How Do We Close The Gap Between Creators And Their Own Work?

Smells kind of familiar, actually.

A week ago a cartoon of mine went out and did big things on Facebook without me. Again. Other people — the poster, the platform — got tons of attention and benefit. Not me. My name and my agency’s watermark were right on there, too.

This is by far not the first time. But, this time I had the presence of mind to screen-cap the poop out of that thing.

Since then, I’ve been pursuing greater knowledge about just how ripped off creators are these days. What with all the new-fangled publishing and all.

Here’s a piece by Wil Wheaton that is pertinent. Here’s a piece on freebooting of video that will give you pause.

This all seems familiar. Hm…. oh yeah, corporations have been separating creators from their work basically forever. Paul McCartney. Bruce Springsteen. Just everybody.

Here’s the difference today though: It’s no longer a business transaction.

Big money gets made off the notion that anybody out there can get Internet-famous, and that somehow this is a plan. But ask Essena O’Neill about that. How’s that worked out? Turns out, fame is not a business without the business part. You need contracts. Endorsements. Products. Projects. Advertising. Actual real paying things. These are not magic, or implied. They involve real money changing hands.

The big social platforms harvest enormous amounts of content and attention, stick ads in front of it, and do like a television network in 1965. It’s just that now, there’s an infinite source of new material shouting, “Made you look!”

So what’s broken? The plumbing. Actually it didn’t get installed.

Business transactions require mechanisms. Contracts. Invoices. Payment. But these are not in place for independent creators in any meaningful way. Sure, you can open an Etsy shop, or get a few cents on the dollar on a Zazzle or Redbubble (nothing wrong with that, I’m on there), but I’m talking about stuff like, say, my work. That just garnered hundreds of thousands of views and two thousand people (at least) liked it enough to pass it on.

All the raw materials are there. Micropayments. Paypal. E-checks. Credit cards. Merchant accounts. Transaction fees. But big companies that farm this stuff aren’t going to put them in place without being forced to. Because right now they are eating our collective lunch.

Here’s a design that took me about five minutes to put on paper. All of this technology exists. Our photos behave this way now — that’s how they know the date they were taken. The principle just needs to be applied in a new way. Stick micro-transactions in there, and all of a sudden creators are seeing money come into their accounts. Even when they had no idea their stuff was being posted somewhere.

Does this solve everything? Absolutely not. Screen-capping, pirating, these things will still happen. But what if, when those little lines are going boop-boop on the Facebook page when the link is getting processed and the image scraped, it also picked up a packet of linking, micro-transactioning goodness? Even just a credit? Whatever the creator desired?

That doesn’t sound too hard. Actually it sounds stupid-easy.

The hard part is, willingness. By the right people. When a corporation, or an interest group, is making big money off of something, you can’t pry it out of their warm, living hands.

So how do we close the gap? By re-plumbing our thinking. Applying pressure, subverting the attitudes. Campaigning, seeping into the public psyche. Branding the notion of paying creators directly. And un-branding this idea that somehow fame without a business plan is anything at all.

Publishing is great. Marketing is great. Agencies are great. But this gap? It’s ugly. We need an Infield Fly Rule for the sharing of content on social media.

Have you got a design? A branding strategy? A message? I’d love to see it.


Betsy Streeter is a novelist, cartoonist and artist. She has one of those “possessed” iPhone 6’s that does stuff on its own but she hasn’t replaced it yet because a) WHEN and b) it’s actually pretty funny.

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