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.


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.

4 thoughts on “Reading the Fine Print in the Nickelodeon Animated Shorts Release”

  1. Another great post, Charles. I can’t understand why anyone would consider pitching to the big studios anymore. Just make the pilot yourself and put it up on youtube. If the networks want it make them come to you.

    1. Thanks David!

      What it comes down to is the fact that creators going through the traditional pitching channels are likely to demand more when it comes time to sell.

      Soliciting ideas from the man on the street as it were, is likely to result in Nickelodeon having to pay less to acquire an idea. Even when that concept has to be further developed in-house, it is cheaper than acquiring a more fully developed one from a creator.

      Personally, I do not agreed with the practice, as it comes off as an attempt to dazzle ordinary members of the public as well as give them the short shrift when it comes to the value of their creations.

  2. Good write up. A lot of folks who read these things go apoplectic at the idea the network is going use the first bolded statement to steal their idea.

    The network has no interest in stealing an idea -and that’s why these submission competitions are, as you say, a cross between ineptitude and desperation -but moreover a publicity stunt.

    Every single development executive will tell you that they are more interested in PEOPLE than IDEAS. If you look at programming across networks and across formats you’ll see that one thing in common -every one was bought because of the team that was in place to make it.

    If someone feels they have no access to Nickelodeon, maybe this route is their starting point. Or maybe they can take a vacation in New York for Kidscreen or France for MIP and start that way. Or just do some research to find out the best person to show your idea and get them on the phone.

    1. Great points Richard!

      I agree that this program is a publicity stunt; one of many unfortunately. True to form, I have yet to see a single property from any previous ‘contests’ make the leap into a successful series, or even pilot episode.

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