Who Owns Creative Content: Creator or Investor? Part 2

The last time you were reading my rants, I was going over the philosophical question (and perhaps business and legal question) of who owns creative content and to what extent does an investor or creator have control over making money from that content.

This post deals with the same issue, specifically comparing playwrights and screenwriters as well as a creator’s role as a commodity. What does this have to do with you, as a promotional products customer? Read on to find out!

I wish my laptop hadn't fried.

What the hell rhymes with “iPod”?

Playwrights vs. Screenwriters

Playwrights retain ownership rights of their own work. When they license a play for performance, they are “renting out” their words to a theatre company for a specific amount of money (or percentage of returns) in return for the rights to stage the play under very specific circumstances (number of performances, size of theatre, production budget). The performances are live and – unless taped – cannot be distributed to a new audience without additional financial investment.

What, then, is the difference between the deals struck by a playwright or a screenwriter? After all, both are written works being transformed into a visual medium with actors, sets, props, and (sometimes) music. Does the magnitude of the transformation matter – an audience of perhaps dozens at a time as opposed to millions of moviegoers? Is it the permanent nature of a film – available to be distributed to theatres, television, and the internet – that permits investors to continue making profit from a single original investment?

Creative Commodity

Hooray, the money horse has arrived!

I live in the Midwest and all, but I’m pretty sure this is how films are financed.

Rarely does a creator have the power to have his or her own work financially supported but creatively untouched by a studio. Christopher Nolan is one of those rare examples. In exchange for agreeing to direct the sure-to-be-successful The Dark Knight Rises, he wanted to make a little heist film he’d been working on for about ten years. That movie? Inception. He held onto his creativity as a commodity: you do this for me, I do that for you. He must’ve been serious enough about walking away from the Batman franchise (and Warner Brothers must’ve credited its success to Nolan enough to make the deal) to make his point.

If creators were able to view themselves as commodities and protect their ideas until they were given a contract that reflected the level of control and compensation they felt they were worth, the power dynamic would change.

Some worry that higher compensation for writers will lead to an increase in unscripted programming (the nicest thing I can think of to call “reality TV”), which may very well happen. If that is more profitable than scripted writing over the long term (unscripted writing is cheaper to produce but plummets in syndication value – who will want to watch a rerun of Jersey Shore in three years? It blows my mind that people want to watch it now.), then the financial value of creativity is lower, giving creators less power.

Promotional Products as Art

At Quality Logo Products, you are the investor AND the creator – which means you truly can have it all! When you bring us artwork or commission something from our art department, the artwork and the right to use it however you’d like are all yours – no strings attached. We cannot and will not use it for anything other than fulfilling your orders with your approval. The same goes if you create a custom product from scratch like a personalized stress ball in the shape of a dinosaur riding a shark. After we manufacture it, you always have the opportunity to own the exclusive rights to it if you want. Basically, we’ll break the mold (Well, we don’t literally break the mold; we hang onto it in case you want to place an order sometime in the future, but no one else is allowed to touch it).

Have you ever had trouble maintaining control of creative work? Have you ever had trouble writing up a contract dealing with the ownership rights of creative content? How was your issue resolved? Don’t you think my boss REALLY needs to give me a raise? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!


Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.


  1. Amy Swanson

    This part was very interesting Jana. I was unsure about our policy on the artwork that we use, since it’s not something I have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s so cool that our customers can keep it and we won’t use it for anything other than fulfilling their orders with their approval. Thanks for bringing this to my attention 🙂

  2. Rachel

    A really fascinating read, Jana. The whole issue of creator vs. investor and who owns what seems to have become an even bigger issue in the last decade or two, as the Internet has made delivering and consuming content so much easier than ever before. I like your example of Christopher Nolan and how he’s been able to negotiate with the studios to make what HE wants but also what THEY want. And with the Internet, it’s much simpler for artists who don’t have clout in an industry like Nolan does to share their work (on YouTube, for instance) without having to go through large investors who want ownership of those creations before signing a contract.

    I didn’t know the difference between playwrights and screenwriters, either. Thanks for such an interesting and insightful post!

    • Amanda

      Agreed. It’s such a hazy subject–I feel bad for the folks that have to figure all that out! It’s hard because everyone wants to be paid more when things are re-formatted, or sent back to theaters. I think all the people deserve to be paid more one way or another, I think. 😉 But we (as consumers) don’t want to have to keep paying higher prices either….

      You’ve stumped us Jana. Thank goodness we don’t have to figure it all out.

  3. Jill Tooley

    Your research on this is impeccable, Jana. It’s strange how much the rules can change from one type of creative mind to another!

    I’ve heard some of my freelance friends complaining about the ins and outs of copyright and ownership in the past, but nothing catastrophic has never happened to me (thankfully). The best thing a writer, playwright, or artist can do is stay informed of the guidelines and protect their content as much as possible. Not everyone will be as fortunate as Nolan…

    P.S. As usual, I love your picture choices and captions! They add a nice polish to the post. 😉

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