Last week, Gerry Conway posted a takedown of DC Comics' creator equity policies on Tumblr, provoking a massive outcry against the publisher for seemingly screwing over creators out of royalties using spurious logic to claim that nobody is the creator of "derivative" characters. Read about it here, in our article published a full day before certain British rumormongering websites that will remain unmentioned bothered to get to it. Pip pip.
On Tuesday, Bleeding Cool obtained a copy of a letter sent by DC to its creators, and today Rich Johnston is crowing about being the only site to publish it, as if all of the other sites are snooping through DC creator's email inboxes too but just don't feel like talking about the issue. Well, we'll take that as invitation to copy and paste the lettter from Bleeding Cool then. Thanks, Uncle Rich!
DC Entertainment’s talent community is extraordinarily important to us, and we value your many contributions to DC’s legendary stable of characters and world-class stories. We pride ourselves on being the premier destination for top talent.
Recently, there have been questions regarding DC’s credit and equity policies, and we wish to assure you that no changes have been made to either of these policies that in any way diminish the credit or equity that we’ve been extending to our talent for nearly four decades…
As part of our ongoing mission to attract and retain the best artists and writers in the industry, we are looking to build off of and improve on current practices by finding ways to increase the frequency of such payments and to proactively compensate equity stakeholders above and beyond the usual standards when their characters are the driving principals of new productions. With the dramatic increase in the use of DC characters across all media, there will be more and more uses of our characters across our businesses. This is great news for all of you!
We have tremendous respect for the creative contributions of the writers and artists who bring DC’s characters to life, as reflected by our long-standing business practice of rewarding talent for those valuable contributions. We welcome any questions you may have about credit, character equity or any other matter as we continue our efforts to improve the ways we recognize, compensate and reward our talent.
Dan & Jim
Well, they signed it "sincerely" so they must really mean it. Of course, it doesn't actually address Conway's complaints and is basically a bunch of meaningless corporate-speak, but hey, at least they're trying. So much so that they apparently called Gerry Conway and spoke to him personally, and it sounds like that went a little better than the boilerplate letter above. Conway responded on Tumblr:
First, I want to thank Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns for reaching out to me yesterday, in response to last week’s Tumblr post about my issues with DC Entertainment’s handling of its creators equity program.
I figure, since I made this issue public, I owe it to these men to thank them publicly for their calls. I believe they’re sincere in their reassurances that DC wants to do right by creators, as they both told me personally, and as Dan DiDio and Jim Lee stated in their press release yesterday. I can’t imagine that Dan wanted to talk to me after I ripped into DC in such a public way, but he was incredibly nice, and I truly appreciate his kind and thoughtful words. Ditto for Geoff, who’s always been very generous to me– starting when we shared a stage at a convention in Gijon, Spain almost fourteen years ago.
Good people, both of them. I believe they’re going to make a valiant effort to clarify and strengthen DC’s approach to creators’ equity. As I told Dan in a follow up email, since I complained loudly about DC’s current policy, it’s only fair that I offer some practical suggestions (and not just incessant negative whining, which I’m all too good at).
So, here we go, two suggestions to help DC address the issue of creator equity, offered in a spirit of cooperation and in appreciation of Dan and Geoff’s generous effort at outreach. (I’m really, really impressed they didn’t just tell me to jump off Gotham Bridge.)
First, DC could clearly articulate its policy for compensating creators of both original and derivative characters. (Apparently DC does have a policy to compensate creators of derivative characters like Caitlin Snow and Jason Todd, something I was unaware of; I’m still not certain how it works.) If DC wants to keep “derivative” characters out of the equity program, it could articulate a simple and consistent principle for how creators of derivative characters will be compensated.
Second, DC could accept responsibility to proactively offer equity contracts for original characters used in other media. Right now it’s up to creators to contact DC. Make it DC’s policy to take charge of this. That information is easily accessible both on the public Internet and in DC’s own corporate records. DC can track character use and make sure all creators of original characters are offered an equity contract as soon as DC becomes aware the character will appear in another medium — either as a toy, or in a video game, or in a film or movie or a book. It’s the right thing to do, and from a public relations point of view, it’s just good corporate policy.
I truly believe Dan and Geoff and Jim Lee and Diane Nelson all want to do right by DC’s creators. Sometimes corporate policy takes on an inertia of its own separate from the people guiding it. There’s no ill will in cases like this: it’s hard to stay on top of everything, and often the people who are charged with executing a policy aren’t aware of what the people who instituted the policy really want to accomplish.
(That’s what leads to a lot of government scandals, after all. Good intentions filtered through bureaucratic misinterpretation.)
It’s up to us – creators and fans – to alert the policy makers when their policies aren’t working the way they intend.
Corporations move slowly and inexorably in predetermined paths, much like cruise ships. It’s hard to make them change course dramatically. But a small change can have a great effect. Just ask the passengers of the Titanic. If someone had alerted the crew to alter course by one small degree, it would have missed that iceberg by a mile.
So that sounds like Conway is hopeful that changes will be made, and it's nice that Dan and Jim took time out of their busy schedule of kicking puppies to speak to him on the phone. Just for good measure, because we wouldn't want Uncle Rich to feel like we're not copying from him enough, here's a transcription (up to Bleeding Cool's usual editorial proofreading standards) from a Pat Benatar podcast Conway appeared on where he also talked about the problem:
When I talked with Dan about it, I did sense there was a certain element of of bewilderment on his part that I was upset because from their point of view, there’s is nothing different about what they were doing, The problem is not the policy that they believed they have in place, the problem is the policy that has settled into place through the bureaucracy of the corporate inertia. It’s one thing to say. we want to compensate creators for the characters that they create, so we have this process we think is very fair, all a creator has to do is provide a request… it all seems very nice, but it’s in the execution that things become problematic and I don’t think anybody at DC was really aware of that in the visceral way that my tumblr post waded out . Or were really aware of that their approach to derivative characters could be perceived the way that my tumblr post had waded out.
One of the things that came up in conversations, was that they feel like they’ve got a way to compensate people for derivative characters. And as they explained it to me, they kinda do. Problem is that it’s not really clear how that’s supposed to work on a functioning basis. I don;t think the the people they put in charge of executing that policy even aware the policy existed. It’s a communication issue. I was really touched and very flattered that they reached out and talked to me about it….
I did try to address this with DC for several years, dealing with the people who were in charge of executing this policy. What I got back was the stonewalling that led me to express the frustration that I felt.
And I thnk that took DC by surprise
So what do you think? Do you take DC at their word that they plan to fix this, or do you want to see some evidence first?