Info You Can Use: Let’s Play Find The Exploitative Clause

About a month ago, I wrote about webcomic Penny Arcade’s online reality competition Strip Search which is aimed at finding the next great webcomic artist. (By the way, both the comic and the show are often NSFW)

I had mentioned that it seemed like the aim of the show was to use the Penny Arcade fame to help advance the careers of these artists.

I think their most recent episode of Strip Search provides a model for teaching arts students of all stripes about contracts.

Penny Arcade has famously signed away the rights to their intellectual property at least twice and only regained it by dumb luck. This is a topic near and dear to their hearts. I have seen the creators, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, and their business manager, Robert Khoo, talk about it in interviews and convention panels a number of times.

Khoo is probably the only business manager in the gaming world to achieve hero status for saving Krahulik and Holkins from themselves and helping to grow their company.

In this episode they have the contestants read through an exploitative contract and then go in and talk to Khoo about what they want struck or changed. Khoo basically plays a bumbling idiot in the negotiations because the whole point was to get the artists to evaluate the contract rather than necessarily deal with a combative negotiation environment.

Also, because it was a contest they only had a set amount of time to evaluate the contract and conduct negotiations. In real life situations everybody acknowledges the importance of investing all due care reading contracts and consulting with an attorney.

After the contestants spoke with him, Khoo mentioned that there were two basic approaches to the contract they could have taken. Either decided what their core values were and question whether the contract achieved or impeded those values or go through line by line analyzing each condition (or obviously a hybrid of both).

Because a classroom setting is similar to the contest environment with only a limited time to evaluate a contract (even if a student gets to take it home over the weekend), having a similar opportunity to look at a contract with many elements not in the artist or organization’s best interest and then roleplay a negotiation could certainly be helpful to arts students.

One of the things I never thought I got enough of in grad school was contracts. We got to look at a few contracts to see the sort of things that went into them and I got to read all the Actors Equity handbooks I wanted.

There really wasn’t a discussion about the type of things you would want to change because it wasn’t in your best interest.

Many people may be under the impression that a contract is something that you need to comply with as best you can if you want to do business with them at all. I think there is a basic assumption that the other party is acting in completely good faith and little acknowledgment of the possibility that the other guy may be trying to fleece you to the fullest extent possible.

Most people acting good faith with a reasonable bias toward themselves, but you had still better read the contract every single time it gets set before you.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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