My art in a Gap ad
Last February, I got an email from an art buyer at an advertising agency: the Gap wanted my art for an ad campaign. Specifically, the company was interested in the American flag work that I featured in this article.
My reaction to this query was layered and surprisingly fraught.
For one thing, I was going through the emotions that most artists would probably go through. I was wondering if I should to align myself with this corporation, and I was concerned about what doing so might say about my work. As it happened, the Gap made it easier for me to sign on with the campaign by asking to license a mail art piece. Had the company been interested in one of my portraits, I would have had more thinking to do—and not just because I would have had to contact the portrait’s subject.
But beyond these more typical responses to a licensing opportunity, I was also grappling with the query from a free culture advocacy perspective. Since I release all my work into the public domain, I had to ask myself: is it right for me to take the Gap’s money? After all, shouldn’t the company be able to use my work like anybody else, without asking my permission and without paying for the privilege?
In the end, I took the Gap’s money, and I did so for two reasons:
1) The company wanted a special format. Though all my work is freely accessible in certain formats, I already charge for other formats. For example, anyone who can get online can read Crime Against Nature without paying, but I don’t give PDFs of the book or print copies away for free. Similarly, the Gap could have used the image directly from the Web without paying, but a high resolution version of the image cost them some money. (For more about this way of giving away and getting paid, check out this vlog.)
2) The Gap is not a person. If an individual wanted to use a special format of my work, I would consider sharing it with that person for free, and I have already done so on a number of occasions. I do it in order to form a connection, which may or may not lead anywhere tangible but which contributes to my social currency and flows with how believe the world should work. All that said, a company is not an individual. The Gap and I cannot connect as people, so money stands in for a relationship—that is, after all, part of why money was invented in the first place. (For more about social currency and why artists need to understand it better, check out this article.)
Altogether I had a very positive experience with the Gap and with their ad agency. Everything was handled professionally and promptly, and the final product is just what I’d been led to expect. I’m glad I did it, and, though I’m not ready to actively pursue licensing opportunities, I look forward to wrestling with these questions again the next time such a query lands in my inbox.
- Alternatives to the legal system in cases of copyright infringement
- The problem with permission / Le problème de la permission
- Austin Kleon: creativity, copyright, and superstition
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