I am joining a comic start-up, and I need some advice on what to do next.
January 13, 2010 4:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm getting involved with a comic startup. How can I protect the stuff that I make?

Recently I got an offer to work for a start up comic company, Specifically coloring and logo design. I understand that because they are a startup they can't offer compensation right away. Between then and now, I'm going to be doing a lot of work for free and at the end of this I may not see a dime. I'm okay with that, at this point the experience is more valuable to me.

But I will be making a lot art, logos, and other items. Recently we've started the logo-design process and my contact has already given me some input on what she wants. A day ago I colored a sketch she sent me to "get a feel" for the kind of work I'll be doing. So far no contracts have been signed, everything has been over e-mail at this point (there is a plan to get together in the near future)

My question is how can I protect the art/assets I make. Should I wait to negotiate a contract before doing any more work? I'm not sure what the next step is, I just wish everything to be as legally air-tight as possible so if/when the money does come in I will be compensated.
posted by hellojed to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a lawyer, but I believe in most formats you retain copyright until you specifically assign it to someone else (e.g. through a contract). If you write "Copyright (C) 2010 Your Name" or "(C) 2010 Your Name" on the works you submit to them, then that establishes your copyright even more explicitly. Doing that might be a non-confrontational way to indicate your desire for a contract.
posted by monstrouspudding at 6:16 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: you retain copyright until you specifically assign it to someone else

This is absolutly NOT true. If this is a work for hire, the company may own everything. But you're not getting paid, so is it actually a work for hire? Can't say. But do you really want to go through the nasty process of litigation to find out?

You're near Kansas City, right? Contact KC Volunteer Lawyers & Accountants for the Arts. They'll help you avoid getting screwed.
posted by ericc at 6:25 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll also suggest you get Graphic Artists Guild Handbook : Pricing & Ethical Guidelines.

I'm not an artist myself, but it's what my boyfriend used to figure out a base range for some art he was asked to do for a local company. It will help you weed out people who aren't serious about paying you, or who don't understand that what you do is "real work." This book, from what I understand, helps you (at least sound like you) know what you're talking about when negotiating pricing and contracts.
posted by a.steele at 6:44 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I expect that the first bit of paper they ask you to sign will say that you'll be producing work that they will own all rights to, in perpetuity, throughout the known universe. They can just pick your brains, knowing that it'll never be worth your while to claim ownership. Don't expect to be compensated at some indeterminate point in the future.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:46 PM on January 13, 2010

Oh, and another thing about copyrights and such:

Based on the previous situation I mentioned (with the BF and the local company) I learned that you can negotiate contracts for limited rights and unlimited rights. So, for instance, since the company is just starting out and doesn't have a lot of money you could give them a base price for owning your work for a set number of years. Then after set number of years they would have the option to purchase unlimited rights for another set price (obviously a good bit more than what you were paid initially).

Hope that made sense. You may have already known this. As a non-artist, it was sort of an "ah-ha!" thing for me.
posted by a.steele at 6:53 PM on January 13, 2010

I am not the OP's attorney. This is not legal advice.

I just wish everything to be as legally air-tight as possible....

If this is what you desire, then you will need a lawyer. Ericc's suggestion to contact Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts is a good one. Also, seconding Ericc's statement that the first comment in this thread is not correct.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:09 PM on January 13, 2010

Hopefully someone with knowledge of the comics industry will come in and give you more specific information, but the world you'll be working in is specifically complicated when it comes to ownership.

I'm not a lawyer but I've done my fair share of creative work for hire (in the video game and music industries), and I've worked with folks on the "I'll pay you if it sells" basis as well.

It's possible that anything you do will be as a "work for hire" -- regardless of whether or not you are paid. The rules around work for hire when it comes to legality and copyright have nothing to do with the rate you negotiate for the "hiring" -- and everything to do with who has the legal rights to USE and SELL the product that you were hired to create.

If you do something as a work for hire, you don't get royalties. If you do something for free with the expectation that you'll be paid royalties when it's used, you need to negotiate that deal on paper, verbal promises of royalties are nowhere near enough to be legally protected.

It sounds to me that you're concerned with how you can prove that you've done the work you're doing so that you might get compensated at a later date -- is that correct? That's different than owning and selling the work that you do for this company. Being able to prove that you did the work really won't mean much if you don't work out a compensation deal.

Can you clarify a bit more exactly what you're trying to secure/protect yourself from? Do you want to secure the rights to any characters or logos you might draw for use, do you want royalties on sales, or do you simply want to be sure you get compensated for creating them?

If this company is promising you compensation if the comic book sells, for example, you definitely should get that in writing before doing more work, if you want to be sure they don't just steal your ideas and run with 'em.
posted by pazazygeek at 8:31 PM on January 13, 2010

Free advice is worth what you pay for it, but I don't trust an owner who won't use their own money to fund their business. Not that they have to give you market wages for everything, but a free logo right off the bat? You're an angel investor.
posted by rhizome at 10:16 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers! I'm going to go ahead an mark ericc's answer as best, since that's probably who I'll contact first after meeting with my contact early next week.

It sounds to me that you're concerned with how you can prove that you've done the work you're doing so that you might get compensated at a later date -- is that correct?

Indeed. The logo work especially, as it'll be reproduced for merch and other stuff.

I might be being too cautious, but this is a business I'm not very familiar with, so I'd like to be covered and worry about doing the job instead of the legal stuff.
posted by hellojed at 11:35 PM on January 13, 2010

Why not call them now, BEFORE you meet with your contact? That way you'll know what questions to ask and what things to watch out for during the contact meeting.
posted by CathyG at 8:38 AM on January 14, 2010

It sounds to me that you're concerned with how you can prove that you've done the work you're doing so that you might get compensated at a later date -- is that correct?

No, that's not my point....just being able to prove you did the work doesn't entitle you to compensation. They could say you did the work as a gift. Really. If you just hand over drawings without any kind of deal, then you're really just giving them away. I think the idea here is that you need to have some kind of deal in writing that outlines exactly how you expect to be compensated for what you're contributing. IANAL, but I think this is the practical upshot of the scenario.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:10 PM on January 15, 2010

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