So, recently I had someone asking about licensing a piece of mine for printing on cards with spiritual poetry on the back, and when I turned them down for this because I looked them up and they'd been involved with some unsavory white supremacist pagan groups in the past, they offered to buy the painting, with a tone that suggested they were doing so in order to own right to reproduce. How do you protect against this sort of thing? It's made me leery of selling originals at all.
Bravo on your for being an ethical (and research-happy) artist!
Well, technically buying your original does not allow people the right to reproduce. Just because you sell the original that does not mean you sell the copyright that you, as the artist, automatically have by creating the piece.
Buyers and clients often need to be educated about this if they are not large companies and have art directors. You should have a contract for all commissions reserving all rights for yourself, except for any usages granted by the contract to the buyer. If someone is buying an original that you have already created, a nice way to sneak this reminder/education in is in a Certificate of Authenticity. It’s a little certificate you make up (you can search for templates online) that you include with the piece you’re selling which states that it is original, the medium, title, date, etc. Often times artists put a little note in about care of the painting to protect themselves if someone puts it in a sunny window unprotected & then wants to complain to the artist about the paint fading. Another note you can add is to say that purchasing the original does not grant reproduction rights and you can be contacted to reserve further rights.
Will this stop someone from ripping you off if they’re determined to? No, but it will stop most people. And it does remove the “oh I didn’t know I couldn’t do that” excuse if you catch them later and send them a cease and desist letter.