How a kid cartoonist avoided Scholastic's digital sharecropping trap


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/02/08/terms-and-conditions-apply.html

I’m an 8th grade middle school student at a public school in NYC. In my humanities class we are studying muckraking journalism, and we have an assignment to write a muckraking article about a modern issue. (For those who didn’t pay attention during class, muckraking journalism is journalism that became prominent in the late 19th century. A muckraking article digs up and exposes problems in society.) Coincidentally, I recently had a personal experience with a muckrake-able issue. I chose to make lemonade out of lemons, and got a very interesting topic for my assignment–and one that I could write about both professionally and privately. So, I’m posting my homework here.


#2

Gosh, that’s a smart kid. Great piece BB!


#3

Nicely done, Ms. Matthews. Nicely written, too. It’s a rare gift to wield a pen well as both a writer and visual artist, especially in the service of worthy causes. Keep it up.


#4

Kids reading the TOS make me all kinds of verklempt…


#5

fistbump


#6

Remove all the coloured chalk from the classrooms.


#7

The sad thing is that legal probably put it in the T+C for no better reason than “we might want it/ want to put our name on it someday”, not part of a sinister overarching plan. And PR has decided that Scholastic is going to double down instead of admitting any wrongdoing.


#8

I don’t think it’s intentionally evil, and yet if one the works they acquired in this way somehow became worth a million dollars, I expect they’d issue the kid a three thousand dollar scholarship and act like they were being generous


#9

I would be inclined to ask, does “I learned something” mean that the author sat down and read those pages of legal language that nobody reads, or did an unacknowledged mentor figure helpfully point it out?

But such cynicism is probably unwarranted in a case such as this.


#10

So if Scholastic holds all the IP rights, will they be the ones to defend against the inevitable trademark infringement suit brought by the comic book companies who believe they have exclusive rights to the term Superheroes?


#11

I DO think they were being sinister - otherwise they would have said “Hey Sasha, yeah, that term is inappropriate and we’ve removed it.”

They leave the door open in such a way that they make bank when a kid’s work strikes paydirt. If they are just interested in promoting themselves, or inspiring kids to write and make great artwork, then they need a completely different T&C.


#12

Does it matter? I am guessing they have a parent who always encourages them to read the T&C and made their aspiring artist aware of copyright issues. But it seems completely likely the kid discovered this herself. After all, she was raising money for the ACLU FTW.

She made the comic afterward, so clearly she understands the issue, and she raised a stink and that’s what matters.


#13

Also, henceforth, it would be awesome if Boing Boing could post at least one article about an inspiring youngster each day! Terms and Conditions need not apply.


#14

Are they trying to maintain that the copyright assignment is only for two years? Because I don’t see any way that a FAQ posted on their website could overwrite the terms and conditions which claim that the assignment is irrevocable. At least they didn’t try to claim that it was a “work made for hire.”.


#15

There’s an equally depressing flip side to this thing that lawyers like to do. Say you have a national park and the attached organization needs to print out brochures, bulletins, annual financial reports, etc. There would be literally dozens of photographers and artists who would be happy to contribute their work to those documents just for the thrill of attribution. But the attorneys say, “No. If we print it once, it’s ours now.” Most artists run for the hills when they hear that and well they should.

Subsequently, the national park will require a marketing department to churn out a few photos that they can rerun in perpetuity. It’s more expensive and more boring for everybody. Thanks, attorneys!


#16

I used to work for [Well-known tabletop games company] and their T&Cs meant they owned every idea I ever had, even off-site, and they could use/take/steal them with no reward or even acknowledgment.
Their legal department was bigger than their creative studio…

Good work OP; keep looking after your own work.


#17

Those terms put this squarely in the realm of “on Spec” work and a race-to-the-bottom 99 designs contest bullshit.

Except Scholastic is using underage kids as their slave labor.


#18

Hey, that kid’s not a bad cartoonist either!


#19

It seems to be an approach used by other publishers, charitably because whoever writes up the contracts is totally incompetent and doesn’t understand - or can’t articulate - the concept of non-exclusive license.

Ryan North of DInosaur Comics fame posted this contract that was sent to him when someone wanted to use one of his comics in a book, and it’s very similar:


Though it’s perverse in extra ways, because it’s misusing the idea of “work for hire” (for preexisting work) to (accidentally?) steal someone’s work, work that may have already been published, unlike with Scholastic (where there’s reasonably the expectation the work won’t get published through other means).
It seems to me there’s a level of knowledge (and in Scholastic’s part an unwillingness to change the terms) that indicates something other than just incompetence.

See above. Whoo boy. But yeah, where, other than the newly minted FAQ, are they claiming only two year ownership?

That’s common also in video games (every company I’ve worked for) and toy companies. In video games it seems to largely exist to keep people from moonlighting, working on another game while drawing a salary at the company, which they then publish elsewhere. I can’t imagine that happens very often - people just don’t have the time for that (unless the studio is very poorly run). It really is such bullshit.


#20

Ugh. These kinds of “we own everything forever” types of clauses are super common in creative work, but usually both parties are fully aware of it. It’s so much more insidious when it’s a contest or award program, especially one for children and the terms are super vague or hidden. Artists ought to get paid if their work is valuable, and you shouldn’t have to trade your rights for mere accolades!