Protecting Your Dreams

Deal with the Devil (How Comic Creators Get Their Rights Stolen)

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

When I started consulting private clients about licensing issues (See Client List), I thought it was going to be a low impact, secondary service. I planned to explain the finer details of contract language, so artists and writers could make informed decisions about selling the rights to their work. Now that I've been doing this for a few years, I can see that I was wrong. Some contracts that I've seen are prudent actions by publishers trying to protect their investment. But too many of these agreements are nothing more than blatant attempt to hijack intellectual property from unsuspecting artists.

The Double Edged Sword

Signing a contract with a publisher can start an artist down the road to professional recognition and lucrative opportunities far beyond comics. It can also strip you of everything you have worked so hard to create. There are a lot of potential pitfalls in creator owned contracts, but the major ones are:

Of course, not every contract is written this way. Not every publisher is a demon attempting to steal your life's work. Some relationships between creators and publishers are much more balanced and fair in reality than they appear in the contract. But the history of comics is littered with famous stories of iconic characters being given away by their creators for little or no money. The current litigation concerning Ghost Rider is simply the latest chapter in a long line of cases. But the answer isn't to avoid all contracts all the time. The key is to understand what you are signing and what you are and are not willing to give away.

Reality Check

It is obviously self-serving for me to make dire claims about the dangers of creator owned contracts. The more you are concerned about this legal problem, the more likely it is you will become my client and pay my fee. It is also clear that many creators feel compelled to sign away their ideas to get their foot into whatever door they have found into the ultra-competitive comic book industry (See David and Goliath: Negotiating Comic Contracts). Both of those concepts are true. I get it.

Here is my response to those facts; if you don't want to use me to review your contract, I respect that. By all means, use someone else with a background in contracts, IP or entertainment law, just don't do it yourself. This is not an insult to your intelligence or business savvy. It is recognition of your specialization. You are an artist or a writer. You probably didn't waste a lot of time in law school learning about contracts (if you did, sorry about the loans). It is unrealistic for you to be expected to understand the implications of contract language. Many of the most successful businessmen have several lawyers explaining things to them when they need to make a major decision. You should too.

And even if you do find yourself in a position where you “have to” sign a bad deal, do it with your eyes opened. Know what you are getting into, so you don't wake up one day without any claim or credit for what you worked so hard to create.

Have fun.
Gamal


PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE A LICENSEING OR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ISSUE, DISCUSS IT WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR OR CONTACT C3 AT gamalhennessy@gmail.com FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.