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Guild Executive Director on Speculative Practices at Icograda Professional Platform Meeting

Posted by Rebecca Blake on October 28, 2014

On October 25-26, the Guild attended Icograda’s first-ever Professional Platform Meeting in New York City, attended by representatives from over 14 countries. The meeting provided a structure for professional association members of Icograda to address common concerns in the industry. The Guild’s Executive Director Patricia McKiernan was asked to present to the international audience the Guild's stance on speculative practices. Her talk included examples of prominent crowd sourcing campaigns, such at those conducted by the Department of the Interior and the Obama for America Campaign, and described the Guild’s response. Following is the text of her presentation.

Photo © IcogradaFrom a general definition perspective, I am defining graphic art as a service that encompasses a multi-disciplinary approach to answering how a business entity, or society, approaches the structure of communicating what it represents to the world at large in a visual, structured form that is easily understood – if I legitimately engage the services of a graphic artist or firm, then who I’m trying to attract will understand who I am and engage in my business in a way that mutually attracts our needs. A happy collaboration for all with no spec work in sight.

As an organization, the Guild does not support spec work and looks at as an ethical question. The risk involved to the artist is the greatest – there is a risk of not being paid for the work, it takes time away from other possible worthwhile paying projects, and may incur expenses that are not reimbursable to the artist. As we all know, graphic art is a service, not a commodity, and requires a partnership with the client and the artist to deliver the product. Spec work does not foster that environment. There is invariably too little information available to do the work successfully.

Working on spec also has some legal issues, the main one being a copyright issue.  Work on spec doesn’t transfer any rights to the work — the graphic artist retains all the rights to it. Obviously, when spec work is submitted, the work is rarely returned and the possibility it will be used without compensating the graphic artist is real. Enforcing your right as a graphic artist once this happens is a huge undertaking, financially and time-wise, especially if you have not registered your copyright to the work.

Crowd-sourcing may be legal as a business model, but it is another form of spec work taken to an extreme, and far from ethical from the Guild’s perspective. We’re talking about devaluing the work of an entire profession in an incredibly public fashion. Crowd-sourcing sites encourage below market rates and treat graphic artists as an expendable commodity instead of highly trained professionals providing a genuine service.

If a client wants to own the copyright of the artwork created by a professional graphic artist, the value of that copyright is reflected in the fees charged. The below market rates encouraged by crowd-sourcing sites ignores the value of copyright and creates a perception within the business community that copyright doesn’t exist, has little value, or that a business hiring a graphic arts service owns everything the graphic artist produces.

In late 2011, the US Federal Department of the Interior crowd-sourced a logo project, probably because they thought it would appeal to the social media oriented designers (not necessarily an accurate perception), and is a prime example of how pervasive the trend is. We sent a letter to the Department of Interior and suggested that they do the math: if the DOI paid for every one of the designs submitted (over 279 submissions) each design would earn less than $5.37. We also pointed out that although the business models of crowd-sourcing logo mills are completely legal, they are considered highly unethical by the Graphic Artists Guild and the AIGA, and the Graphic Artists Guild expects higher ethical business practices from a U.S. Government agency and to hire a professional graphic designer that lives and works in the United States.

During the same year, the Obama For America Campaign to re-elect Obama, announced a design contest titled, “Art Works; A poster contest to support American jobs.” The alleged purpose of the contest was to create a poster to motivate people to support the President’s, American Jobs Act, as part of his then re-election strategy. The contest website read: "Obama For America is seeking poster submissions from artists across the country illustrating why we support President Obama's plan to create jobs now, and why we'll re-elect him to continue fighting for jobs for the next four years. Three winners will receive a framed edition of their poster signed by Barack Obama and a limited edition of the poster distributed by Sponsor (approximate retail value $195).” Yes, this was a crowd-sourced contest soliciting spec work from American artists for the purpose of promoting American legislation to create jobs. Naturally, we sent a letter pointing out the irony of a contest that doesn’t appropriately compensate the winner of a campaign to support American jobs.

I won’t go into every detail we pointed out in our response to the contest, except to say that during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the U.S. government sponsored a work program that valued artists enough to employ hundreds of them to make posters for what Franklin D. Roosevelt called, The New Deal, which included something called the Federal Art Project. Approximately 500 artists were hired by the Federal Art Project; more than 35,000 posters were designed and 2 million printed. Many of these posters are now part of the US Library of Congress collection. All of these artists were paid and given credit for their work.

One other area of concern that may not necessarily be looked at initially as spec work — although I am beginning to think it is the next generation of spec work, and crowd-sourcing certainly falls into this category— is the concept of mass digitization and what the Internet is creating besides the concept of community and knowledge as we discussed yesterday for the up and coming generation. Don’t get me wrong – community and knowledge is a good thing and I’m the first one to search for more community and knowledge online. It is part of what I do on a daily basis as Executive Director for the Guild.

Here’s the thing.

Mass digitization comes in many forms, and has created a commodity economy mindset where everything competes on pricing, i.e., how can I get it for less, perhaps even free, perhaps creating a revenue stream based on work that’s not mine – all shades of spec work.

Is a logo created by someone on fiverr.com truly a logo? When everyone and/or everything competes based only on pricing of mass digitized goods and services, it fosters an environment of competition that eventually guarantees a non-livable wage especially for the creators of original goods and services regardless of what country they live in. It also fosters an environment of infringement, whether willful of inadvertently, in order to compete and create in the fastest and cheapest way possible.

In the US, the economic contribution by graphic artists is felt in every industry. For example, the licensing industry generated $ 93.37 billion in revenue in 2011 for all 18 product categories tracked, according to The Licensing Letter, a US based organization that tracks licensing revenues across all categories. Think movie action figures, games/toys, sports figures, gifts and collectibles, apparel, pet products, novelty items, etc., and graphic artists create the foundation for that revenue.

All of us in this room know that everything we touch on a daily basis required the contribution of graphic artists to create order out of chaos. The irony is, despite the high public visibility of the works of graphic artists, the actual artist is invisible and seldom acknowledged for what he/she contributes to the economy, and society, at large — not just in the US, but for every country represented by Icograda, regardless of whether or not there is a design policy in place in a particular country.

So a here’s a legitimate question to ask, and it is a question we recently asked in a response to a US Copyright Office request for comments: Is the economy we want to create for the future on a global level based on a commodity mindset where everyone competes on pricing, i.e., how can I get it for less or perhaps even free?

The core issue for every conversation we are having this week-end is the value each creative member of this group brings to the world. Value and how it is defined is a highly individual viewpoint, which doesn’t mean it can’t be defined or questioned, although it can present some perplexing thought patterns.

We talk about education for both artists and buyers. And, yet, how do you educate someone, the buyer in particular, whose only concern is, “How cheap can I get this for?” It’s a challenging question and not necessarily easy to answer. When I get calls from buyers about fees and how little can they pay someone, I often ask the buyer, “How would you feel about people trying to pay for your product or service as cheaply as possible, leaving very little room to cover overhead, day-to-day living expenses, and never see any profit?” It is also a point I make when I talk with Congressional staff and Congressional committee members here in the US.

The global community may not have answers right now to the problems we face with spec work. And that just means we have a little more chaos then graphic artists may have a solution for, which means we get to play with what we are presented with — and isn’t playing with possibilities what graphic artists are trained to do? So let’s play with the possibilities of how the conversations we’re having here are intertwined with one another and maybe a solution will show itself.


Photo © Icograda. Used with permission.

Art Against Ebola: Illustrator Otto Steininger and Friends Respond to the Crisis

Posted by Rebecca Blake on October 21, 2014

Art Against Ebola print © Otto SteiningerAward winning illustrator Otto Steininger has rallied the talents of his colleagues in creating a means to generate funds supporting Ebola relief efforts. Art Against Ebola sells artwork created by a number of prominent artists, including Steven Guarnaccia, Melinda Beck, Edel Rodriguez, and Aya Kakeda. Twenty-one artists contributed illustrations of snake heads, which were combined onto a body spelling out “Ebola.” Proceeds from the sale of the artwork benefit Last Mile Health, an organization which provides training to health workers servicing remote villages in Liberia, one of the nations hardest hit by the Ebola crisis.

Artists Against Ebola is commendable, in that fees generated by sales of the artwork go directly to Last Mile Health. Interested buyers purchase the artwork by making a direct donation in the appropriate amount to the organization with Artists Against Ebola and the participating artist credited in the dedication. Individual prints of each head can be purchased for $75, and prints of the entire piece are available for either $350 (17”x17”) or $500 (24”x24”). The original artworkfor each head can also be purchased for $250.

While progress has been made in stemming the rate of infection, Ebola continues to take lives and destroy families. Organizations such as Last Mile Health provide crucial services in fighting the epidemic, and in rebuilding the fragile health care system in Liberia, already ravaged by years of civil strife. Steininger’s hope is that Art Against Ebola will raise much needed funds. With that in mind, a lovely piece of artwork seems to be the perfect Hannukah or Christmas gift this year.

Top right: Otto Steininger's print for Art Against Ebola; below: the 21-header serpent print.
© Otto Steininger. Used with permission


Art Against Ebola © Otto Steininger

Tax Court Ruling Supports Working and Teaching Artists

Posted by Rebecca Blake on October 17, 2014

IRS logoThe New York Times reported in early October on a tax decision that could have wide-reaching affects. For years, fine artist Susan Crile has earned an income from both her artwork and her teaching job as a professor at Hunter College in New York City. In filing her taxes, she has written off expenses related to her artwork for several decades. In 2010, the IRS accused Crile of underpaying her taxes from 2004 to 2009, stating that her claim that she was both an artist and a teaching professional was artificial, and that she created art solely to support her position as a tenured professor. (Crile has been a working artist since 1971, and became a tenured professor in 1994.) Judge Albert at the tax court rejected the IRS’s claim, stating the Crile established proof of her professional status as an artist.

The full New York Times article and Judge Albert’s ruling can be read online.

Marvel Comics Settles with Estate of Jack Kirby, and Includes Creators’ Credit

Posted by Rebecca Blake on October 08, 2014

Marvel ComicsAt the end of September, Marvel Comics announced a settlement of a long-standing copyright dispute with the estate of Jack Kirby, the comic book artist who co-created many iconic superheros, such as Captain America, Thor, The Avengers, and The Incredible Hulk. The settlement was announced a few days before Supreme Court Justices had scheduled a call that was due to discuss whether or not the high court would consider the case. Although the terms of the settlement have not been revealed, The Hollywood Reporter has reported that new issues of Marvel Comics now include a credit line, “Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby” on the back cover.

The settlement represents a tenuous victory for the Kirby estate. In 2009, after Disney reportedly paid $4 billion dollars to purchase Marvel, the Kirby estate issued copyright termination notices on 45 Marvel characters, as permitted under the Copyright Act of 1976. The case bogged down in court, and seemed to be over for the Kirby estate in 2013, when the Second Court of Appeals determined that Kirby’s work was created under a work-for-hire agreement, and that Marvel is considered the statutory owner. The estate of Superman creators, Siegel and Shuster, suffered similar legal setbacks when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 2001 agreement the estate signed with DC Comics was legally binding, negating an earlier ruling from 2008 which reverted copyrights to the estate.

The estates of both Jack Kirby, and of Siegel and Shuster filed a petition to have the Supreme Court overturn the lower court rulings. Their efforts gained traction when amicus briefs were filed by numerous copyright experts and pro-creator organizations, including the Graphic Artists Guild. On October 6, the Supreme Court refused to hear intervene in the copyright dispute, offering no explanation (which is typical in such decisions). While the settlement with the Kirby estate brings some comfort to creators, the lack of a Supreme Court hearing means there still in no clarification on the issues raised by the lower court rulings. As the University of Miami Law Review reported, “The Kirby brief concludes that the lower court’s overly broad interpretation of the “instance-and-expense” test will subject artists’ rights to “revisionist history” and will unjustly deprive them of their property rights by creating an “almost irrebutable presumption that any person who paid another to create a copyrightable work was the statutory ‘author’ under the work-for-hire doctrine. Assuming that someone paid these independent contractors during that time period, it seems that almost no one could benefit from the 1976 Copyright Act’s termination rights provision.”

Guild Member Discounts: WordPress A-Z Webinar Series and Blinkbid Invoicing Software

Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 29, 2014

Two of our favorite partners, Joy of Code and Blinkbid, have extended new discount offers to Guild members.

WordPress A-Z Webinar SeriesBud Kraus of the Joy of Code has developed a four-part webinar series, WordPress A-Z, taking place October 16, 23, and 30, and November 6. The webinar series covers an overview of WordPress, building a site from start to finish, incorporating a blog, and finding and installing plugins and apps. Guild members are offered the course at a 25% discount, for $100 at the Early Bird rate (expires October 10).

Register for the webinar series online. (You will be asked to provide proof of Guild membership.)

BlinkBid logoBlinkbid produces easy-to-use estimating, production, and invoicing software targeted to creative professionals. Their latest update, Version 7, has added features such as redesigned production module, a discount field, and a Quickbooks export feature. Guild members get $50 of the cost off the purchase price.

To receive the discount code, log into Member Central on the Guild website (in the upper right corner), and visit our Member Discount page.

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