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A Simple Guide to Work for Hire Agreements

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

By Gamal Hennessy

This is a modified excerpt from a book I’m working on called Independent Comic Book Publishing. It’s designed to walk you through the basics of work for hire agreements. The post is geared towards comic book creators, but the information is also applicable to freelance creatives and independent entertainers of all types.  While this can’t be used as legal advice, I hope you’ll find it helpful.

Freelance comic book creators are the lifeblood of the industry. While publishers are celebrated for the intellectual property they own, it’s the work for hire creators developing many of the characters, stories and milestone moments in comics. Creator owned books are rising in prominence, but many of them rely heavily on work for hire talent to turn their dreams into reality. A few independent publishers try to handle all aspects of the business and creative process of comic book publishing, but most do not have the skill or the time to go it alone (See You Need Two Teams to Publish a Comic). But for all their importance to the craft of comics, work for hire agreements don’t get the attention that matches their impact. When comics are made without a detailed work for hire contract, the publisher risks losing ownership of their intellectual property and freelance artists risk losing the revenue they are entitled to.

What Is the Work for Hire Doctrine?

One of the basic concepts in copyright law is the relationship between creation and ownership. In most situations, whoever creates an original work owns that work. The work for hire doctrine is an exception to that rule. “If a work is made for hire, an employer is considered the author even if an employee actually created the work. The employer can be a firm, an organization, or an individual.”

Under copyright law, a work for hire is created if it is “prepared by an employee within the scope of their employment or a work is specially ordered or commissioned for use” in a variety of situations. One of those situations is “as a contribution to a collective work”. Since comics are by definition a collective work, publishers regularly commission work for hire artists using work for hire agreements.

What Is the Benefit of a Work for Hire Agreement?

While there is plenty of hostility against work for hire agreements, there are benefits to both the publisher and the work for hire artist in the context of comic books. For the work for hire artist, there is a short-term financial gain. Many comics do not generate a profit, so artists relying on comic book sales to make a living might not be able to sustain themselves. Even if comic sales across the board were healthy enough for artists to survive, the profits for comics don’t materialize for months, sometimes years after the work is done and the book is published. Under a standard work for hire agreement, the artist is paid up front, regardless of the sales or profits of the published book.

For publishers, there is long-term profit potential. Published books are a source of revenue, but in the modern entertainment landscape, the intellectual property based on comics drives film, merchandise, television and video games (See Positioning Your Book for the Coming Content War). As an extreme example, the comic book industry as a whole generated two billion dollars in 2017. In 2018, Avengers: Infinity War generated a worldwide box office of more than two billion dollars, not counting merchandise or associated advertising.

Of course, even in the current age of comic entertainment, only a select few properties crossover into mainstream media. And almost none of the books that do find their way to various screens and shelves reach the heights of the current MCU, but copyright ownership gives publishers the potential for success. It is an investment with substantial risk that the work for hire artists don’t lose or profit from either way, depending on the agreement.

What is a Work for Hire Agreement?

A work for hire agreement defines the rights and responsibilities between an owner who commissions a work and the artist who creates that work. A work for hire agreement is different from an artist collaboration agreement (where two or more parties share in the ownership of intellectual property See A Simple Guide to the Artist Collaboration Agreement), or a license agreement (where one party gives another party the right to use some aspect of the intellectual property in exchange for payment).

Keep in mind that anyone working on the comic book who will not share in ownership of the intellectual property should sign a work for hire agreement. This includes freelance professionals on the business side of publishing like marketers or web designers who are not directly creating the comic book.

While a work for hire agreement will share some of the same foundation and housekeeping terms found in other comic book contracts (See my post on A Simple Guide to Creative Contracts), there are several basic and business terms unique to this type of agreement.

What are the Main Elements of a Work for Hire Agreement?

A well-drafted work for hire agreement will address the following issues:

1)    The Owner of the Work

2)    The Work for Hire Artist for the Work: Each artist performing work for hire services needs to sign a separate agreement with the Owner.

3)    The Work explains what the Owner wants the Artist to do. This should be described in as much detail as possible, but at a minimum it should include.

a.    The working title

b.    A description of what the final product will be, whether it’s a web comic, single print issue, graphic novel or ongoing series

c.    The Services the Work for Hire Artist is providing.

4)    The Delivery Schedule: of when Artist will deliver the Services.

5)    The Compensation: including page rates, hourly rates, royalties or any combination of the three. Compensation terms should also include:

a.    The timing of payments

b.    Credit in the final product

c.    Ownership of the original artwork (if applicable)

d.    Use of the Services in their professional portfolio

6)    The Advance Recoupment: Any and all payments made to any party before revenue is generated and then deducted from the royalties when revenue is generated. For example, the artist might get a page rate for their work on the book before publication, but that money can get recouped by the Owner when the book goes on sale.

7)    Missed Deadlines: any penalties to the Artist for missing the Delivery Schedule.

8)    The Withdrawal: any penalties if the Artist is unwilling or unable to complete the Work

Drafting, negotiating, and signing the contracts for your creative project might take some time and cost you some money, but if you sign the right contracts up front, you'll save money in the long-term and put both you and your book in a better position to succeed.

If you’re a comic book creator or freelance artist who has had artist collaboration agreement issues in the past, feel free to share them in the comments below and tell us how you dealt with the problem.

Have fun with your comic.

Gamal

If you have questions about the business or legal aspects of your comic book publishing and you'd like a free consultation, please contact me and we can set something up that fits in with your schedule.


PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE AN ISSUE WITH YOUR COMIC PROPERTY, DISCUSS IT WITH A QUALIFIED CONTRACT ATTORNEY OR CONTACT C3 FOR A FREE CONSULTATION.

 

Are Independent Comics Worth Making If Marvel Stops Publishing?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

by Gamal Hennessy

An aspiring creator sent me this direct message on LinkedIn in the wake of the Marvel SXSW panel:

Q: I just read that DC and Marvel might be shutting down their comic book lines and cease all publications. In your opinion, what does that mean for the indie folks? Is it worth doing comics?

The rumor wasn't surprising. Variations on the same story pop up on the internet from time to time as part of the persistent “comics are doomed” rumor.

The denial from Joe Quesada isn't surprising. Neither is the refusal of some websites to accept that denial. Websites need traffic, after all.

The creator's first question also made sense to me. When Waldenbooks disappeared, authors wonder how the book market would change. The same thing happened to people in the music industry when major record stores like Tower and Virgin shut down.

The analogy between Marvel and independent creators isn’t the same as the relationship of authors and musicians to their former distribution outlets, but the broad idea is similar. Seismic changes in any entertainment industry will have a ripple effect on everyone from the biggest players to the struggling artist.

But it was the second question that threw me off. It’s grounded in the idea that The Big Two are synonymous with the comic book industry. So if one of them (or both of them) stop publishing comics, then independent comics aren’t worth publishing. As if the creativity, inspiration and passion of thousands of creators might become irrelevant if new issues of Spider-Man and X-Men stopped coming out.

Yes, the Big Two account for the vast majority of monthly sales in America. Outside of the comic book business, their characters and stories define what a comic book is. If they stopped publishing, distributors like Diamond and retailers in the direct market would have to rapidly adjust if they were going to survive.

But that has nothing to do with independent comics as a worthwhile endeavor.

This was my response to the young man. Please let me know if you agree:

A: I highly doubt Marvel is shutting down it's publishing business, but if you want to publish your own comics, then it doesn't matter if Marvel shuts down or not.


You'll still have stories to tell. There will still be people who want to read the type of story you're telling. There will still be ways to get your story to your readers and get paid for it.

If Marvel stops publishing, the industry will go through a major change, but you should keep publishing your comics either way.

Have fun

Gamal

If you have questions about the business or legal aspects of your comic book publishing and you'd like a free consultation, please contact me and we can set something up that fits in with your schedule.


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

What is Comic Book Law?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

     By Gamal Hennessy

Lawyers are similar to doctors in terms of specialization. While some of us have a general practice, most of us focus on a particular area. These areas of expertise allow for greater focus and better results for our clients. That’s why you wouldn’t let your podiatrist perform brain surgery on you and you wouldn’t trust your criminal case to your real estate lawyer. Unique industries require unique professionals.

            I refer myself as a comic book lawyer, but this isn’t an official area of law. Unlike corporate or constitutional law, you can’t study comic book law in any law school that I know of. It is debatable if there is such a field. This post is my explanation of what comic book law is and why it is important for both creators and the industry. I’ll also offer up the names of three other comic book attorneys who are helping to protect the business and financial elements of this art form.

A Hybrid Legal Specialty

What I refer to as comic book law is a focused form of publishing law that also deals with broader aspects of entertainment law. Comic book law shares similar issues as other types of publishing, including copyright law, contracts, and first amendment issues. Where it differs is in aspects of production before the book is made and associated products after the books are released.

A Cooperative Legal Specialty

Most novels and poems are written by a single individual. Most comics are created by a team of at least two and as many as seven people. Some independent comics are published as the joint effort of a dozen or more professionals (See You Need Two Teams to Publish a Successful Comic). The collaborative nature of comics means that like other cooperative forms of art, contractual relationships between the artists are as important as the agreements between the artists and the distributors. (See All For One: Artist Collaboration Agreements). Whether you’re talking about work for hire contracts, joint ownership agreements or something in between, the ownership of every comic requires a unique type of contract (See What Kind of Contracts Do You Need for Your Comic?). Children’s book publishing also has aspects of collaboration between the illustrator and the author, but the variation of relationships between comic book creators is more varied and complex.

A Commercial Legal Specialty

            Comics are also a unique form of publishing based on the life that the characters and stories enjoy off the page. Crossover media, merchandise and derivative products have been part of the comic book business since their infancy (See Superheroes: A Never Ending Battle). Very few novels or prose works generate substantial collectibles or merchandise, unless it’s a children’s book or the book is licensed to become a film. Comic characters generate merchandise as a natural by-product of publication (See Making Comics Isn’t Really About Making Comics Anymore).

From a business and legal standpoint, this means that comic book law needs to consider the intellectual property implications of both copyright and trademark law (See Image and Story: The Role of Copyright and Trademark in Comics), film, television, and video game licensing (See Comics are Thriving in TV and Movies) as well as business formation for new publishers in the market (See The Benefits of Forming an LLC for Your Independent Comic). In many cases, the business and financial impact of the secondary market is more complex and more lucrative than the book itself.

An Established Legal Specialty

            Comics have been a staple in international entertainment for decades (See In France, Comic Books Are Serious Business), but like comics in America, comic book law isn’t given the same deference as other areas of law.  But this viewpoint ignores the importance of comics as an industry and the ongoing work of a host of legal professionals.

In 2017, comics were a two billion dollar industry not counting movies, merchandise or related products (See Comic Book Sales by Year). There are more than three hundred active comic book publishers in America (See List of Comic Book Publishers) and many of them have comic book lawyers on staff or as outside counsel. Specifically, these three gentlemen have been practicing and/or writing about comic book law for several years.

Comic book law is not as respected or well known as corporate law or criminal law. It is an adaptive and complex field that requires specific expertise and understanding about the industry. Every comic creator and publisher needs to find the right lawyer to protect the rights and revenue for their work. A unique industry requires unique professionals.

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

How Do You Register a Copyright for Your Comic?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

If you don’t see your comic as a viable commercial concept or if you think it is viable but for whatever reason you prefer to you are comfortable with the characters and story being used freely by anyone and everyone, then registration might not make sense for you. But if you plan to invest time, money and energy into your idea and you want a better chance to benefit from your investment, the benefits of registration will be helpful to you

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What is the Structure of Independent Comic Book Publishing?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

The structure I came up with is largely borrowed from the production and distribution of the most complex and expensive narrative art forms, namely film, television and video games. The overall structure has three stages, each stage has several elements within it, and several of the elements can happen at the same time. The structure has several moving parts, but each one is set up to maximize the commercial potential of your comic.

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Silence May Not Be Golden for Freelance Comic Creators

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

Companies are trying to prevent freelancers who work for them from disclosing what they get paid. This creates an advantage for the publishers , but it is dangerous for freelancers who lack the information to negotiate their deals in a thoughtful manner

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Why Are Comics Better Than Movies (and books, and plays, and video games) for Telling Stories?

Added on by Gamal Hennessy.

In spite of the newfound popular acceptance, the masses still fail to see comics as a superior storytelling method, with both an artistic and popular appeal that elevates it above all other narrative art.

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