school of hard knocks and one of the things I learned is that sometimes projects don’t make it to completion. For whatever reason sometimes projects fail, get cancelled, postponed, delayed, put on hold, downsized, terminated, whatever phrase you choose to use they end. The problems begin when your contract doesn’t cover projects that don’t make it to completion. If your contract doesn’t contain a kill fee you may want to look into it.

kill fee illustration by bob ostromWhat is a Kill Fee?

Having a clause in your contract to address project cancellation protects you from doing work and not being paid.  It’s commonly referred to as a kill fee. It addresses what happens in the event that your project ends prematurely. It states how much money is owed at what point, who keeps the rights to the artwork and when you will be compensated for your work. All things that are very important to you and your livelihood. You may think you’ll never run into this situation or if you do your client will be reasonable and have your best interest in mind. Unfortunately what you and your client consider reasonable is often very different. It’s always best to spell things out clearly and upfront so there are no misunderstandings.

Attorney Zachary Strebeck has this advice:

“Whether you’re talking about kill fees or other termination conditions, or just the payment terms or ownership of the work product, it is ALWAYS a good idea to get a written contract in place before starting work. Illustrators who do this kind of work often would be wise to have a template contract that they can provide to prospective employers. It gives an air of professionalism, provides a jumping-off point for negotiations, and helps to ensure that the provisions YOU WANT are in the deal.”

So there you have it kids. If you don’t have a kill fee in your contract you may be opening yourself up to some serious problems down the road. If you need help with a contract or legal advice here are a few resources you can can check out:

Attorney Zack Strebeck
Graphic Artists Guild
Copyright.gov

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