The digital era has changed the way that art is bought and sold, and it’s now easier than ever to sell your artwork on your own. But, if you want to start selling your work directly, you need more than a website and a payment processing account. Whether you sell your work for $100 or $10,000, you’re now operating as a business and should start acting like one. This means creating and maintaining documentation to protect you, your business, and your work.
Here are three necessary art business documents you need to facilitate sales, meet your legal responsibilities and safeguard your work.
1. Artwork Bill of Sale
In order to sell your artwork, you will need to provide a Bill of Sale. The Bill of Sale, or invoice, is one of your most important business documents. Artwork in physical form is considered personal property, and therefore a transfer of title will be necessary in the form of a Bill of Sale. This also functions as a record of the transaction for both the artist and the buyer of the artwork and will be used later on when you file taxes. Specific requirements for invoices can vary from state to state, so be sure to double-check with your local or state government when drawing up your artist Bill of Sale.
Despite slight variations in local requirements, a Bill of Sale should include the following information:
- date of sale and invoice number
- contact information for both artist and buyer with both a physical address as well as a phone number or email
- an itemized list that includes artwork sold with a description of the artwork, including the title, medium, and dimensions, as well as any extra costs such as framing, delivery, and installation. If you are selling multiple works at once, itemize each artwork individually
- billing should be divided in a subtotal, which is the cost of work and services before taxes, in accordance with state requirements and the total sale
- Copyright and reproduction rights information (see below)
Although not a requirement, it’s a good idea to have proper documentation of copyright and reproduction rights in your Bill of Sale to protect against legal issues that could pop up in the future. Include information about the copyright and reproduction rights of the work sold to inform buyers that they are only purchasing the rights to the physical piece of artwork.
You may also want to add terms to your Bill of Sale, such as “all sales are final” or include a return policy. Your policy can state a length of time in which the work can be returned, and under what conditions. This can include the method of that return (i.e. using an insured carrier) and any other conditions you require to ensure that the work is returned promptly and undamaged.
Both artist and collector should sign and date the artist’s bill of sale to demonstrate that both are in agreement with the terms of the sale. Retain your copy!
2. Copyright Certificate
Technically speaking, a copyright is automatically put in place the moment that a piece of artwork is created. However, registering the work will make any potential legal disputes much easier in the future by providing a public record that serves as simple proof that the artwork is yours. Registering is simple and can be done online with the Copyright Office of the U.S. Library of Congress. All you need to do is fill out a registration form on the electronic Copyright Office page and pay the fee. Here is how it works.
Copyright is automatic and provides the copyright holder with the exclusive right to:
- Reproduce (i.e., make copies of) the work
- Create derivative works based on the work (i.e., to alter, remix, or build upon the work)
- Distribute copies of the work
- Display the work publicly
As soon as you create your artwork, you will have these rights. Copyright registration is not required (it only provides extra benefits). You also don’t need a copyright notice (i.e. © Jim Smith 2016). You may want to include language on the Bill of Sale that establishes who owns the copyright in the image, which is different from the physical work.
An example of a copyright clause to include is:
Copyright and Reproduction. The Artist reserves all reproduction rights, including the right to claim statutory copyright in the Work. The Work may not be photographed, sketched, painted, or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the express written consent of the Artist.
Artrepreneur’s Art Law Journal has excellent information, advice, and resources on all art law matters, including explaining copyright and reproduction rights in terms that are easy to understand.
3. Certificate of Authenticity
You should have a Certificate of Authenticity for all finished artwork that is sold. This document functions as proof that the artwork is an authentic creation of the artist who has signed and dated it. Artists can author this document themselves.
Typically, a Certificate of Authenticity is issued when an artwork is sold at a gallery, so it is validated by a trusted third party. If you sell your work yourself, you can look into getting a third-party verification certificate from companies like Monograph or Verisart. Verisart creates secure digital certificates for art and binds them to detailed provenance records.
A certificate of authenticity is particularly important for serious art collectors since these collectors are likely buying your work for two reasons: They have a personal connection to your works, and they believe in its potential as a financial investment. In the best-case scenario, a few years down the road you become a sought-after artist and the buyer considers flipping one of your pieces. The certificate of authenticity will ensure that they have a genuine It also can be used in the future, to value your estate for insurance purposes and any other legal matters that may arise with your work.
A valid Certificate of Authenticity must include specific details about the artwork. The more information you can provide, the better, but the essential content should include:
- detailed information about the medium used including the type of paint, ink, clay, metal, canvas or paper used and their weight
- full title and the date of completion
- dimensions both framed (if this is the case) and unframed
- an extensive record of dates. Paintings, for example, only require one date of completion. Prints and photographs, however, require the date of completion of the original and the date of the print.
- A certificate of authenticity should include a seal that includes the original signature of the artist, a copyright and reproduction rights statement, and a photograph of the work.
- Although not required, artists may opt to include a brief description of the work that describes the techniques used and themes explored and any other comments from the artist. Detailed information will help future archiving of your work.
Now that you have all of your art business documents once a purchase has been made, create a paper and digital file to store them. Make sure you have redundancy in your files and record keeping. This means having your files handy in multiple forms, in multiple ways. The Studio Protector from CERF+ has great tips on documentation and safe storage, including frequently backing up your records digitally and in the cloud, and having your records in a safe offsite location in case of emergency. Without proper records, it can be difficult to file an insurance claim if you indeed have insurance for your business or artwork.
Your documentation can be created and signed digitally with e-signatures or via hard copy. While you can search online for templates and examples of the documents discussed above, they’re not always geared towards artists and often lack the fields that artists need to enter important information. A great resource for art business documents is Tad Crawford’s collection of Business and Legal Forms for fine and commercial artists.
What paperwork have you used to sell your work? What systems have worked best for you to keep records as a business owner?
Nicole is a veteran arts and culture journalist. Her work has appeared in Reuters, VICE, Hyperallergic, Univision, and more.