Artist Deb JJ Lee has turned down an offer from Epic Games for $3000 for an illustration and the rights to retain the copyrights to the creation. The creator finds it hilarious that a company that earned $6b in 2021 would offer only 3k for an illustration. The turning down of the offer has resulted in many artists supporting Lee’s decision and many workers kicking back on her stance.
“With the budget given, it doesn’t feel ethical to take this project,” they tweeted. “The time it would take for a WFH assignment from such a high-earning game where I can’t even sell prints would barely leave me with a living wage.”
Kotaku, the online gaming publication has been in conversation with Lee to gain more information on both Epic Game’s creative buying process and on Lee’s perspective as a prospective artist. Lee’s hope is that the legal team would be able to reconsider the terms of the contract to better benefit the artist – especially considering Epic Games is a multi-billion dollar company who do have disposable cash on hand.
Lee differentiated between “licensed usage” and a “buyout”. In licensed usage, the creator still owns the rights to the illustration. In a buyout, the company owns the rights to the work and can use it as they wish, including repurposing the original artwork.
“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 to my illustration for Fortnite, this means that Epic will be legally able to make infinite money off my illustration, repurposed however they want, and whenever they want, whether it becomes printed merch, an Instagram ad, or a 50 [foot] billboard.”
Lee’s request for a Copyright Buyout was met with a firm “No” from Epic who stated: “Legal/contracts team have these set conditions for fee and terms as they do not have the time or manpower to negotiate each contract separately.”
Kotaku then reached out to Epic Games to awareness if fees for commissioned artists as standard. There has been no response from Epic Games.
After Lee’s refusal multiple professional artists have quoted her tweet applauding Lee for making a stance. Other artists have also brought up instances in the past where clients have proposed rates to the artists at a later stage and found them completely unfair.
On the flip side, Some commentators on Kotaku have been criticizing her demands. One commentator said that $3k is not lowballing based on certain factors:
- Is the amount short of her hourly wage? If yes then it would make sense that she would renegotiate.
- Most illustrations are used for splash screens that display an existing character, this means that wouldn’t make sense that the writer demands the rights to an already-owned character of the franchise.
Another commentator stated that $3000 is a very normal working wage.
Lee’s stance isn’t just a jab at Epic Games it’s at capitalism and greed as a whole. Why is it that a multi-billion dollar company is offering such low rates to illustrators when clearly, it can afford more? That is because the value at which society views an illustrator is not the same as a Lawyer or Doctor. Lee asks us to imagine a world without art on the packaging, it would be bland indeed.
I think it’s good that she has taken a stance and has identified her worth and the worth of art in the world. It takes lots of work and conversation to understand that it is possible to throw a rock at a multi-billion dollar company or at least strategies on how to negotiate. Funnily enough, by her saying no to Epic Games she’s already gained more followers and prominence on social media than if she had accepted.
It’s funny, both of them are in the capatalistic system, both have to do work for money in order to survive. Epic has just managed to figure out a better way to make money.