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I'd like to hire artists to create some assets for an open source game project. I'd like all the assets I use to also be released under a compatible open source/free content license (e.g. Creative Commons), so that the entire project is open source. I'm happy to pay for the work to be created and released publicly.

What's the best/correct way to go about this? Some potential artists I've spoken to aren't familiar with open source licensing, which is understandable as they're used to working for private proprietary projects. Should just I ask them to agree to release the work under the terms I choose? Or ask that they assign the copyright to me, and then I release it as I see fit? I don't have any experience hiring someone so I don't know what the "done thing" is in this situation.

What's the right way to show proof that the assets were released under the stated license and/or assigned to me? As in, should I use a contract, or is a simple agreement via email sufficient?

Thanks in advance - I hope this isn't too vague a question!

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For me, the short-but-accurate answer is "any way that works"; as long as the matter is definitely dealt with, and the desired outcome achieved, all is well. But you might like a bit more than that!

If you're working with suppliers who don't understand open source, they will expect to transfer the copyrights to you, usually on payment, and at that point you can distribute them under any licence you please. If you're working with suppliers who both understand and care about it, they will expect to supply the assets to you under a mutually-agreed free licence, so you can then redistribute them as you need to.

The critical issue is not which model you're using, but that the contract very clearly spells out what's going on. This cuts through all confusions, including work-for-hire complications I haven't even mentioned. Make sure that in the former case the contract specifies that you get the copyrights, and in the latter case, that it specifies the exact licence (name, version number) which applies to the delivered assets. What you really do not want is uncertainty in this matter.

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  • There are plenty of "artist contract templates" available in the internet. It is good to select one which was written for the own jurisdiction. The artists might have one which they are comfortable with. If the artists are not familiar with open source licenses, then it seems best for the game developer to just buy the work and release it under the open source license him/herself. Mar 16 at 6:53
  • @Martin_in_AUT mostly I agree, and mostly I think that's what I said. I don't agree about allowing the supplier to provide the contract, though; the contact should always be worked out mutually (whether from a template or with legal advice) to ensure it best represents the desires of both parties.
    – MadHatter
    Mar 16 at 7:02
  • It is unimportant who provides the first draft of a contract, as long as both sides agree in the end. Professional legal advice is always helpful, especially as the OP stated (s)he is inexperienced with the subject matter. Mar 16 at 7:51
  • @Martin_in_AUT as someone for whom this happens most days, I think we may have to disagree about this. In my experience, if one side provides the draft, the other side spends most of their time taking out all the unequal boilerplate; but I accept that your experiences are different.
    – MadHatter
    Mar 16 at 8:15

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