Friday, February 13, 2009

He's Just Not That Into Your Income

"Sanders, I just sold your soul. You weren't using it were you?"

I get email. Some of them ask for cartoons. Like this one:

I wish to add your cartoon to a Powerpoint presentation.

OK. I write back:

Hey, that's great that you would like to use my cartoon. My fee is $20 per image, per presentation. I accept Paypal and credit cards.

Oops. That's not at all what this person had in mind:

Unfortunately I shall not use your cartoon if it means paying for it. I thought I would just try and do things by the copyright book. Thanks anyway.

And I respond:

No hard feelings. I'm sure neither one of us can afford to give away his/her professional work.

A friend -- a fellow cartoonist friend -- quipped, Yeah, they wanted to ask you for it before they stole it.

Is taking a cartoon stealing?

Yes. A cartoon has value. A cartoon is called "intellectual property."

Composer Tom Green, writing for First Drafts - The Prospect Magazine Blog, writes about the "Music industry in crisis: you gets what you pays for:"
Fans at my gigs offer home-copied CDRs of my albums for me to sign, not real ones, and think nothing of it. MySpace “friends” send me emails praising my music to the skies, and then say that they’ve sent multiple copies of it to all their friends, and then they expect me to thank them for this unsolicited “promotional activity.”
People who like Tom's music are just not that into his wallet concerns.

I was just reading this morning about how so many of those free alt-weekly papers are scrubbing ALL of their comics. At the City Paper, they got rid all of them except one: a cartoon titled Dirtfarm by Ben Claassen. How did it escape the fate of the others?
Dirtfarm survives because Claassen said he’d do it for nothing. “City Paper feels like family to me,” Claassen explains. “I called the publisher and told her that I would rather have it run for free than to not have it run at all.”
Well, it's sweet to have those feelings for a business --but family should not let you starve, Ben.

When fans who like your work, and the companies that buy your work, all ask you to work for free. What do you do?

For more and more people-- it means you produce the work for free, in your spare time. You can no longer afford to do it full-time.

When I get an email telling me "I shall not use your cartoon if it means paying for it," I remind myself that I'm fortunate that, for now, I have corporate clients who do pay. I'm also fortunate that I do not have children, a big house, 2 cars or outstanding medical bills (for now).

My plan: I will continue to persist in finding new markets, and proactively getting my work out there (and not doing business with people who want me to work for exposure).

Consumers will continue to have art and music to consume, but more and more, it will be produced part-time; by people with day jobs.

NOTE: As of this time, the Prospect blog is down. I've sent am email to a Prospect Magazine editor about it. Hopefully, it's getting fixed.

Related: NYCC 2009: Intellectual Property Primer by Dennis McCunney. (Hat tip to Journalista!)

Also related: If you Give Away Your Cartoons for Free, You Won't Make a Living as a Cartoonist.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Mike! It is painful, but putting it out for the World to read, ensures some of us will learn a little -especially those of us who are just starting- and move forward.

Sometimes I wonder if people ask for free root canals when they meet a dentist, as they demand free gags and doodles when they run into cartoonists.

Brian Fies said...

I'm with you all the way, Mike, but I think we're losing this one--practically, if not legally. Too many people are used to getting content for free, to the point they seem offended when asked to pay for it. If it's on the Internet, it's theirs. Their shortsightedness is in not seeing that if professionals can't afford to produce content anymore--and I'm not just talking about cartoonists but writers, musicians, journalists--after a while, there won't be anything good left to steal.

Anonymous said...

The level of ignorance regarding art, music, intellectual properties is astounding.

It starts in the schools where these days there is little if any appreciation taught for the arts, especially the visual.

I agree with Brian, especially among the younger set it's a given that this material should be free. They seem to think all artists are wealthy beyond belief.
The thought of paying for art, music, etc., is completely foreign.

Jesse Hamm said...

"I thought I would just try and do things by the copyright book."

I see this folly often. It's like people think they're respecting copyrights as long as they ask permission or credit the right person. The fact that copyright = the right to require payment never occurs to them.

Mike Lynch said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

Juana, yes there are people out there who will value your work -- and there are others who will not. The trick is to keep moving.

Brian, I share your gloom. More and more content will be created by people who can't afford to create that content as a full-time job.

Daryll: It's hard for me to blame "the kids." I blame corporations for wanting all rights.

Jesse: Thanks for noting my favorite line. The person who contacted me was, I felt, indignant at being asked to pay for content. I'm disappointed that s/he may have very well taken my work anyway.

mordicai said...

Well-- argument aside, it isn't stealing. It is copyright infringement. A club is not a spade. Equating the two does no one's argument any good.

Mike Lynch said...

mordicai, I can't tell if you are agreeing or disagreeing with the main point. Regardless, thanks for your comment.

Taking someone's intellectual property without their permission is stealing. You may call it "infringement" or another euphemism that may sound nice, but it's stealing.

A cartoon is owned by its creator. It has value, like a car or stereo has value. To come out in favor of stealing, or copyright infringement, means that you are against creators' rights.

Daryll Collins said...

Mike, I'm not blaming the kids as much as I'm saying, if you think it's bad now, wait for what's coming down the pike.

If you've grown up with the mindset that if it's posted somewhere on the internet and you have a means of copying it for your own use fee, then why not?

But it's nothing new. I'm sure for every business person who bothered to contact you about using your work, there are probably ten who just grabbed a .jpg and used it for their presentations without giving it a second thought.

Unknown said...

If I might play devil's advocate here...

Fame is a dual-edged sword.

While it's certainly disheartening to see copies of your work used in a manner of which you don't approve, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that this abuse comes with the territory. Bill Watterson had to deal with gaudy stickers of Calvin urinating on the Chevy symbol, there are innumerable uses of Garfield's image without approval on the net... The list foes on.

Cartoonists especially feel the slap here, because unlike distribution of music, you have no live shows to sell tickets for.

Sometimes, it might be best to take a victory where you can get it.

In theory, whatever image was being requested for use in the slideshow was one for which you'd already been paid a commission. While you could stand to make a little more coin here and there for it on the side, I imagine contractual obligations prohibit you from selling a cartoon published in one magazine to anotherl Thus, the use of the image is extroardinarily limited.

Given those presumed limitations, I'd happily tell someone presenting a Powerpoint presentation to a few coworkers to use my image, granted a clear, legible link to my website underneath said image. Maybe that person will look me up. And maybe, if I have some merchandise available, they'll buy something. Maybe that's just a long shot... but it's a potential audience who might spend that twenty bucks your wallet's hankering for on a print collection of your work.

On the other hand, it'd be nice to get twenty bucks per image per presentation. If your contract rate in the magazines is even close to twenty dollars per image per issue sold, I'll happily apologize for the tone of my message.

Mike Lynch said...

Stuff: What you don't know about the cartooning business is a lot.

You admit that you are making a lot of presumptions. Yes, you are correct.

What you wrote is a naive tangle, full of wrong ideas about making a living as a cartoonist, and I just wanted to post a note here saying so.

I'll just repeat that when a cartoonist creates a cartoon, it belongs to him or her. I'm not sure that you agree, but that's my opinion.