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I recently found myself in a moral/legal dilemma, and talking to people I know gives me answers on both sides of the issue.

I recently commissioned some art from a very talented artist (Name withheld because it's not relevant), and I absolutely loved the way they drew my fursona. However, there was a slight problem with my colors being off in a couple places. The artist said they went off of my ref sheet, but still somehow managed to miss colors in a few places. It's not a very big deal, but to me, someone getting my colors wrong is akin to mispronouncing my name- it's like a pet peeve.

Instead of being one of those whiny commissioners that insists the artist gets every detail just so, I usually take the file and make the minor adjustments myself to the colors as needed. This serves to both lower the workload on the artist so they can take on other commissions, and gives me art practice while perfecting the look of my fursona. To me, that's a win-win. With the first piece I ever got commissioned, for example, I adjusted the eye color until I found a shade I liked. The most common error is that the artist uses a medium-dark gray for my fursona's black fur, when his fur is supposed to be a jet black, so I'll go back and darken the color to a very dark gray or straight black, depending on whether or not it will hide line art. Another alteration I've made is recoloring my paws and the underside of my tail to a silver color as shown in my reference, instead of white. When working on the piece, I take great care not to alter the quality of the artwork, and do my best to make it look as if it was never altered to begin with (the only exception being my reference sheet, because the original file is lost to Oblivion, and it's almost impossible to recolor a jpeg image cleanly). In the end, I have a greater appreciation for the image, because it looks just the way I imagine my fursona to look, drawn in the style of one of my favorite artists.

Now, the advice I need is in regards to the actual editing of the images. When I spoke to the artist about it, the artist told me they found it very disrespectful to alter their artwork, and asked me not to. Other artists I've spoken to say that it's my right to edit the art, because they didn't get my colors right, and I paid for the artwork.

I'm pretty sure that by paying for the commission, I have certain rights to the image, and because it's my character, I own the rights to his design, and I should be free to make the necessary alterations to reflect my character's design. However, I don't want to disrespect the artist, even though they made a few small errors in my commission. So I ask, what are the things commissioners can and cannot do in this kind of situation?

EDIT: Since it seems that some are speculating on the specifics of my particular case, the image in question was a digital file, flat colors, no background, and I did not see any WIP images before it was finished and posted, if that clears up anything. However, I intended this to be a more generalized question about what a commissioner should do in the event that they find the final product misses key design aspects of the commissioned character, such as leaving out a color entirely, which has occurred multiple times. Though it seems like the final answer is "Your results may vary" based on the artist you commission, since some artists find it disrespectful to make alterations to their work, but others can be offended if you ask for changes to be made after it's been completed. The secondary question was the extent of the rights of a commissioner of the artwork they purchase, and whether or not they would be within their rights to alter an image in a way that would not violate the artists' moral rights, but it seems there's no clear answer for this.

EDIT 2: Another issue that arises is the fact that an artist may charge extra for changes, when a client paid for something to be a certain way when they originally commissioned the artist. When the artist has made an error, but is requiring additional payment to fix the error, what should a commissioner do?

EDIT 3: Alrighty, I think that about covers all the questions I had. Thank you all for providing a wealth of useful information! Hopefully others will find this topic useful as well, and both artists and commissioners can find common ground without anyone stepping on the others' toes. ^^

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( 79 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 26th, 2012 08:13 pm (UTC)
You retain rights to your character but not to the art itself, and it violates the artist's rights to modify the art in that way without their permission. Most artists would prefer you to speak up during the commission process so they can fix the colours themselves, I think.

I suggest you find out the exact html code for the colours you want and ask your artists to use those for commissions -- either that or pick the colours out from a palette site like colourlovers.com and ask the artist to colour pick from that exactly.
Feb. 26th, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)
^ Exactly what I said. Only more condensed :P Well done leah, i tend to dribble on too much! Haha <3
(no subject) - shukivengeance - Feb. 26th, 2012 08:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 26th, 2012 08:14 pm (UTC)
If the artist in question doesn't want you to alter the image, why not ask them if they could do it for you and explain -why- you asked to alter it in the first place, provided you haven't?
Feb. 26th, 2012 08:18 pm (UTC)
And if it's that important, offer to pay for the changes? Leahtaur has a good idea there, because hex codes are hella useful when it comes to getting the final product you want from an artist.
Feb. 26th, 2012 08:16 pm (UTC)
I can't comment on the legalities of the thing, but in terms of etiquette I think asking once for some colour changes (especially if it's just deepening a black) is absolutely not pushy or inappropriate unless it's like a $1 sketch.

I can see why an artist might be miffed if you change something without mentioning it was an issue to them and giving them a chance to fix it themselves, it can convey to them that you don't trust them or their judgement whether or not that was the intent.
Feb. 26th, 2012 08:16 pm (UTC)
As the others have said, the artist holds the rights to alter or modify the work - regardless of it being your character or commission. I would suggest asking the artist to add in the extra details if they've gotten them wrong. As someone being paid to represent your character correctly, they shouldn't have a problem with it.
Feb. 26th, 2012 08:18 pm (UTC)
It might be worth making an annotated ref sheet: label the areas which are commonly mis-coloured with notes on how they should be done, and for toony commissions ask the artist to use HTML codes or eyedropper from the ref
Feb. 26th, 2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
Personally I would go from the Artist's TOS as to whether or not you a) make the alteration yourself or b) ask the artist, politely, to make the colour changes that you are satisfied with. Each artist's TOS, regarding the amendments they will do on a "finished" piece, is different. I would suggest, if you are unsure as to whether a particular artist will get your colours exactly the way you are wanting them, to request a viewing at the flat colour stage. Some artist's may charge extra for this, or they may not do it at all. It's pretty much up to you to ask about these services upon enquiry for commission. Or, just to give them a helping hand, put the hex/RGB codes on your ref sheet for the individual colours, if you do not have a colour swatch pallette for them. Most artist's I know, who work digitally, will colour pick directly from your reference, so maybe this will help ease concerns on both sides.

As an artist I find other's altering my work, either in colour tone, adding things I've missed etc to be very disrespectful. I show my clients every stage, and am more than happy to do colour modifications free of charge if it is my mistake. The worse thing an artist can say is "No", but it's better to ask, than to step on their toes, or in-advertantly insult them.

Hope this helps!
Feb. 26th, 2012 08:24 pm (UTC)
im wondering if the reference you gave and the artist's work are different (i forget the correct name) colour settings. As in CMYK & RGB. When exported, the colour will appear slightly different according to the setting. CMYK is designed for printing out and RGB is designed for digital images.

However if i am completely off the ball, then i suggest contacting the artist about the colours with the exact colour code you are after, as I kinda agree that altering images is a little disheartening, its happened to me before, and it could of easily been resolved if they had just been honest with me to begn with.

Hope that helps
Feb. 27th, 2012 12:24 am (UTC)
Even RBG profiles can differ. I just recently had an issue where I modified a skin base (open source) for Second Life, but I was having trouble with some of the other textures matching. Some were files I created on a different computer and modified from my previous re-texture (so I didin't have to fight as much with texture placement) and some were completely new.

Turns out that I was trying to match 3 different RBG profiles that were embedded into the files. When I resaved everything without the embedded files, it all matched up fine.

I was working with various purples here, and I know RGB can be kind of a bitch when it comes to darker colors.
(no subject) - yoka_neko - Feb. 27th, 2012 01:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snowhawk - Feb. 27th, 2012 01:12 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 26th, 2012 08:28 pm (UTC)
When you commission work, you pay for the labor, not the rights. The rights are generally several hundreds if not more. It's a very common misconception, but no, you don't have any rights unless they were negotiated (and generally, paid for) beforehand.

That said, most artists are pretty cool about customers doing things that would officially require you to have the rights, such as reposting or a little editing, like cropping it down to an icon. But if you're going to edit the image, ask if they mind.

If they just suddenly find the commission somewhere and it's altered they might be angry, offended, annoyed, hurt etc.
But like I said, most artists are pretty cool about making their customers happy, if one asked me "Oh the colour is a little off, could I change it to (hex code)?" then I'd be all "Oh I can do that." (Unless it's super involved etc. but then you might not be able to do it either).

Finally, most artists use dark gray so you won't lose the (presumably) black linework. So, that's why :3
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Feb. 26th, 2012 08:29 pm (UTC)
I would say legally you're allowed to do whatever you like to "your copy." If it was a traditional piece you had bought, you could do anything to it you liked to that piece of paper, but the artist still owns the "image." Basically this means that you're welcome to do whatever you want to "your" copy (privately), but that the artist controls the image itself (how it's shown in public, at least speaking in broad terms).

What I would do is talk to the artists about recoloring. You can even ask if they can do it - the worst they'll say is no. You can always still edit it for private use after the commission is complete. (Personally, I think the artist is obligated to revise it, if you bring it up as soon as you notice the error. In particular - try to bring it up during the base color stage, before they've done all their work.)

If this keeps happening with the same colors, there may be a problem with your ref sheet. If, for example, your ref sheet shows a medium dark grey, half the people who draw it might go a little lighter, and half the people may go a little darker. There's no harm in saying "This color fur, leaning towards the darker side." (In fact I know some artists who would appreciate that!) Sometimes just a hex is a lot less meaningful than how something should look.
Feb. 27th, 2012 01:56 am (UTC)
Yes, I think this summed it up perfectly!

Private: really folks can do whatever they want.
Post it anywhere public and OP better be sure they had the artist's permission if it's different.

I believe this is both what the law says and also ethically best balances everyone's preferences.
Feb. 26th, 2012 08:39 pm (UTC)
Me, personally? I'd ask the artist if they wouldn't mind fixing the colors. (TMK, it's usually done on its own layer -digitally-, so it shouldn't fudge anything up too badly)

In that same bit of text say " Or, if it's too much trouble, I can try to fix it. "

See if they get miffed at that.

It's not really yours to recolor, and honestly depends on the reaction from the artist. Most artists will fix it, just for the customer service aspect of it all.
Feb. 26th, 2012 08:47 pm (UTC)
there maybe a happy middle to this...have you ever thought to ask the artist to provide you the palette they'll use? (if it's digital I mean) That way you can see how it'll looking on your computer? From what it sounds like, your monitor is one way while the artists' are another...a quick...here are the colors I'm gonna use...are these alright? May save headaches on both ends
Feb. 26th, 2012 09:25 pm (UTC)
I have trouble matching colors to my screen because I use a laptop. It is VERY easy to get the colors off on a piece. Even between scanning real media and comparing it with the real life piece.

Speaking as an artist and a client, I do not mind people changing my work if they commissioned it, and as a purchaser of work I ask first and see where it goes from there, but for tiny under $10 items usually small changes aren't something I bother the artist with to do for me, sometimes I bring it up, sometimes I don't.

Not sure if this rambling even helps. But yep.
Feb. 26th, 2012 10:41 pm (UTC)
I've found that I have this issues with any flat screen, laptop or not. Something about them seems to distort colors. A solid color background will be lighter at the bottom of the screen and darker at the top.
Feb. 26th, 2012 09:37 pm (UTC)
I personally don't mind if I was asked to fix some coloring on a commission as long as it wasn't line work or adding new things to a completed commission. I think a lot of artists are okay with that because they want to make their commissioners happy.

Though..I honestly dislike working with pure jet black as a base color, it's impossible to shade and very very difficult to see your lines. qq That's probably why a lot of the artists you commission change the color from jet black to a dark-grey, OP.
Feb. 26th, 2012 10:03 pm (UTC)
Unless it is an original piece you physical own (not digital), you don't own the artwork or rights at all, even if it is your design. You just own a copy of the artwork. The artist still has the rights to alteration of the work unless it falls under fair use, and you can't legally change it without the author granting permission and possibly charging additional fees. Also, I'm pretty sure you can't copyright your character unless it is unique enough.
Feb. 27th, 2012 03:17 am (UTC)
This. Coming from someone who has had classes with sections about copyrights (in regard to graphic design but that is neither here nor there.) This is why it is called a "commission" you are paying someone to create the piece, but to actually own the rights to an image is a whole bother issue. Generally in "real world" applications the company/person/whatever looking for the artwork must pay for it's creation and then there are lots of contracts and legal shenanigans very specifically outlining in what aspects they own the image. The artist can retain ownership of an image, sell it for a limited number of reproduction or uses, or sell the rights away completely. In the case of the furry art community (where there isn't much understanding about copyright and art is so readily available,) and how cheaply artists sell themselves... it's just a "give me money I draw this particular subject," case unless otherwise specified. What you do privately with the piece is as out of the artist's control as me buying a poster at the store and drawing on it at home. Officially an artist still retains their right to the image completely, it's up to them what you can and cannot do with it.
(no subject) - otherscape - Feb. 27th, 2012 04:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - crimson_flygon - Feb. 27th, 2012 05:01 am (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 26th, 2012 10:11 pm (UTC)
I personally do not like it when a client goes and edits art that I would have completely edited for them. I don't think it was a good idea, nor do I think you have any rights to the image - just the right to the artists labor of that image. Most people find it very disrespectful to edit an image without telling them what's wrong.

It would have been respectful to ask, instead of simply editing.

If I had done your image OP, I would not have used jet black either. Just wanting to say, it's a bit of an eyesore to use a color that has no real shade or light values. Simply just "Black" is a royal pain to use for most.
Feb. 26th, 2012 10:32 pm (UTC)
Agreeing on the black issue. If anything I use a very dark indigo for "black" characters, and my inkwork is a very deep red for lines and such. Aswell as greys falling slightly right of the "true" value that most tend to pick from. Using pure black is such a pain to do, and most people stay very well clear of it :S
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