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.
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!!