hmmmmm....I've never done any character "recreations" before, but wanted to do a quick little satire piece on the Alec Monoply and "Momi" ie Mike Mozart situation. It really raises some questions about work for hire, collaboration, originality...and of course...the almighty dollar...and fame. This painting is not for sale, it was simply to create a satirical piece for my own amusement, and to add a pretty picture to this blog post, hahaha!!
For those of you who don't know who Alec Monopoly is, or Mike Mozart, here's a quick recap: Alec Monopoly is a street artist who sells his paintings for tens of thousands of dollars to celebrities, wall street members, hedge fund owners, etc. He uses the Monopoly Man character, Richie Rich and other well know characters in his artwork, hence the name Alec "Monopoly". He recently garnered even more main stream fame when collaborating with Forever 21 on a line of clothing and accessories. He is also quite frequently seen hob knobbing with Scott Disick of the Kardashian family fame. He has also stirred up controversy for always covering his face with a bandana or some other method, he says he does this because he creates some illegal graffiti art and doesn't want to be recognized, although it is fairly easy to find out who he really is with a quick internet search...wink, wink. He has an Instagram following of over 320,000 followers.
Mike Mozart is most well-known for his YouTube videos posting funny failed toy reviews, under the name "Jeepers Media" with subscribers topping over 415,000. He also states that he has done character work for years for large companies and books under licensing agreements/work for hire. He also says to have appeared 100's of times on QVC and HSN as a Product Pitchman. He is now posting his Monopoly character artwork on Instagram as well as the sketches he claims he created for Alec.
So, why am a posting about these two, and why is it relevant and important for other artists to take note? Well, it came to light in mid to late 2015 that Mike Mozart was actually the "ghost artist" for some of Alec's work, particularly involving the Monopoly Man paintings, for the past five years. It raises some very real issues for artists to be concerned about when it comes to copyrights, work for hire, collaborations, etc., anything to do with working with another artist or company with your art.
Lot's of artists hire other artists and designers to do a portion of their work for them, this is fairly standard in the art industry, and in the agreements it's usually detailed as to the scope of work and credit that will be provided, or not, and the royalty or flat fee to be paid, length of of use, etc.. Many artists will even sell some of their art outright for a flat fee and receive no credit whatsoever on the finished product, particularly so in the fashion industry with fabric patterns. What is interesting about this particular situation is that even though Mike admits to working with Alec for 5 years as a "ghost artist" he claims to have "never signed anything! I never agreed to anything!" (quoted directly from his comment on this Instagram post). Mike appears to now regret working with Alec, ie the following quote from his Instagram comment in reference to a discussion about working with Alec: "I'm going out of my way to collaborate with other artists to help build their careers (which he has claimed he was doing for Alec as well), rather than exploit them and claim their work as my own. Artists should be supporting other artists. Not using them as a cash ATM Machine!" This really raises the question of why he would continue to let Alec claim his work as his own, knowing full well it wasn't, and allowing this to go on for five years, and now is calling foul play.... As an artist who has claimed that he's worked with other companies in the past in a licensing capacity as an illustrator, I would think Mike would understand the importance of having a contract in place with everything outlined in order to protect both sides, I'm curious as to why this never happened, if indeed that is the case. And at this point in time there hasn't been an explanation, although Alec's side claims there were documents signed outlining their working agreement as "work for hire", again, no public proof exists either way , so we are left questioning what kind of arrangement these two actually had. All we know for sure is that Mike Mozart did create art specifically for Alec Monopoly to use for a period of five years, ending in 2015.
One of the main issues I would like to address that arises from this situation is, the importance of contracts from the very beginning, even if doing business with friends and family, particularly friends and family! Verbal agreements can often be easily and innocently misconstrued, especially as time goes by and people change, events change, more verbal agreement added to what was initially agreed on, etc. So, please, always make sure you have a written contract in place so that both sides know exactly what the business arrangement is from the very start. It will prevent sooooo many headaches down the road, trust me!
Mike Mozart posts quite frequently to his Instagram page with his Monopoly Man art (and a few other well-known characters) and adds in the caption how he used to create the art for Alec Monopoly but no longer collaborates with him. He has also claimed that he is not doing this for fame, but rather to bring attention to the matter. Mike agreed to a collaboration of some sort with Alec for five years, and there has been no mention of this being a situation where Mike was forced to create the work and give it to Alec, it appears to have been willingly provided by Mikes choice. Mike claims in his Instagram comments that he is defending artists whose work has been exploited by other artists, just as he was with Alec. But, this wasn't just a one time deal, it happened over a fiver year period with (Mike claims) 100's of designs being authorized by Mike for Alec to use. This simply isn't a case of one artist taking another artists work without permission, this is a case where there was some sort of agreement for the art to be used. It appears that once Alec started to reach real main stream fame, ie the Forever 21 deal, and demand higher prices for his original paintings, Mike no longer wanted to work with Alec, which is fine, but why make it such a huge public issue/calling out? When you agree to work with somebody at a set price, that is what your agreement is, regardless of how much money they make off your work. You can of course renegotiate over time if you see the popularity increase and the other party making more money from your art, but the other party might not want to pay you more, and that's fine. If you can't come to an agreement that works for both of you, you move on, that's business. However, it isn't okay to bash the other person publicly because you no longer like the terms you initially agreed upon, or couldn't renegotiate those terms to either parties liking, this is just bad business. Again, why it is so important to have everything outlined in a contract with every possible issue being addressed at the very beginning. But if you don't do this and things take a turn for the worse, the only person to blame is you for not having made the right business choices. We all have to take responsibility for our choices in life, and business is no different. It's nice to be able to help other artists out, but the reality is that when you are dealing with money/business it can get very ugly quickly unless you have the proper protection, ie contract(s), in place.
And another issue that needs to be addressed is copyrights. One thing I've noticed when searching art on Instagram, is that many artists have jumped on the Monopoly guy art bandwagon; it seems every up and coming artists is painting some version of the Monopoly Man, and even some more well established artists are doing the same, along with other cartoon/comic book characters. At this point in time it doesn't seem as though Hasbro is cracking down on anyone for appropriating the character into their art and selling it, but that isn't to say that at some point they may chose to do just that. So, a word of caution here, just because everyone else is doing it doesn't make it okay, and doesn't mean it isn't a copyright violation. If it isn't your original art, your original character, don't take a chance of getting sued, if anything contact the original creator and get permission...in writing of course! But, in my opinion it's always better to be an original anyway :) It's also interesting how a lot of Mike's Instagram "supporters" recommend to Mike that he should sue Alec for copyright infringement... Well, first off it's not copyright infringement if you personally "let" the person use your work for the purpose of creating art to sell, and even more so if it was a "work for hire" situation as Alec and his team claim, and secondly they don't own the copyright to the Monopoly Man character, so they can't sue each other regardless. Mike has also repeatedly told people in his Instagram comments, that because these are one of a kind, fine art paintings with no reproductions it isn't considered a copyright infringement on the Hasbro character, unfortunately this is completely wrong and I hope no other artists take this as being truth! Just because Hasbro is fine with it doesn't mean every other intellectual property owner will be okay with someone appropriating their work.
Here is the legal definition of copyright infringement: "Copyright infringement is the use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works."
Even displaying a copy of someone's original art can be considered copyright infringement, and creating derivative works is definitely a no-no, which is what Alec Monopoly and Mike Mozart are both doing. Yes, they may have permission from Hasbro to use the character (Alec states he has permission), but that doesn't mean that Hasbro is necessarily going to allow everyone to do so, and other character owners may not be so generous. Ultimately if someone chooses to sue for copyright infringement it would be up to a judge or jury to determine whether or not it was actually an infringement. But the real kicker is how much that will cost you if you take a chance...anywhere from $100,000 (on the low end) and up JUST for lawyers fees, JUST to defend yourself, and if you lose...well...just don't do it to begin with, because it can pack a hefty fine of up to $150,000 for EACH infringement...and...you could end up having to pay the other parties lawyer fees along with your own, yikes!!
I hope this article helps other artists be aware of the importance of having contracts in place at the very beginning of any agreement that involves your art. And to be very careful what you are creating in order to avoid any copyright issues. It will be interesting to see, if anything, what comes out of all of this, or if we ever know the real truth behind Alec and Mikes agreement. For now let us use this as an example of "what not to do" when collaborating with others with our art, and how to professionally handle any business falling out we may have to deal with.
Interesting to note that when I asked for an explanation from Mike Mozart (on his Instagram) as to why he continued to "collaborate/work" with Alec for five years, and now has nothing but negative things to say about Alec and how Alec supposedly exploited Mike, he chose to personally attack me and allow other people to use foul language and throw insults at me. Hmmmmmm...this only raises a lot more unanswered questions...