Reading the Fine Print in the Nickelodeon Animated Shorts Release

 

VIa: Nickelodeon Animated Shorts
VIa: Nickelodeon Animated Shorts

Ah, the fine print. Almost nobody actually reads it, but when they do, surprises abound. Today, we’re taking a look at the recently announced Nickelodeon Animated Shorts Program; basically Nick’s effort to find new animated programming because whatever system they’ve used since giving Random! Cartoons the boot clearly isn’t working. However, we’re not interested in what kind of content they’re looking for, or even the reason why they’re doing it at all. Nope, we’re interested in the fine print, because the devil really is in the details.

What it Does Say

You acknowledge that there does not now exist, nor has there ever existed, nor will there exist, a fiduciary relationship between you and VMN. You requested this opportunity to submit your Material to VMN and you make this submission voluntarily and on an unsolicited basis. You and VMN have not yet reached an agreement concerning the use of the Material and you realize that no obligation of any kind is assumed by, or may be implied against, VMN unless and until a formal written contract has been entered into between you and VMN (if ever), and then the obligation shall be only as is expressed in the formal written contract.

Basically, we don’t have to pay you a cent until we sign a proper contract. A fair enough arrangement and pretty standard for this kind of thing.

You warrant that you are the sole and exclusive creator, author and owner of the Material, and that to your knowledge no one else has any right to the Material. You further warrant that no rights in the Material have previously been granted to anyone nor has the Material otherwise been exploited in any way. You believe your Material and its features to be unique and novel.

In other words, you are the only person who created what you submit, and you didn’t include material belonging to someone else. Again, that’s a standard thing. There’s a TON of fanfiction out there that networks won’t touch with a 10 foot pole simply because there are too many licensing issues to deal with.

The biggie (any emphasis mine):

However, you cannot and will not assume or infer from the fact that VMN will accept your offer to submit your Material to VMN, that VMN regards your Material, or any part thereof, as novel, valuable or usable. You recognize that other persons including VMN employees may have submitted to VMN or to others or made public, or may hereafter originate and submit or make public, similar or identical material which VMN shall have the right to use, and you understand that you will not be entitled to any compensation because of VMN’s use of such other similar or identical material. Subject to the foregoing provisions, VMN will not make any use of any legally protectable portion of your Material unless you and VMN have agreed in a writing signed by both parties concerning your compensation for such use, which compensation shall in no event be greater than the compensation normally paid by VMN for similar Material from comparable sources.

With this, Viacom are essentially attempting to preclude themselves from any compensation claims that arise from using an idea that is very similar to a submission. This is common for studios who might well get 50 submissions about a cat chasing a mouse. The kicker is the use of the term “legally protectable”. That is something that has to be hashed out in a court with a judge (usually) and doing that is certainly not a cheap thing to undertake. Although they mention compensation, do note that studios love to bend the rules about as far as they will go with creations and you can be sure that if you have a great idea, they will alter it just enough so that they don’t have to pay anything.

The really important clause:

You are executing this Release voluntarily, without coercion or undue influence from any source, and do so with complete understanding of all of its terms and effects, and every portion thereof. By signing this Release, you acknowledge that you have either consulted an attorney or have waived your right to do so.

Read that again because you may have missed it the first time around.

You are executing this Release voluntarily, without coercion or undue influence from any source, and do so with complete understanding of all of its terms and effects, and every portion thereof. By signing this Release, you acknowledge that you have either consulted an attorney or have waived your right to do so.

Did you get that? They’re basically telling you that if you haven’t consulted an attorney about this then you cannot do so further down the road. What that means is that if you find something about the release that you find objectionable, then Viacom (Nickelodeon) can say that you should have known better, leaving you up the creek without a paddle.

What it Does NOT Say

What the release does not say, and what is particularly troubling, is that they do not have any kind of time limit set out. In other words, nothing in the release precludes them from holding onto your idea indefinitely. They can use your idea ten years from now and it’s contained within the release that if they do “inadvertently” use your material, you have only 6 months to make a case.

That is troubling enough, but the release also fails to disclose how you can handle your creation outside of the program. Can you pitch it to anyone else in the meantime? What do you suppose happens if another studio decides to pick it up while Nick is still considering it? These are all questions you should be asking yourself before deciding to commit.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, these kinds of solicitations smack of a mix of ineptitude and desperation. Nickelodeon has easy access to many fine creators whom they can solicit from any time. Why the need to go to the general public for new ideas? I can’t help bu smell the reek of sleaziness that comes with filling people’s eyes full of stars (or dollar signs). If Nickelodeon were serious about soliciting ideas, they would be weeding the garden before looking to plant any flowers.

Those YOOTOON Submission Requirements in Detail

So I was all set to write a post on the YOOTOON channel in general but Amid Amidi took care of that for me so instead, let’s take a closer look at those submission requirements shall we?

From the Tumblr submission page:

    1. Have fun! We want to see your style shine through your video.
    2. Make sure your video is set to UNLISTED on YouTube. Your video must be brand spanking new, not one you’ve previously uploaded.
    3. Videos should be 10 seconds to 2 minutes long.
    4. Only use licensed music or music that you’ve created. You can find free music online! If you use licensed music, we will need a copy of that license agreement.
    5. Please keep your video kid friendly to be eligible for submission. Get creative, but no nudity, swearing, bad stuff, you get the picture.
    6. Only submit your own original videos. If accepted, this video will be posted on the YOOTOON channel EXCLUSIVELY and CAN NOT be live on the internet ANYWHERE else, including your own Youtube channel.
    7. You must be over 13. If you are not over 13, please have your parent or guardian submit the video for you or have them contact us at: joinyootoon@gmail.com

Let’s break these down one by one:

1. Have fun! We want to see your style shine through your video.

Okie dokie, seems fair enough.

2. Make sure your video is set to UNLISTED on YouTube. Your video must be brand spanking new, not one you’ve previously uploaded.

So the video must not have been shown before. That’s OK too. A lot of few film festivals generally require that your film not be available online in order to be eligible to enter. In other words, it’s not a deal-breaker.

3. Videos should be 10 seconds to 2 minutes long.

Again, a straight-forward request.

4. Only use licensed music or music that you’ve created. You can find free music online! If you use licensed music, we will need a copy of that license agreement.

This is pretty much an indemnity clause. As you may well know, record companies love crawling YT looking for their unlicensed use of their content. Besides a quick DCMA takedown to YT, they also love to send legal nastygrams, sometimes extorting money in exchange for not suing you. With this, YOOTOON is basically saying that they won’t even consider a video without the proper licensing in place becaues of the potential legal pratfalls. Again, this is fairly standard.

5. Please keep your video kid friendly to be eligible for submission. Get creative, but no nudity, swearing, bad stuff, you get the picture.

OK, we get it; no boobies and F words.

6. Only submit your own original videos. If accepted, this video will be posted on the YOOTOON channel EXCLUSIVELY and CAN NOT be live on the internet ANYWHERE else, including your own Youtube channel.

OK, so this basically reiterates what was said above in addition to stating that the video can’t have been hosted anywhere else either.

7. You must be over 13. If you are not over 13, please have your parent or guardian submit the video for you or have them contact us at: joinyootoon@gmail.com

Fair enough.

Now, this is where it gets interesting because below those requirements, is another statement:

YOO retain all rights to your animated creation, we just own the particular video you submit. We want your idea to succeed! If it attracts an audience under the YooToon banner, we will provide the funding deemed necessary by YooToon to make more videos. If the idea REALLY takes off and goes viral, YooToon will strike a best effort deal with the creator to make the video into an online series! Imagine, you could be making an online series with Butch Hartman!

Now IANAL (I am not a lawyer) but this is most definitely an ill-drafted legal agreement if ever I’ve seen one. Let’s break this one down too:

YOO retain all rights to your animated creation, we just own the particular video you submit.

Any lawyer worth his salt could find fault with this. Who is “YOO”, he is not “you” because legal documents love specifc language. “YOO” is not specific, and could even be construed as being short for “YOOTOON”, thus making this clause a bait-n-switch kind of deal.

If it attracts an audience under the YooToon banner, we will provide the funding deemed necessary by YooToon to make more videos.

In other words, if the video is good, we’ll fund the promotion of it to an extent that we think is OK. Not sure why this is in the agreement, YT has the same basic thing in their agreement because that’s how YT makes money too! Surely no reason to call it out specifically for a channel, right?

If the idea REALLY takes off and goes viral, YooToon will strike a best effort deal with the creator to make the video into an online series!

Let’s isolate the key words here:

YooToon will strike a best effort deal with the creator

What is a “best effort deal”? Well, what that means in the context of YOOTOON is that they will make you an offer with the best intentions of hoping you’ll accept it. The gist is that “best intentions” can translate into “we hope you accept this offer, but if not, then we tried really hard to make it so that you would, and now that you don’t like it, we’re not going to offer you a different one”. In other words, we’ve fulfilled our side, you can take it or leave it.

That’s an awful lot of trust right there, because chances are, the agreement will be skewed in YOOTOON’s favour and there is little you can do about it.

Some of the particulars that aren’t described or mentioned include copyright. You can’t sign away your copyright unless the agreement specifically states so. I therefore find it hard to believe that the above agreement, where YOOTOON claims to own your video, would stand up very well (if at all) in court.

Secondly, it’s interesting to note about this channel is that it’s based on YouTube but accepts submissions through Tumblr. Yup, I haven’t quite figured that one out either because presumably, submitter’s videos will be on YT too. This adds an extra murky aspect to the whole scenario. Which license supersedes the others? YouTube because that’s where the videos are hosted? Tumblr because that’s where they were submitted? Or YOOTOON, because they are the channel’s owners?

It’s all a bit too much for a Tuesday morning before the first cup of coffee. So grab a cup and share your thoughts in the comments below.

And don’t forget:

Let’s be honest, this makes me think that Butch is siumply the frontman for the operation.

Please Watch This Video And Answer the Poll

I came across this video on tumblr yesterday (thank you potatofarmgirl), and as a fan, I felt somewhat obliged to watch it. You should too, then read on.

The notes on tumblr all circled around the description of “epic” and “awesome”, and while the video is exceptionally well done, is it legal?

[poll id=”6″]

[poll id=”7″]

What do you think? We’ll do a follow up with a discussion next Saturday.

The Legal Pitfalls That Animators Must Navigate

I would love to go into much more detail on the topic but unfortunately, I don’t have that long a lunch break to knock one out. So instead, here’s a quick run-down of what animators should be aware of when it comes to their work.

For the record, I am not a lawyer and the following should not be construed as legal advice. If in doubt, consult a legal professional, preferably one with a Bar Association logo on their newspaper ad.

When it comes to animation, there are a variety of laws that animators must concern themselves with. Perhaps most prominent is contract law and labour laws, which naturally help determine how long you work and how and when you are paid.

I read numerous stories that pop up fairly frequently regarding various setups that invariably involve the production of animation without pay. These can take the form of a competition, test or and “internship”. I use inverted commas because no internship as defined by law allows the intern to actually undertake anything even resembling work without due compensation.

Another aspect is overtime. Again, it is worth having an inside-out knowledge of your working contract. Bear in mind that for some, this may be in the form of an agreement that the union may have with the company. I’ve found that the TAG Blog to be a good source for explanations in this regard.

Besides the various labour laws, the second big grouping of legislation that animators run up against is copyright. In general, if you create work for a studio or otherwise entity that compensates you for the work created, you do not have rights to said work. In other words, it is created under a “for-hire” arrangement. For most studio employees, this is the nature of their work.

If you are creating your own stuff, then it is owned entirely by you unless you sell or otherwise transfer ownership and/or rights to another party. This would be the case of you pitched a TV show idea to a network who subsequently purchased it.

It is important to remember that you are responsible for monitoring your work. In other words, if someone is plagarising your work, it is your responsibility to notify the responsible party in order to rectify the situation. A while back, an animator I know had issues with someone on YouTube outright copying his work without due recognition. After failing to rectify the situation through communication, he simply contacted YouTube and had the video removed.

having said that, keep in mind that fan-art or personal art featuring personal interpretations of copyrighted material may still fall under trademark law, where the rights are assigned to a particular character and not the individual piece of work.

In today’s modern, internet-crazed age, many animators are rightly eager to get their films online for all to see. This is encouraging, yet I wonder how many are familiar with the single most important law regarding the internet and copyright? In the US, it is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (wikipedia link) and it outlines certain conditions regarding the uploading and availability of copyrighted content on the internet.

For instance, it outlines the concept of safe havens for ISPs and website owners in relation to user content and outlines the nature by which content can be considered infringing. Animators should be keenly aware of this, especially if you would like to upload films you produced under contract, studio employment or otherwise “for-hire” work. It should be especially noted that even inclusion in a demo reel is grounds for a takedown notice. A few months back, Berlin-based David OReilly found this out when the U2 video that he made was yanked off You-Tube for copyright violation by Universal Records. This should serve as a stark reminder that although he posted it as a way to inform and display his own talents, the copyright owner thought differently.

If in doubt, get everything in writing and consult with a legal professional before signing any contracts. Read through any contracts and be aware of your obligations before signing, you will not have any excuses later on. If you are considering putting a video online whose copyright or other rights do not belong to you, get clearance first or better yet, negotiate a clause in your contract that allows you to publicize your creations.

If anyone out there has any other advice, please add it to the comments. This is all I could come up with in half an hour.