Creators don’t lose their rights unless they sign them away
Here’s the scenario: An artist is screwed over, usually by a larger entity like a publisher or other corporate entity. The rally cry goes out, the banner of creator’s rights is raised and it’s time to gather the troops. Impassioned emails go out, people take to twitter and soon I’m asked to use my podium to help out this poor, disenfranchised soul.
There are several problems with this:
1) Once a creator has allowed themselves to be exploited the battle is already over.
2) The real enemy in the fight for creator’s rights is the uneducated creator, not the entities looking to exploit creators.
3) There is no fight, actually.
Here’s what I’ve come to learn after fifteen years of working in this business: creators are eager to give their rights away. It seems to be our default setting. It doesn’t help that we chose a career that doesn’t really have any direct path to success and that it’s easy to look around and feel that everyone else is doing better. That the world is flying by and we’re missing it. That anything, even this horrible deal being offered to us, is better than the nothing we’re currently doing.
It’s just something that you have to overcome. Usually by living through some bad experiences and shitty contracts or partnerships. Very few creatives figure it out the easy way that I’ve observed. Here are a couple of things I suggest you write down and review every once in a while.
The fable of the pure artist versus the corrupt establishment is fiction:
Artists are people with fucked up complicated lives and minds. Publishers/Syndicates/Studios/etc. are businesses who survive when they maximize profits and minimize costs. Nobody at a publisher gets a bonus because they didn’t make a lot of money on a book but really helped an artist achieve his dreams and got them a huge payout. It’s not up to the publisher to take care of you. That’s your job. Their job is to make money. That doesn’t make you the good guy and them the bad guy. It’s just makes your the artist and them the publisher.
And the more that the internet democratizes these art-forms, the more this becomes true. You don’t enter into a partnership with a larger entity to become friends. You do so to benefit from the partnership, and so do they. They want to benefit more than you do, so just keep that in mind and don’t romanticize it into some kind of operatic story.
It’s okay to say no.
When you’re presented with an opportunity, it’s okay for you to say “no” to the parts of the offer you don’t like. Everything is negotiable and asking to negotiate is not going cause the person making you this offer to pop his monocle and walk away offended. If the person offering you a deal is unwilling to negotiate at all, then maybe your better off not working with them. Which leads me to the next piece of advice:
Be willing to walk away
This offer on the table is not the first or the last offer you’ll ever see in your life. The best case scenario is a contract that benefits each party equally, but more often than not it will benefit the other party a little bit more. Regardless, do not start negotiating any deal you’re not ready and willing to just walk away from. Sometimes you have to. Trust your gut. If it tells you to walk away, walk away. Don’t let the fear of never getting another opportunity pressure you into signing a bad deal.
Have an exit strategy
Sometimes, even a deal that’s a bit risky is worth signing if you have a clear exit strategy should things go south. Making sure there’s an easy way for you to immediately terminate and walk away from a deal that’s a bit of a risk is a sensible thing to ask for and easy language to insert into a contract.
Read all you can, talk to other artists, consult with people in your life that you know have more years of living under their belt. I’m amazed every time I encounter someone who thinks I have some kind of great business acumen. For most of the 15 years I’ve been doing PvP, I’ve gotten by with nothing but common sense, advice from my dad and being a bit ballsy. Nobody trips and falls into a shitty deal. As an independent creator, it’s pretty easy to protect yourself. But you have to protect YOURSELF. It’s not up to the other guy to do it and once you’ve been screwed over, you’ve already lost. Best to dust yourself off and learn from the experience.
There is no “samurai justice”, as a friend of mine recently called it, when it comes to this stuff. There is no scneario where we slay the evil corporation looking to exploit the aritst and suddenly nobody is offered a shitty contracts anymore.
As long as their are artists, there will be entities looking to exploit them.
It’s your choice to allow them.