Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Comics Startup 101 - Contracts, Part II

Comics Startup 101: Legal and Business Tips for the Independent Comics Creator
Part 4: Contracts, Part II
           This post is part of a series that grew out of my Comics Startup 101 panel I presented with comics creators at various comic book conventions around the Midwest. You can find the first post discussing doing a clearance search here, the second post discussing choosing a business entity here, and the third post discussing contracts (part I) here. Today, we will talk about understanding and using other parties' contracts.
As always, I must disclaim that this is not meant to be an in-depth guide, nor is it meant to be complete legal advice. Any information provided in these posts is general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Meaningful legal advice cannot be given without a full understanding of all relevant facts relating to an individual’s situation. As such, you should consult with an attorney for specific legal advice that you might need. 
The Contracts of Others
When dealing with contracts from other parties, keep in mind what we talked about in the post on negotiating power and your own contracts. How much will it cost? What will I be doing for them? What will they be doing for me? How long is the agreement? These are some of the primary questions you should be asking, and the answers to them should be reflected in the agreement you are reading. You should also make sure that you understand every section, paragraph, and sentence of the agreement. You do not want to unknowingly give away your rights to your creation or give them an unlimited license to your work. One final tip, if an agreement seems too short, make sure they are not incorporating outside documents into the agreement. I have seen too many people read a one-page contract and fail to follow up with any other document mentioned in it or any hyperlink with additional terms and conditions buried in the agreement. Failing to do so could lead to your unwittingly agreeing to unfavorable contract terms.
            For an example of making sure you understand everything in your contract and the possible ramifications, let us look at Alan Moore. Alan Moore gave us, along with Dave Gibbons, one of the most popular and revered graphic novels of all-time: Watchmen. Since creating Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and many other notable titles for DC Comics and its imprints, Moore has had a falling out with the company. His primary reason: he is upset about language in his contract that would return the rights to his creations to him when the comics went out of print.[1] This is a great example of making sure you understand the language in your contract and how it might apply. Moore is upset because this language allowing him to regain the rights to his creations was written into the contract, but the comics have proved so popular that they have never gone out of print. While the language is there, it has become meaningless. So long as DC continues to print Watchmen and V: For Vendetta, Moore will not see the rights to these creations returned to him. While it is easy to understand why he is upset by this situation, it sounds as if it was clearly spelled out in the agreements he signed. As stated above, it is important to understand all of the language in the contracts you are agreeing to and understand the ramifications of that language.
Next: In two weeks, we will start our discussion of intellectual property issues in comic books.

[1] Itzikoff, Dave, The Vendetta Behind ‘V for Vendetta’,  NYTimes.com, Mar. 12, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/12/movies/12itzk.html?_r&_r=0 (last visited March 25, 2016).

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