Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All for One and One for All (Collaboration Agreements in Comics)

by Gamal Hennessy

Most of the contracts I deal with are between an artist and a publisher. I take the publisher’s standard contract and explain it to the artist in language they can understand so they know what they are getting into, for better or worse. What clients don't normally ask me to do is is create agreements between the artists working on a creator owned book that define their relationship with each other. What they often don't realize is that this type of contract is just as important as the one between the artist and the publisher. Without this type of agreement a otherwise successful partnership can lead to misunderstandings, conflict and disputes down the road that can be just as costly as any disagreement with a publisher.

Keeping the band together
Comics are like movies, films and theater because they are artistic works that are normally created through a collective effort. While there are some creators who do everything, most books are created by the continuing collaboration between the writer, artist, inker, letterer and colorist. In the same way that a band combines the talent of each instrument to make music, a creative team comes together to make comics (even if they only come together in a cloud server that they upload the work to).

Just like a band or a movie crew; each member of the team should know what he or she is getting out of any deal that involves the property they work on. This might not be significant when you are selling a couple hundred books a year on your website and losing money on the cost of production. This becomes a huge issue when a property is picked up for a film, TV show, video game or merchandise deal. It helps to have all the issues squared away before Hollywood starts calling. If you wait too long, anger, resentment and actual litigation could tear the team apart just when things start to take off.  That is where the collaboration agreement comes in.

Putting the ducks in a row
A well drafted collaboration contract contains six elements:
  1. Who is responsible for creating each element of the property
  2. How is the copyright for the property going to be distributed between each creator
  3. How will the revenue be distributed between each creator
  4. Who has decision making authority for the property
  5. Who is the primary contact for the property
  6. What happens when someone leaves the creative team

While the contract can be overly complex with just these elements, the best ones address these issues without a large amount of legal gymnastics. At the same time the elements of a collaboration agreement should not conflict with the terms of any agreement with a third party publisher or licensee of the property. Your legal advisor can review both contracts to ensure there is harmony between them.

Other options
Of course, there are cases where only one or two of the artists on a book will actually own the copyright and the other participants may participate on a work for hire basis. Also there are some instances where the creative team actually forms a separate company to manage and exploit the property. In those cases, as with the collaboration agreement described here, a contract should be in place before any work is done to protect the rights of each artist in relation to each other as well as to a publisher.

Have fun.
Gamal

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

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