Sieben on Life: Before it Goes Public
Many years ago, a friend of mine appeared on a cooking program on PBS. The filming occurred in her home and she had to get signed agreements from artists whose work adorned her walls in order to include the artwork on the show—one of the artists being me. I gladly signed the contract because I grew up on Sesame Street and The Electric Company and have a very nostalgic response when I think of PBS. That chunky PBS logo? Love it. So anyway, I signed the contract after giving it a very quick once-over.
Fast forward a few years—a friend of mine calls after watching the movie Role Models in the theater. A quick Google search just let me know that was 12 years ago. Twelve years?! How the hell did that happen? It honestly feels like three years ago. Do you ever feel like you’re in a simulation that is incrementally speeding up? Does it ever feel like the cold grip of death is racing towards you faster each second? No? What the hell were we even talking about? Oh yeah, some old art of mine.
Okay, so my friend calls and says, “Hey, I just saw your High Five print in Role Models.’” A few days later, I went to see the film to verify the claim—and there it was in a house-party scene, my print on the wall, projected onto a 15-foot-tall screen. Oh, I’m getting paid, I thought to myself as I left the theater. But somewhere deep in my subconscious, a tiny voice was peeping up. “Remember that contract?” It said? Eventually, that thought made its way to the forefront of my cerebral cortex and I went digging through my files. And there it was—a contract I’d signed years earlier granting a set-design company the rights to use my High Five print for a PBS cooking show—and for anything else they wanted, for as long as they wanted. I had signed the paperwork assuming it was just for a PBS show, but didn’t read it closely enough to realize I was signing away the usage rights of the artwork in perpetuity.
Long story short, I didn’t get paid and I’ve since seen the art print in other films and shows. I’m not mad about it—I just took it as a lesson to fully read anything onto which I’m signing my name, and I encourage you to do the same. If you get confused by contracts and need some help, ask your buddy who is always going to jail—they probably know a lawyer or two. —Michael Sieben