January 25, 2023

A woman in a sweatshirt floats in space.

Image: Epic games

While Epic Games continues to position itself as a pro game developer company, the same cannot be said for how it treats artists and their royalty. The Fortnite developer recently offered $3,000 to an artist for an artwork and the copyright, which meant that the artist would not be able to sell the prints or post the art elsewhere. The artist refused. Now makers are revolting against what they see as predatory contracts.

Deb JJ Lee tweeted that they received a $3,000 offer to create an illustration for Fortnite, which they rejected, citing a commitment to “the welfare of freelance artists.” Lee told Kotaku via email that the offer was originally made on November 3.

“With the budget given, it doesn’t feel ethical to take on this project,” they say tweeted. “The time it takes for a WFH assignment of such a high-earning game where I can’t even sell prints would barely earn me a living wage.”

Lee estimated that the type of illustration required would require “weeks” of work, pointing out that Fortnite makes billions of dollars.

Lee hoped the legal team would reconsider the terms of the contract. According to the artist, the agents claimed that all contracts “contained terms of fees and conditions” and that the company “didn’t have the time and manpower to negotiate each contract individually.” It certainly had the lawyers sue Apple about App Store charges and to go after that cheat sellers, although! Whether Epic is understaffed or not, it still looks bad that the standard contract seems so stingy. Kotaku reached out to Epic to ask if the amount is standard for its freelance contracts, and whether or not it has decided to change rates since the tweet went viral. Kotaku no response received at time of publication.

Lee emphasized that licensed use is different from a buyout. In the first case, the artist retains the creator’s rights to his work. In the latter case, the artist sells his exclusivity rights, which means that the costs can be higher. Lee told Kotaku that they previously sold their copyright to a major client for tens of thousands of dollars.

“Copyright is probably one of, if not the most valuable thing an artist can sell,” Lee wrote in an email to Kotaku. “If I give up the copyright on my artwork for Fortnitedoes this mean that Epic can legally make infinite money from my artwork, reused however they want and whenever they want, whether it’s print merchandise, an Instagram ad, or a 50 [foot] billboard.”

Multiple professional artists in the comments and quote retweets applauded Lee for standing his ground. Other artists raised cases in their own careers with customers proposing rates that the performers later found unacceptable. Lee still got backlash from it commentators Who thought what they asked for too many from the game studio. Understandably, Lee was a bit confused about why people are trying to lick Epic Games.

“Asking for more… won’t hurt a billion-dollar company.” Lee told Kotaku they could emphasize that to desperate artists who needed the money. But now that they can afford to turn down the offer, Lee said they were willing to do so to go at unliveable rates. One of their tabletop RPG clients offered them “a much better deal” with Kickstarter funds. “The rich continue to be among the cheapest.”

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