A frequent topic I have written about on this blog involves media rights. Personally, I believe it to be a valuable topic for creators to understand, and I doubt there will be a time when I will not be writing about publishers’ various attempts to obtain and exploit media rights. Previously, I have mostly discussed whether a publisher should be granted the right to exploit a comic’s media rights. While weighing whether or not to grant a publisher these rights, it is also important to understand any additional compensation publishers and creators and creators can obtain in these types of deals.
Recently, there has been a flurry of announcements of comic books being optioned by film studios. When I read these announcements, one of the key things I look for is who is named as a executive producer or producer. The vast majority of these deals tend to find the publisher, or some of the publisher’s “key” staff, listed as executive producers. Creators are frequently absent from these positions.
Why is this important? Money and prestige. Often, executive producers receive compensation, which can add up to being a decent amount of money depending on the deal structure. Additionally, being listed as executive producer on a successful film or TV series also raises the profile and prestige of those involved. Personally, I believe comic book creators should receive no less favorable treatment than the publisher or the publisher’s staff. The comic book would not exist without the creators, and they should benefit as much as possible from their creation. If creators do not receive these positions, then they are receiving less money than they could, and they are being deprived of a role that could open future opportunities.
Furthermore, many publishing agreements that allow a publisher to seek these types of deals exclude this money from being split with the creators. Often, these types of deals will have the publisher and creators splitting the money received from an option, and then the publisher using its position to obtain separate exec producer deals. The creators might be given the ability to negotiate for a separate deal, but the publisher often includes language that prevents them from using the leverage they need in order to obtain it—the creators cannot scuttle the deal if they don’t receive a separate producer deal. It feels exploitative to me that any type of “creator-owned” publisher would use their position to obtain positions and fees based on the creators’ work and not it share with them.
As I have stated numerous times, I believe a publishing agreement, particularly one that is supposed to be for a “creator-owned” work, should only cover publishing rights—that is, the right to publish your comic. If a publisher wants anything to do with a comic’s media rights, it should be via a separate deal. If a publisher obtains the right to exploit the media rights, I believe the publisher and the creator should be treated equally, and the creator should have ultimate say in the disposition of the media rights. Unfortunately, these types of arrangements seem far too rare and, based on what I’ve been seeing lately, decreasing.
Be wary of any publishing deal that grants a publisher the right to exploit your media rights without additional (or any) compensation, gives the publisher the right to grant your media rights to others without your consent, and does not obligate the publisher to treat the creators with the same respect and positions as it gives its staff.