Dear Allyson and Alex,

I was paid to do a commission to create a a work of art for a collector. We exchanged emails about the work but no signed agreement or contract was created in advance. The collector now tells me that he does not want me to sell prints of the piece. Can the collector who buys an original artwork disallow me to sell reproductions? This is part of how I have earned a living in the past.

Thanks and love,


Dear Baruska,

According to U.S. copyright law, the copyright and image belongs to the creator and no one else until the artist sells or gives away that right. The collector is paying for the ownership of the original work of art and no more. The collector does not have the right to reproduce your work, to create and sell prints and posters of that image for personal pleasure or monetary gain. Selling the painting does not imply a transfer of those rights . The “RIGHT to COPY” is yours alone unless another agreement is made.

Keep in mind:
Copyright is the artist’s right to decide where, to whom and in what context their artwork is seen or used.

Collect together your emails, as those will be considered written agreements. A written signed contract/agreement that states your conditions and assumptions about the sale is an important document. Samples can be found that can be adapted for potential collectors.

A couple of collectors have requested that the image remain private. We agreed
on those terms BEFORE turning over the finished painting and put that agreement in writing. Even though it was done fairly in those cases, Alex will no longer make that agreement and we don’t recommend it. The precious icons artists create are valuable for a future monograph that might represent and assist your art career. Using a particularly attractive image in merchandise of all kinds can support your future art making. Carefully rendered images come from the Divine through the artist with the potential to inspire others.