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.

A Word on Blacklisting People

It’s a nasty practice and I’ve read about it in numerous places, most recently today over on the Animation Guild Blog, but blacklisting employees seems to remain commonplace or rather, perceivably commonplace within the animation industry.

First of all, just because someone pissed you off in the past, that’s no reason to never work with them again. People change, more often for the better as they get older and wiser (hopefully).

Of course, the ideal thing would to avoid the ugly situation that causes all the problems in the first place. Why let an employee wreck havoc in your department and ruin everyone’s day? It would be much wiser to sit down and try and figure out what they feel are the problems within the department or group. Often times it is the simplest things, like micro-managing supervisors that can be dealt with relatively easily, but sometimes larger things like deadlines can be what’s bothering them. Sadly, deadlines are part and parcel of life outside of a government job so there are not many ways around it.

Humans can hold some fantastic grudges that only serve to harm themselves in the long run. The blog post above mentions the infamous debacle between Art Babbitt and Walt Disney. The root of Art’s problem seems to stem from the fact the newcomers to the Disney studio were being paid at or near similar wages of guys who’d been there for 10 years or more. If I were in his position, I’d be pissed off too!

Blacklisting (among other things) can also damage your studio’s reputation. Granted, today’s weak economy means this is not as relevant as in the past, but if you have one or two employees who leave on bad terms, you can bet they’ll tell the world and his dog about how crappy it was to work at your place, and such word gets about, especially in industry circles.

I suppose respect for the individual is key here. If you respect them enough to work through their problems they way the expect their manager to, it is possible to avoid a heck of a lot of conflicts. Artistic industries (or indeed any industry) like animation should not be side-lining talented folks just because they had a row at work. The industry is all the poorer for it.

Lest we forget that classic quote from Homer Simpson

Kill my boss? Do I dare live out the American dream?

G’night everybody.

Employment in the Animation Industry

This afternoon, while out trying to find my brother a summer job (we’re in the northern Baltimore suburbs and he has retail experience, e-mails with tips to the usual address please), I began to think about employment in the animation industry.

First of all, I’m not gainfully employed in any aspect of the animation industry (yet) so this post may be somewhat speculative. Feel free to comment if I get something wrong. First of all, the coast you are on is a big factor. Typically, the East coast scene tends to be on a more individual level. Sure there are studios, but chances are you will get a position through word of mouth more than anything else.

The west coast side of things is an entirely different animal. Being the nexus of animation in the US, Burbank studios tend to be much larger, so it is more unlikely that you will get a job based solely on word of mouth or personal recommendations.

What struck me about being a job seeker is that you are much more likely to land a job if you know someone, or someone knows you. Would you rather give a job to someone you know or a name on a piece of paper? The answer is pretty clear.

In terms of the animation industry, the nomadic nature of work means that a sizeable number of people are looking or work. More so in the current recession, but that’s the same for everyone unfortunately.

The industry is one that also has trade union representation in the form of the Animation Guild. Their blog is an excellent view from one side of a coin and while I do not necessarily agree with many (or indeed any) of the points made, it is always a good thing to keep up to date with others’ thoughts, especially those of the union guys. (For a take from the not-quite-other side of the coin, I highly recommend The Business of Animation: A Commentary, a blog that dispenses the author’s thoughts with refreshing directness.)

Ideally, you should be hired on your merits. In other words, can you draw, stick to deadlines, have artistic skill and follow instructions. Realistically, filling in an application form for a job is like someone repeatedly smacking you in the face just because you decided to apply for the job. Why make things so complicated? Sure the new employee is going to cost you money, but if you treat him or her right, they’ll generate you much more. Why beat them over the head before they’ve barely walked in the door.

The important lesson from all of this is to network extensively and maintain a wide circle of contacts who you can rely on should things go pear-shaped. In return, you’ll meet wonderful people who will eventually turn to you for advice and recommendations. Sadly, too many people don’t do this and end up feeling bitter about their whole experience.

My advice, God helps those who help themselves, get out there and get to know as many people as you can and be genuinely passionate about your place in animation, no matter what it is.