Disney Living Worlds: Yeah, No

I love Disney.

This will be no secret for long-time readers here; I've written entire posts about the top Disney properties I'd love to work on, how Disney has inspired thoughts about cynicism and engagement... I've even used trips to Walt Disney World as rewards for my family for a summer house cleaning game, and another year-long version of the same that is not yet blogged. Big fans in this house, both on the level of personal consumption and as a matter of professional respect. Disney does great work.

It stands to reason, therefore, that I'd be jumping backflips with joy over the new Disney Living Worlds grant program -- and then polishing up a proposal to send their way.

This is not happening, nor is it going to happen. To explain why, let me walk you through the most notable landmines found in their FAQ and Submission Rules.

1. They can do anything they like with your submission, forever and ever, without compensation.

From their terms and conditions:

Enrollee hereby agrees and grants to WDI R&D, its parent and affiliated companies (“Affiliates”) and the successors and assigns of each a fully paid-up, transferable, non-exclusive, perpetual, worldwide, irrevocable, royalty-free license, including the right to sublicense, throughout the universe to fully and freely use the Work Product;

This is a big deal. It means that they can do anything they like with your idea, even without awarding you a grant or work contract, once you submit it. This has a notable detriment to the market value of that idea -- I could never sell that concept to anyone else afterward.

Why in the world would Penguin or Time Warner pay me to license or develop a concept that Disney's already claimed rights to -- even if they've declined to pursue a relationship? I would never, ever, ever in a million years submit the work of my heart's desire under those terms.

2. ...They can even give your idea to someone else:

You will own your idea. However, your application will be shared within Disney and possibly with other applicants so be careful not to put anything in it that you wish to keep confidential. 

So technically... even if they love your idea, they can give it to someone else to develop! They probably mean to protect themselves from cross-pollination here -- when you have a lot of ideas kicking around, sometimes the sources get foggy. It's a human thing to see a strong idea in a weak proposal and mention it to fill in a weak aspect of a stronger proposal. But this is woefully inadequate protection for creators.  

3. They aren't even providing Disney resources to develop with:

We will work to set up an Agreement with you to further develop the work in your proposal for WDI R&D as well as provide any necessary design guidance, but we will not provide any production resources to develop the proposals.

One of the big upsides of working with a company like Disney is access to resources, be those resources people, knowledge, money. I'm an indie creator without a production team to call my own; but apparently they're not interested in anyone who isn't interested in running a production team. So I can't go to Disney purely as a creator with great ideas to share -- I have to go as a project manager willing to hire and manage budgets, paperwork, and other administrative overhead. 

If Disney isn't promising to pay me for their license to my idea and won't even be giving me their muscle and expertise in the development process... why am I giving them all of those rights, again? 

In summation: basically this is unpaid concepting.

It's likely -- in fact, it's probably exactly the case -- that the people behind this grant program have nothing but the best of intentions. But I've been through enough bad projects and bad contracts by now to know that you should never accept questionable contract terms just because you trust the other party. And while I might even trust the people running this program... I kind of don't trust Disney's lawyers.

If I were at a different place in my career, or if I had different priorities, the risks wouldn't bother me as much. It's true that in the marketing world, every time you pitch, you risk the client taking your idea to someone else to develop. Hey, when you're trying to get your foot in the door, sometimes that's a risk you just have to take. And if you're a creator without much of a track record to leverage, maybe the gamble with Living Worlds looks pretty good to you.

That's not standard op for the entertainment industry, though, and we shouldn't be adopting the practices of the ad business when we're pitching original transmedia works. No credible publisher, film studio, TV network, or music label is asserting the right to use your work forever and ever even without paying you... just because you pitched them that one time.

Luckily for me, I'm at a place in my career where I can refuse to do concepting or pitching for free. Ownership of original work and fair compensation for work-for-hire is a big deal to me, actually. Working with Disney would be a great opportunity -- maybe even a career-changing one! But submitting to Living Worlds is a little bit like buying a lottery ticket. The cost of that ticket is just too high.

Sorry, Disney. I love you, I really truly do, but we can't be together on those terms. Call me if you change your mind.

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