Friday, January 11, 2008

Work for Hire

But back to the subject at hand, at least partially - the artist part. Dickens, who was a passionate critic of every aspect of the Victorian legal system (especially in Bleak House), seems to say that once the legal monster overpowers the ethics and core fiber of a civilization, the beginning of the end is at hand.

Wary debate team members may counter: London is still there, isn't it? So it is. But how much of its human potential was sponged off to feed the greedy maw of those who manipulate legal precedence for the sake of the rich and powerful?

Wayne says if he had a class of art students right now, the FIRST thing he would tell them is: It's your job as an artist to GET YOUR NAME ON IT. Take the job that pays less, but gives you credit - work for nothing - but get your name on the work you do, and someday you'll be able to make a lot of money. Hell, if you do none of the work but take all of the credit (in the Mark Kostabi white collar school of art), you get all the money, and dole it out to highly-trained worker bees (who don't have their name on it) as you see fit. The other rule we wish we could tell artists at the beginning of their careers is: as you mature as an artist, you will have to turn down work. Painful as it is to turn down a year's living expenses, you are going to have to say no to work for hire jobs that pay fifty cents on the dollar and deny you credit, because they will get you nowhere fast.

Work for hire is such a lie, anyway. Wayne calles it Work for Whore. Work for hire used to mean that the company pays for your salary, work space, benefits - treats you like a shortterm employee - in return for your time and talents, and in exchange, owns the intellectual property you create while in their employ. The film industry manipulated the meaning of this contract on its own behalf (as it is so good at doing), stripping artists of their creative rights: we own everything you do for us after you sign this, and in return you get whatever work space you can drum up (the public library), whatever health care you can afford after you pay your rent (none), and less than half what all that work costs you to do. Take it or leave it. The writers in LA aren't striking for a paycheck, but for their right to residuals on work that wouldn't exist without them.

We were shocked recently to learn that these tactics now extend to the publishing industry, another industry being eroded by the Internet. I was offered an Internet writing job for which I was expected to sign a contract that made me fully liable for ANY legal proceedings brought to bear on the publisher as a result of the thousand words the article entailed, and that includes stepping on any toes or breaking any rules of which I as a writer am not even aware.

My friend, who's an editor, said, "Too much contract. Throw that one back."

When a well-respected publishing company approached Wayne for character design, yet wanted to present the finished work without his credit, he said, There'd be no Norman Rockwell Museum if Norman Rockwell didn't sign his work.
The exec said, Just because you draw Mickey Mouse doesn't make you Walt Disney.
The formula for success remains the same as in Walt's day, though. The only way to make money is:

(a) create content
(b) get your name on it
(c) create a company to distribute it

And so I'll end with the good news. The best imagination still wins - if you have a good lawyer. And there's always France, where intellectual property belongs solely to the creator and his/her heirs forever. If only France would recruit talent and make artists honorary French citizens. Je m'en vais.
Happy New Year!


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