Monday, February 1, 2010

The Escapist Wants to Buy Your Webcomic (But Be Sure to Read the Fine Print)

The Escapist, the online magazine perhaps best-known for hosting the Zero Punctuation video game reviews, is apparently suffering from a little Zuda envy. Not willing to be left behind while DC snaps up all the competition-hungry webcomics creators, The Escapist is looking to add a new webcomic to its stable of content with its own webcomic beauty pangent.

The rules are simple. Aspiring Escapists should submit their comic's logo and four pieces of artwork (I'm sort of guessing they mean strips/big panels here, although they're not entirely clear) by February 28th. If their panel of snarky gamer judges deems one of the submissions worthy, the creators will win a paid contract with The Escapist. Shamus Young of Stolen Pixels (currently an Escapist comic) has provided a visual run-down of what content your comic can't feature.

But before you start sending in your favorite jokes about pudgy kittens and the iPad, be sure to read the fine print carefully. Aside from revealing that one of The Escapist's favorite comics is Garfield (really?), the contest page includes this bit of legalese:
By participating in this contest, contestants grant Themis Group, Inc. the right to print, publish, broadcast and use worldwide in any media now known or hereafter developed, including, without limitation, the World Wide Web, at any time or times, the contestant's name, as news or for public information and education without additional consideration or compensation. Any entry becomes the property of Themis Group, Inc. and will not be returned. Entrants surrender copyright and all interests therein of their submissions to Themis Group, Inc. with the understanding that the materials may be used for promotional purposes.
Okay, so speaking as someone who's written her fair share of terms and conditions, I will say that sometimes companies go with the strictest, scariest-sounding terms as a sort of cover-your-ass measure. And here's the brand manager's reply:
We actually only keep the rights to what you give us. So, that does not mean you can't use your characters or ideas somewhere else if you don't end up being the winner. It only means you can['t] re-publish what you submitted elsewhere. So, it's actually not that restricting at all and we've purposely created these rules to protect us and much as to protect creators and their ideas.
Plus, we aren't looking for ideas, we are looking for people who want to create ideas and then we pay them.
Rough translation: The Escapist is probably using the wrong terminology here (they probably mean that contestants are offering first publication rights -- web or otherwise). However, if you win, there is always the possibility that you will be providing The Escapist with a work for hire (in which case, they will own the copyright, FYI). And, if you don't win, there's a chance that your work will still show up on The Escapist's site in some capacity. Still, any time someone is throwing around phrases like "surrender copyright," approach with severe caution.

Update: The Escapist's brand manager Jeff Palumbo wrote in to let me know that this is the controlling language on the intellectual property (and he's rewritten his page to reflect this):

The contestant hereby grants a non-exclusive, royalty free, world-wide, irrevocable, perpetual license to publish, distribute, sell, and otherwise exploit the Contest Entry in any medium to Company. The contestant retains all other right, title, and interest in the Contest Entry.
This means you're giving The Escapist a right to display your material (and no take-backs on that), but they don't own it. Thanks, Jeff!


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