CMU School of Drama

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Don’t Get Screwed: The Contract Provisions Every Creative Needs to Know

99U: Four months later, the job still wasn’t finished, and my friend still wasn’t paid half of what he was owed. The founders were constantly changing their minds about what they wanted, sending my friend additional “specs” long after he had started the work. Eventually, realizing that he had already spent more time than it was worth, my friend wrote the project off, never collecting the rest of his fee.


simone.zwaren said...

Oh my goodness I totally agree with this article and people should READ IT. Contracts are so important for work and life really. I know for a fact that people (or too many people) do not totally read a contract before signing it. A signature means SO much in this world, it is legally binding! Work contracts are super beneficial for both parties because it gives clarity to the work relationship, payments, and expectations. The few times I have had to sign a work contract I felt good because I knew that if for some reason I did not get paid I have a document that I could take to court. Like the article also says it is important to give the expectations from both parties. How long a job lasts, tasks that should be done, etc... and usually the expectation of the employer is to pay the employee.

Camille Rohrlich said...

This seems obvious, but at the same time I know that many free-lancers get trapped in terrible situations because there is no clear, final agreement. What I especially liked about this article is that it raises awareness of this problem, explains why it's important and how to deal with it AND gives examples that someone can actually use to put together a contract. That's great because the writing part is probably what people find most difficult when drafting an agreement with a client.

Ben Vigman said...

If nothing else, I can see how having a contract can define the scope of the project you are working on. In the article's example, I can easily see how a freelancer can continue to be strung along with extra work, outside the scope of his or her initial agreement.

That being said, I wonder what consists of a legally binding agreement. Would a "home-brew" contract written up by a freelancer be considered sufficient to hold a client to his word? I would imagine that hiring a professional might be a more surefire and safer approach.

Lukos said...

I think this article helped me solidify the idea that a contract before work begins is not just recommended but absolutely necessary. I tend to be that person who just trusts that everyone will be able to work together and that things will work out because everyone is upright and is there for the same reasons.This is almost never the case. I think I've been learning that lesson slowly and i think this article really put things into perspective for me. I can not just rely on the good will of others. I think this gets murkier when you are working with people you know or friends but i think thats probably when its most necessary

Thomas Ford said...

I really like reading articles like this, and although I've never done any work under a contract like this, I have had experience with these sorts of matters. I worked in the photography department of a publishing company, and dealing with rights to graphics and images was a big part of the job. Sometimes agreements would be made with photographers to use work that they had posted on sites, sometimes specific places that were interested in working with the company would give us rights to their work (The New Yorker gave us rights to most of their cover art, however there were a lot of images we couldn't get because the magazine didn't own all of its art and the original artists didn't give them the rights, so they couldn't give us the rights), and sometimes we would hire a photographer to take pictures for us (part of my job included preparing scripts for food stylists and photographers) and the rights to the images would be owned by us. Something interesting that happened at the company and my boss met a waiter who was trying to get published with his friends. They had commissioned all of the art from an artist, and because of the contract they owned all of the graphics for the book. Because of this, when the company picked them up handling all of the graphics was a lot easier that it could have been.

It's really important for artists and designers to understand all of these sorts of rules when writing contracts, because that's an industry where people get screwed over every day. There's a website called Clients From Hell that's all about this sort of thing, and a lot of the time the designers who are the victims could have avoided trouble just by having a solid contract at the beginning of the job.

Frank Meyer said...

I'm glad that this article is aimed at "creatives" specifically. Production staff are generally attuned to contracts and specific language, but often the more art-minded people seem to pay less attention to things like contract language and content.

We sign contracts every day, when we install software, when we register on websites, when we fill out almost any kind of meaningful paperwork. With so many contracts, its hard to know which ones are more likely to come back to get you.