Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Story about Reproduction Rights

Well, my second blog post and I'm not even telling my own story. But this is one I've been wanting to share. It's a good story. It happened to my husband and has entertained and educated many folks over the years. It touches on the importance of knowing about reproduction rights, and (like most good stories), it also involves a large hairy naked man. This naked man, in specific.

This is an alternative cupid that Rob drew years before I even met him, for a cover of Las Vegas City Life. They had asked for a Valentine’s Day cupid that was not the typical cute chubby baby type. They wanted it to be "an alternative cupid." Rob delivered. Shortly after it came out, Rob got a phone call from someone interested in reprinting the image. Now, he doesn’t remember signing any contract for this piece, and terms for rights were never discussed with the editor (I guess the LV City Life was run a bit more casually in those days), so he didn’t see anything wrong with granting whatever requests he got for reproduction.

Nor did he see any value in it, or any reason to formalize the request with paperwork. Like many of us, he was just tickled that someone out there had noticed it. 
The way Rob tells the story, the guy on the phone was vague but said he ran a nonprofit gay rights newsletter out of the Bay area and was hoping to reprint the illustration.  Rob said “sure, just send me a copy once it’s out.” He gave the fellow his address and that was that. No fee was discussed, no further questions were asked, not even a handshake. Just a shrug, a "sure" and that's that. 

Some weeks later,  a nice little package arrives, and Rob opens it up. It’s a glossy publication called “BEAR Magazine” (google that if you dare) and on the front is a large, bearded man in flannel and denim posing seductively with the caption “Would you like to make this lumberjack smile?”  A post-it note on the magazine said “Your art is on page 41, thanks!”

Rob flipped open the magazine to what turned out to be the centerfold and found that same lumberjack, without the flannel or the denim, on his back and holding his legs open as he smiled at the camera. Rob says that after that eyeful, he gingerly turned pages by the corner, trying to just see the page numbers and nothing more. He arrived to a section on page 41 titled “Fan Art” and found his illustration labeled with his name and city of residence. It was just above a poorly drawn image of a man fellating a Minotaur.

Not exactly a gay rights newsletter. As Rob says, "There's a difference between supporting gay rights and seeing some dude's asshole."

Now, I am much more a fan of husky naked men than is my husband. There is nothing wrong with liking husky naked men. But not everyone wants their name and city of residence posted in a magazine of this type. Rob honestly found the situation kind of funny, being labeled a bear fan . . . and obviously he's not embarrassed about it, as he's okay with his wife telling her dozens and dozens of readers out there about it on this blog. But he felt lied to, and he regretted that he didn't ask more questions or discuss a reprint fee. Not touching on those subjects does tend to relegate one to the "amateur" status, and where does amateur art end up? On a "fan art" page. In this case, next to a drawing of a guy pleasuring a Minotaur. 

We certainly cannot claim to run a perfectly ship-shape formal business. Lord knows I often do things on the casual side, and I've done plenty of smaller jobs without a contract. But asking a few basic questions can at least give you the APPEARANCE of running a professional business. What is the circulation of your publication? How will the illustration be used? What size will you be reproducing it at? These questions could help you figure out a fair price to ask for nonexclusive reproduction rights. And you should ask for a price. If someone valued your work enough to contact you, they value it enough to pay a small fee (or not-so-small fee) to legally use it. Are they claiming to be a charity? Ask for a form allowing you to claim your typical reprint fee as a tax write-off. Get a look at their website, inquire about their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. 

And reproduction rights can really pay off sometimes. One of the first jobs Robert and I did together was a cartoon map of the Las Vegas Strip, and it was a peculiar negotiation. We were intrigued by the job, but the magazine (a smaller Spanish-print guidebook that came out monthly) did not have a huge surplus of cash on hand. What they did have, however, was a month-to-month budget that allowed them to cover costs for the production. Rather than laugh at the sum they offered initially, I convinced them that it would be in both our interests to put more time into a really nice cartoon map . . . and if they couldn't pay for it now, how about Robert and I do the job but not as a work-for-hire (an exclusive thing just for them). We would reserve the right to sell the image to other parties, and we could simply charge them a fee each time they reprinted it. So we drew up a contract and poured our time into a piece we considered a portfolio item that we might shop around later. In the end we made twice as much as we would have earned had we charged them a fair rate for a work-for-hire, AND the deal was sweeter to them because they had the budget to rent but not build from scratch. Our pay just came in $50 checks each month. 

Now, if you want to educate yourself more about what constitutes a fair price, and how to figure one out, there are loads of sources out there. 

Number one to consult is The Graphic Artists' Guild Handbook

The GAG also has a bunch of online tools you can read through just to get a quick understanding of the law and how it works for folks like us. This intro to copyright law is a quick read and not full of jargon. What about the jargon, you ask? Well this glossary of contract terms will help you understand contracts AND sound smart about such things when you talk with clients. Happy reading, and stay off the fan art pages!

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