A month ago, I wrote a short essay for Slate (which they used). Today in the mail, I received a large envelope full of numerous forms I have to fill out in order to collect the pittance I am owed. Among the highlights, I am asked to sign away world rights to edit, publish, and distribute the material, as well as to irrevocably and unconditionally waive in perpetuity any rights I may have “under any law relating to ‘moral rights of authors’ or any similar law throughout the world.” In short, if I grant them permission to use the piece in any way they want, forever and ever, then I can collect my one-time fee. Not that any of this matters in a practical sense this little one-off essay is unlikely to be a hotly contested property but you have to understand that as a self-syndicated cartoonist, I’ve been fending off rights-grabs like this my entire career, and am extremely cautious about what I sign. And the thing is, I didn’t go to Slate saying, hey can I please work for you? I’ll sign anything you want! They asked me to contribute a piece, I agreed and a month later, I find out that if I want to be paid, I have to sign something I consider morally objectionable. And I am told that if I don’t sign, I don’t get paid. (It would have been nice to know this before I did the work, of course I would certainly have passed on the assignment.)
Additionally, I am instructed to fill out a multi-page New US Vendor application, as if I were simply another eager supplicant petitioning Microsoft, a would-be supplier of silicon wafers or mother boards or bubble wrap or some damn thing. To prove my tax status, I must list 3-5 current clients, including phone numbers, provide my business letterhead, business card, a company brochure, and a copy of my business license. Now, as far as I know, they aren’t licensing political cartoonists quite yet, and as for the letterhead, brochure, etc. I couldn’t supply most of that if I wanted to, because I don’t have any of it. I do everything via email these days. It’s this nifty thing, you do it on computers. Somebody should tell the folks at Microsoft about it.
Apparently everyone who writes for Slate jumps through these hoops, which I find somewhat astonishing but I am often astonished by the things other people are willing to do. As for me, at this moment, it looks like I gave Bill Gates a day of work for free. Shit happens, I guess.
(Edited for clarification.)