After talking with a lot of people on and off Twitter, I came to the conclusion that I'd overstepped in hashtagging that tweet with #PicturesMeanBusiness. Copyright is too broad a scope for the specific campaign and its all-sides-win argument for getting illustrators properly credited for their work. BUT... there are still some things regarding credit to learn from this case. Twitter was very helpful in making me look at the issue from several different points of view and getting industry feedback.
I'll quote last weekend's article by Heloise Wood in The Bookseller in chunks, addressing several points. (Here's a link to their online article.)
This issue had been niggling at me for awhile; I'd seen lots of publicity for Tom Fletcher and Shane Devries' picture books but never seen Shane's name mentioned. This bothered me: #PicturesMeanBusiness argues that picture books and highly illustrated books are very much joint efforts and I've encouraged publishers to put illustrators' names on the front covers. If their names aren't on the front covers, I see illustrators get left out of all publicity and press releases. Names are important, partly because:
1. Branding: The illustrator needs name mentions to build their 'brand' to get more work.
2. Selling point: An illustrator's name on the cover lets browsing potential readers know that the books are illustrated.
3. Accuracy: Names provide accuracy, so readers don't assume a writer drew the pictures if someone else did.
4. Metadata: Better searchability can mean better sales. If an illustrator wins an award, people will try to look up the books they've illustrated. If books don't come up to buy, it's a big fail for everyone connected.
In Tom and Shane's case, Tom was by far the bigger name; he's the main selling point. But that still left the other three points. And there's the issue of cover credits overall (which you can read about at picturesmeanbusiness.com), these books were setting a bad example.
None of this is behind-the-scenes stuff, you can read it right there on copyright pages when you open a book. Here's our copyright page for The Prince of Pants, where Alan MacDonald has copyright for the text and I have copyright for the illustrations: very standard. (We also voluntarily credit the editor and designer, which isn't standard as they're salaried, in-house staff - unlike most writers and illustrators - but they play an important part in the book's creation.)
Back to The Bookseller article:
One of the issues that kept coming up on Twitter was whether selling ('assigning') copyright was legal. Yes, it is legal, but that doesn't always mean it's advisable. When you create something, you automatically own the copyright to your work, unless your contract says otherwise. In children's book publishing, the standard thing is for a self-employed, freelance illustrator to 'license rights' for our work, but not 'assign copyright'. It's a bit like renting out a house or selling it. If you rent the house to other people, you still have rights over the house, how it's used, and you can live in it again at the end of the time (ie, you can use your work again - and get paid for it again - at the end of the term). If you sell your house, someone can trash the place but it's nothing to do with you anymore and you have no say over it (ie, you can't use that work ever again). If you sell your house, you should get a lot more money up front than if you rent it out to people.
I talked to Jodie Hodges (who's my agent) and she helpfully divided this up into two different issues for illustrators: compensation and credit.
1. COMPENSATION: This is what we're trying to avoid:
This isn't about credit, this is a separate issue about MONEY. When your deal includes giving up/assigning your copyright, you should rightfully expect a higher fee, and it's up to you or your agent to make sure that's the case. The worry is that assignment fees become no more than licence fees through erosion. BUT, to quote my agent Jodie, 'we can and should stay vigilant on this'.
British illustrators already struggle to make a living with the current situation, and loss of copyright AND loss of compensation for that will take an even bigger chunk out of possible future earnings. Everyone who loves books loses, as this makes publishing less skilled and less diverse: fewer illustrators will be able to illustrate full-time and hone their skills competitively against international illustrators, and fewer people will be able to afford to illustrate unless they have financial support from family or a partner.
If you take on a book with a celeb, there's a chance their agent will want to grab every last bit of everything. Tom's setup is unusual - taking the illustration copyright himself - but it's much more common for publishers to take the copyright in high-profile projects because it simplifies the rights when they present the package to the film industry. Jodie explained that 'a film company would rather deal with a corporation with a vested interest in making the project successful than a rogue illustrator who could kybosh something by fact of having retained copyright'. You may think the exposure from working with a celeb is worth this, but this issue is far from clear. I'm not an expert on this area and can't tell you what to do, but be aware.
2. CREDIT: Jodie stressed that this could be a separate contract issue from copyright. (I didn't know this, and credit is #PicturesMeanBusiness turf.) She wrote to me:
'Cover credit has no bearing on copyright. Lots of mass market books are assigned to the publisher but the authors and illustrators are credited and can even claim PLR. In fact there are myriad possibilities for an assignment deal - even royalties/shares of further exploitation. It's up to an illustrator to ensure they have good representation to ensure that they have all the relevant information on the rights set-up of a deal. If they don't think their rep understands it, then they should seek further guidance (and different rep!)'
So just because an illustrator (such as Shane Devries) doesn't have copyright, it doesn't mean they can't get their name on the cover of books, get mentioned by name in publicity material and metadata and claim Public Lending Right money. Get it in writing in the contract.
Back to The Bookseller:
This last bit is very telling. Fletcher is probably a nice guy and says nice things, but he almost certainly had nothing to do with the actual contract decisions and probably knows very little about illustration or publishing, leaving that to his agent. And his agent did well for him in this deal. Jodie pointed out that this is a good reason why illustrators also need strong representation.
The key points are this:
1. Devries was not listed on the Amazon page. (Thankfully after all this, he is now.) This means his editor didn't include his name when he, she or an assistant entered the book's data. Again, this seems very linked to cover credit; I seldom see illustrators included in Amazon or Nielsen data if they're not on the front cover unless they make a huge fuss about it, and sometimes not even then. Book data. Front cover. Get inclusion in both and you have a way better chance of being able to build your illustration brand. When publishers wake up to this issue, they're almost always happy to oblige because it costs them little or nothing and makes such a big difference to supporting their illustrators.
2. 'He is also one half of the writing duo behind the Dinosaur That Pooped picture book series.' This is actually an improvement: in the past, The Bookseller has called Fletcher 'one half of the duo' behind the picture book series. At least they called it a 'writing duo', but the creative team is a trio: those bestselling books were illustrated by Garry Parsons. And as they're picture books, his work provides much of the reading experience. You'll not be surprised that Garry often gets left out of reviews and publicity. The Bookseller are very supportive of the campaign and changing their ways, but they struggle when publishers leave illustrators out of publicity material and their journalists have to hunt for that information themselves.
Illustrators and agents: we need to be aware of two separate issues.
COPYRIGHT & COMPENSATION. This isn't my field but Nicola Solomons at the Society of Authors and Derek Brazell at the Association of Illustrators can help you. Both vet contracts for members. Don't let this murky issue slide or we'll find we have one less way of earning money.
CREDIT. Get it in writing. Get your name on the front cover, inclusion in publicity material, inclusion in book data. Get help if you need it, from your agent, from the SoA or the AOI. Spread the news about the #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign and keep it focused on showing how everyone can benefit from crediting illustrators. Unlike murky copyright, this issue is positive and clear and with a bit of thought, can be solved to everyone's satisfaction.
And don't forget to register for PLR; that extra annual money from library loans can be a lifeline.
Helpful Twitter accounts to follow: @Soc_of_Authors, @DerekBrazell, @theaoi, @JodieHodges31, @PLR_UK, @thebookseller: Heloise Wood, @fionanoblebooks, @philipdsjones