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Graphic Artists Guild Hits Democratic National Committee For Ignoring Intellectual Property Guidelines In Poster Contest

Poster contest violates guild's "handbook of pricing & ethical guidelines" More union trouble for the Democratic Convention

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Comment from 2012 Convention Host Committee below.

It's no secret that unions are upset with the Democratic National Committee's selection of Charlotte as the site for the party's convention this year, but now criticism is coming from an unlikely source — the Graphic Artists Guild.

The AFL-CIO and other several other unions are sitting the convention out in protest of the selection of a Right to Work state as the host of the Democratic confab. Meanwhile, the convention has pushed the limits of Right to Work laws, with officials trying to maximize union involvement where possible to placate their concerns.

To the latest headache for the DNC: Late last month the Graphic Artists Guild sent a letter to Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz calling a poster contest run by the convention leadership "shameful" for underpaying graphic artists in violation of the guild's ethical and professional guidelines.

"The Guild thinks the DNC needs to realize how ironic this contest actually is," the letter states. "A crowdsourced contest soliciting free work (spec work) from American artists for the purpose of “building a better future” and creating “opportunity”… to work for free or be underpaid for our work."

At issue is the fact that the DNC is crowdsourcing the contest instead of hiring a graphic artist, and that the committee is taking ownership of all intellectual property entered into the contest — depriving the winner of fair payment for their work.

UPDATED: The poster contest is being run by the Charlotte in 2012 Convention Host Committee, not the DNC.

Read the guild's letter to the DNC below:

An Open Letter to the DNC Committee for Charlotte 2012

Dear Democratic National Committee Leadership,

The Graphic Artists Guild, a 501(c)5 labor union for graphic artists, recently became aware of the Democratic National Convention Committee for Charlotte 2012 announcement of a design contest titled “The 2012 Democratic National Convention Poster Contest.”

The Guild is deeply disappointed by this decision. Instead of giving the design of the DNCC poster directly to a professional graphic artist, the DNC is choosing to crowdsource it for “one of the Official Posters of the 2012 Democratic Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.” This follows the path the Obama Re-election campaign took a few months ago.

The contest website reads:

“Poster should incorporate one of the following themes: — Americans Coming Together — Building a Better Future
 — Opportunity and Empowerment.”

The prize for the winning artist’s work is one framed print of his/her own work, not payment for the job he/she did. In actuality, this “prize” has no value to the artist unless he/she sells it, at which point the artist no longer owns the “prize” awarded to him/her by the Sponsor. The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing & Ethical Guidelines cites the current rate for the design of a poster for this type of “extensive” distribution to be approximately $4,000 and upwards. Presidential campaigns and political parties typically pay professional designers for graphic design work, just as other contractors, vendors and promotional media are paid.

In addition, the DNCC will pay the artist a royalty of $1 per poster sold, although the DNCC has yet to determine, and has sole discretion to determine, the sale price of the poster. It is customary professional practice for artists to determine their royalty on sales based on the sale price [typically 10% according to the recent survey cited in The Handbook of Pricing & Ethical Guidelines]. Artists entering the contest have no way of knowing if this royalty on sales is reasonable payment or not. 

The Guild thinks the DNC needs to realize how ironic this contest actually is: A crowdsourced contest soliciting free work (spec work) from American artists for the purpose of “building a better future” and creating “opportunity”… to work for free or be underpaid for our work.

Does the DNC believe that the party will build a better future by underpaying American artists and creating opportunities for speculative design work by coming together through crowdsourcing, and by empowering presidential campaigns with unilateral indemnity against unincorporated American visual creators?

We saw something very similar earlier this fall from the Obama For America re-election campaign with the “Art Works: A Poster Contest to Support American Jobs.” The alleged purpose of that poster was to motivate people to support the President’s American Jobs Act. The Graphic Artists Guild objected to that as well, as did the AIGA, the two major American professional organizations for graphic artists and illustrators.

The DNCC poster contest includes the same badly thought out rules as the “Art Works” contest: All artists who submit work to the contest grant the DNCC an unrestricted unpaid irrevocable license to use ALL of the submissions and create derivative works, not just the winning entry (term #5 “Grant of Licenses”). And although the DNCC requires permission to use the artist’s name and likeness, there’s no promise to even give the artist credit when her/his work is used.

This contest also repeats the same onerous unilateral liability terms as the “Art Works” contest: Entering the contest means that you agree to the contest rules, and indemnifying the committee is part of the rules, so you agree to defend the campaign committee and yourself against an infringement claim at your expense. Why should artists indemnify the DNCC? Few to no unincorporated artists have errors and omissions insurance.

There is a great historical precedent of our government — a Democratic President — hiring artists to promote job programs:

“During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the U.S. government had sponsored a work program that valued artists enough to employ hundreds of them to make posters.” “During the 1930’s, the United States was in crisis and nearly one-third of the country’s workforce was unemployed. In an effort to rebuild the nation, boost the economy, and enhance community life, newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched a series of programs in 1933 called the New Deal. The largest agency of this reform program, the Works Progress Administration (later named the Works Projects Administration), existed from 1935-1943 and employed millions of jobless workers in an ambitious campaign to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure through a network of highways, bridges, and large-scale civic projects such as dams, parks, and utilities.

“Many of the WPA’s undertakings still form the framework of the United States. In addition, depression-era Americans were able to connect with a broad range of fine and performing arts aimed at enhancing the quality of life. Through the administration of Federal Project Number One, the WPA presented cultural events including concerts, art exhibitions, and plays, all contained under the umbrella of the Federal Art Project (FAP).

“Under the FAP, the WPA Poster Division was charged with producing posters to raise awareness and promote a wide range of programs, activities, and behaviors that the Roosevelt administration believed would improve people’s lives…”

[Carter, Ennis, Christopher DeNoon, and Alexander M. Peltz. Introduction. Posters for the People: Art of the WPA. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk, 2008. Print.]

Approximately 500 artists were hired by the FAP; more than 35,000 posters were designed and 2 million printed. Many of these posters are now part of the Library of Congress collection. All of these artists were paid and given credit on their work.

The Democratic National Convention Committee “2012 Democratic National Convention Poster Contest” is shameful. We ask the DNCC to honor the value of all working Americans and the legacy of its own WPA program by paying for creative works it commissions” and a clear statement of what we want the DNCC to do, e.g., revise the contest so that the winning entrant is paid $4,000 for rights to use the work, plus 10% royalty on all sales, and is guaranteed accreditation on all reproductions of the winning entry, and no rights are taken from non-winning entries.

Lisa Shaftel

National Advocacy Committee Chair

Graphic Artists Guild