MRK’s very strong feelings about the WFC award specs and paying artists

I was an art major in college. It’s been on my bucket list to design an award, though I’d been thinking of the Hugo base. So when World Fantasy announced that they were going to replace the existing award, I asked for more information.

Today I got it. And it is bullshit.

I say this with some pain. A couple of the people on the committee are friends and I feel like they should know better. So I sent back a letter saying that I would not be submitting a design and asking them to change their award criteria.

Here are the points I made, in a slightly edited for in order to provide more information for anyone who is considering submitting a design.

  1. “there will be no monetary remuneration”– World Fantasy is “not a financial body and does not hold funds of any kind.” Okay, fair enough, but if you can require conventions to give away memberships, then you can require them to compensate the artist for their time. There’s also this thing called crowdfunding that would allow payment of an artist and could be done in cooperation with another organization.
  2. “The copyright of the piece must remain with the WFA for the lifetime of the award.” — While a buyout is not uncommon for work-for-hire, it usually comes at a higher price to represent the value of the copyright. There are multiple legal options to allow the artist to maintain the copyright, while at the same time protecting World Fantasy’s right to use and control the use of the image. An unpaid copyright grab is unnecessary and inappropriate.
  3. Time to create the award — Okay… “Design proposals must be submitted by midnight US Eastern Standard Time on Friday, September 30, 2016.” and “the awards are announced on Sunday 30th October 2016” You are asking someone to make 10-20 awards in less than a month. Significantly less than a month, since that entry date is for the first round, and they would have to be finished by mid-October in order to be shipped on time. This is not reasonable. Edited to add: Ellen Datlow has clarified that they are seeking a design that can be commercially produced by an independent manufacturer. Also that they are not planning on presenting the physical award in Columbus, just unveiling it. The winners will receive the award later.

None of this would be appropriate if we were discussing fiction and it isn’t appropriate for art either.

There are times and places when working for exposure is warranted. It is very rare and very specific to the artist. There might be some folks who want to design this and can see how it would benefit them. I won’t shame anyone for making that choice.

But I am ashamed of World Fantasy for creating a situation where that’s a choice an artist has to make.

Edited to add: I should point out that John Picacio talked about the problem with not paying artists for award design in November of last year.

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20 thoughts on “MRK’s very strong feelings about the WFC award specs and paying artists”

  1. It takes a lot of chutzpah to ask an artist to make the design for free AND give up all copyright!

  2. While I agree with you in all other respects, it’s important to note that sculpture cannot be a work-made-for-hire as it is not one of the specifically enumerated classes of works that can be (made for hire outside the context of employment). There are end runs around that like an agreement to sell all rights for $x, but it must specifically be a written contract.

    The case that decided it was about sculpture. CCNV v. Reid, 490 US 730.

  3. As I was reading this, I could actually follow the chain thought in my head:

    1. Oh, yeah, that’s right, they’re re-designing the WFA award.
    2. I wonder if I should submit something. Only been a commercial and fine artist for, oh, 30 years.
    3. Wait. Whaaat? Y’all want the art equivalent of ghostwriting, y’all are paying more.
    4. The winner could at least get a comp pass, you cheap buggers.
    5. They want 20 awards in 15 days? Hahahahaha. I take three months, twice a year, to do 17 fiber art award ribbons for a regional festival that usually banks 2 – 3 million in sales in one weekend. And they pay me up front. Beforehand.
    6. Oh, okay, an independent manufacturer. Still a rights grab.
    7. This, my dear friends is bogus. And exploitative. I’m sure someone will jump at ‘the honor’, but I can’t afford to. Paying contractors come first.

      1. Two comp passes is nothing. For what WFC is asking, they should comp both the convention and the hotel costs plus travel for the decade. Especially since I’ve seen WFC promote itself as something that was for the “professionals more than fans.” Professionals should know better. Professionals should act better.

        I’ve been working as a staff member or volunteer at a variety of science fiction and fantasy conventions just shy of two decades. The “we’re doing you a favor by asking you to work for free” attitude is pretty common for con-runners. It’s one of the many things that has soured me about conventions. I lasted that long because 1) I’m stubborn and 2) I tried to change things from the inside.

        At this point, the only way to change the WFC’s attitude is to have all artists boycott the award design contest. “We’ll submit art when you pay us what we’re worth.”

      2. It’s nice that they are offering the passes, and I’m sure they are taking the cost and thinking that that’s sufficient monetary reward. Except it isn’t. Because the cost of the pass is only a small part of the cost – there is transport, lodging, meals, and time off of work. Since WFCon moves around, how many in a decade would someone honestly be able to attend?

  4. I work at a Museum, and I’ve literally had an artist cry tears of happiness when I explain that we pay artists for demonstrations. It drives me batty that people in this day and age still expect artists to donate their time/talent because they’ll get “exposure” and “publicity.”

  5. I am so disappointed in World Fantasy for being so completely unreasonable. It is insult to injury to demand the copyright as well as not pay for the design.

    As people who contribute to and celebrate artistic endeavor, they should be the very LAST people who would try to pull this kind of BS. Just awful (and no, comped passes are not adequate. Then the artist would have to spend money to take advantage of this “payment”)

  6. Professional people should be paid for what they do, I agree. I won’t go into why as others have done it more eloquently than I can.

    What the WFC is asking is unrealistic and unimaginative (if funding is a problem, Mary Robinette came up with some excellent ideas, and there are certainly more options.)

    They are essentially asking that amateurs submit. They will, in all likelyhood, find that what they get is a somewhat inexperienced artist who will end up providing unrealistic timelines or processes, or doesn’t have the skills they think they have, or maybe even the set up needed.

    Ah – but you say they want it commercially produced? Add another layer, especially if the artist selected isn’t accustomed to working with commercial producers. Couple that with a tight deadline….WFC is literally asking for an infernally frustrating experience.

    Paying a professional is worth it because you should get a professional result. By result, I don’t just mean the object, but also the entire experience from setting expectations (realistic timelines) to safe delivery.

    Why do they want the copyright? Each year is unique, yes?

    1. As far as I know, the WFC give the same physical award every year, unlike the Hugo Awards (which give the same rocket, but have a different base). The main reason they are looking for a new design is that they decided to discontinue their prior design (a bust of HP Lovecraft) after feedback from the fantasy community. So there’s some expectation that this thing will need to be produced every year.

  7. “There might be some folks who want to design this and can see how it would benefit them. I won’t shame anyone for making that choice.”

    To be honest, though, this IS part of the problem. In all the arts, we are often pitted against one another in a race to the bottom. I’m a writer, not a visual artist, but the issue is the same. I’m offered an “opportunity” to work for “exposure,” so I draw a line in the sand and say “writing is work; you have to pay for that.” Then they come back to me and say, “Oh, never mind, we found another writer willing to do it for free.” All of us artists need to stick together. If we don’t value ourselves, no one else will value us.

  8. This is the sort of thing that is ideal for crowdfunding. Someone professional would do it for a reasonable/discounted price, I’m sure.

    And yes, two comps for 10 years is ridiculous. The membership fee is the smallest thing about going to cons. Unless they’re offering airfare, hotel, and transport to and from hotel, fuggedaboutit… a small stipend to pay for overpriced hotel food would be nice too, or credit at the hotel restaurant.

    The membership fee literally doesn’t cost them anything, particularly since the con moves every year and any artist who’d work for exposure doesn’t have the money to travel like that. So they won’t be showing up.

    I invite the WFC committee to consider donating a couple months of their day-job expertise every year for free; let’s see how they’d like that.


    These terms aren’t going to attract professionals who can hit tight deadlines — it’ll be amateurs who’ll miss the deadline and their work will probably be as ugly and featuring of bad geometry as the scary bits of the current award-form’s work! And nobody wants an amateur nightmarish squamous and rugose award.

    (Kelley: the Hugo changes bases every year, the WFC award remains the same always, like Oscars.)

  9. I have never yet made it to a WFC, but I would gladly help crowdfund the fee to pay the designer of the new award.

  10. It would cost me a minimum of $2500 in airfare, hotel, memberships, food, insurance, and lost working hours to attend WFC (or any major convention beyond driving distance.) I *might* recoup some of that with art show sales. Maybe.

    Con membership is a small part of the equation.

  11. The requirements are outrageous. There are two levels at which this bothers me. One is the requirements themselves, but the other is that the organization — which gives awards to professionals in a creative field — would even consider for one moment that these stipulations would be okay. In what universe would requiring an artist to work for free and give up copyright be considered acceptable? Or maybe I should say “in what century”, because it sure doesn’t sound like the 21st century. If an artist volunteers to do something for free or token remuneration, that’s one thing, but requiring an artist to work for free is a different thing altogether. And the copyright grab is just appalling in every context. One thing I’ve been wondering is whether these requirements were imposed on renown artist Gahan Wilson when he designed the award which is being replaced. Does anyone know? He’s still alive. I wonder what he thinks of the current submission requirements…

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