Protecting Your Dreams

Why Comic Creators Need Lawyers

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.
Technology has given independent artists the tools and freedom to control more of their work. It is easier than ever to create, publish and distribute your stories without a deal from the big boys. This evolution in the industry gives you more chances to get your work in front of bigger players, and gives you the potential to make deals that were few and far between a few years ago.

But this DIY spirit can be dangerous if taken too far. There is a point where it is helpful, even preferable, to do things on your own. When it comes to legal agreements involving your intellectual property, you need the support of a professional.

Disclaimer
You’ve probably already came to the conclusion that I'm only writing this post to get more work. After all, I am an attorney who represents comic creators. (See An Introduction to Creative Contract Consulting). If I scare you into thinking that you'll be cast off into the Negative Zone if you don't get a lawyer, then there's a good chance you'll hire me. To a certain extent, that's true. But there are three points to keep in mind before you dismiss me out of hand:

So as self-serving as this post might be, that doesn't mean it doesn't make a point that can help you.

Division of Labor
The reason you need a lawyer to help protect your rights is because legal contracts and legal principles are designed to be confusing.  The language used in contracts is circular, opaque and dense. What the words mean and what you think they mean are often two different things. The implications of certain words are often unclear even to the person who wrote the contract. Without someone there to explain things to you, it is easy to sign something that will hurt you down the line.

This is not an attack on your intelligence.  Many of my clients are a lot smarter than me. This is a question of training and experience. I’m a writer as well as an attorney (See Smooth Operator). I don't edit my novels and I don't design the covers. I hire professionals to do that. (See Judging a Book by its Cover) As an airline passenger, I don't fly my own plane. I pay the airline to supply professionals. I could learn editing, cover design and piloting, but it saves time and money to bring in a professional.

Hiring a lawyer is the same. We already wasted years of our lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars learning to decipher contracts. Why not take advantage of our poor decisions?

A Word about Costs
Lawyers are not cheap. We have to pay off exorbitant loans and many of us have expensive tastes. We normally charge by the hour, so the best way to use a lawyer is to hire one for as short a period of time as possible. If you hire them before a deal gets signed, it might cost you a few hundred bucks. If you hire one after something goes wrong and you need to go to court, that number can rise exponentially. Court cases can take years and those billable hours pile up fast. It's better to bring us in on the front end and nip the issue in the bud.

Somebody, but not just Anybody
I understand if you don't want to hire me. You might not like my style. I might not be attractive enough to be your lawyer. That's fine. I've been rejected before. All I ask is that if you're faced with a contract that involves you or your work, get a lawyer to review it before you sign it. And not just any lawyer. A criminal defense attorney might not understand the entertainment or comics market well enough to help you. Check the background of your prospective attorney, talk to your colleagues about who they use. Once you find the right one and you determine they have an acceptable level of attractiveness, retain them and put them to work. That will give you the time and the peace of mind to go back to making comics.


Have fun.
Gamal